“Love Has a Name”
Topic: LOVE Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1–13:13
Love. That mysterious, magical thing, that we call love. It is likely the most fixated upon, worked toward, sought after, spoken about reality - in the entire human experience. And it’s understood and expressed in so many different ways, isn’t it? Music might be an easy one. I don’t think there is a subject more put to tune in the form of music, other than love. From classical operas to country music, from musical theater to hip-hop, soft rock, the blues, reggae, and seemingly every pop artist we hear on the radio…every genre and generation has sung about love. Love has also been spoken about a great deal. Countless individuals in all times and all walks of life have offered memorable reflections on love. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Where there is love there is life.” Soren Kierkegaard remarked, “Love is all, it gives all, and it takes all.” Martin Luther King Jr. preached that “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Maya Angelou said, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. And the last one I’ll share, from everybody's favorite neighbor and Presbyterian minister: Fred Rogers, “Love is at the root of everything. All learning, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.”
Now those were all spoken by significant voices from well-respected platforms. But folks of all circles and experiences have their opinions of what love is, and what it isn’t. We know this, and that's why we don’t take advice on love from just anybody. Because we know that for every meaningful word spoken about love, that there is also a handful of opinions concerning love not worth remembering. But regardless of who, when, where, why, and even what is said about love, one truth remains the same: we know that love is important even if we can’t define it. And we believe it is worth seeking out, fighting for, and holding onto.
This morning we are finishing our message series out of 1 Corinthians, and we’re doing so by exploring what the apostle Paul says in chapter 13, about love. I'm willing to bet, that before I read it, that you have a guess on what text we’re going to be looking at. Maybe you have sweet memories of it being read at your wedding, or perhaps there is even a portion of it hanging up somewhere in your home. My challenge to you is to try, as best you can, to hear the words of this passage without all the history that you may have with it. I’m going to read the entirety of 1 Corinthians 13, all 13 verses.
Paul begins this passage with an unwavering proclamation of the importance and centrality of love. And he does so in a way that is more personal than perhaps we notice. Paul holds up love against five unbelievably important gifts or values to the Corinthian people. Remember, Paul only has a few sentences before spoken at length, of the diversity and vibrancy of the spiritual gifts, given by God to His people. And for Corinth in particular, certain qualities or gifts were seen as more compelling or important. Particularly: speaking in tongues, prophecy, and knowledge or discernment. I mentioned a few weeks ago that Corinth was a culture consumed with a fascination for wisdom, philosophy, and the secret things unknown to most. Speaking in a heavenly language, sharing the future, and having knowledge of the deepest mysteries…these would have been the end-all-be-all to much of Paul’s audience. Likewise, Paul also includes the traits and values of unwavering faith and abounding charity. Which, to the church of Corinth, would also have been understood as the ultimate markers of devotion. And how do all of these qualities compare to love? Well, Paul doesn’t mince words. He calls all of them useless without love.
This can serve as a powerful reminder for us. Regardless of what else we possess or how passionate we are about anything - if we don’t have love…every venture and desire falls short of its truest potential. This is true, as Paul shows us, even with spiritual gifts.
For weeks I have been encouraging you to take the spiritual gifts test. And I still want you to - if you haven’t. But Paul shows us that even the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit, with the possibility of doing immeasurable good for the kingdom of God, is rendered almost void without love. The important element then, I believe, is understanding what love truly is. And Paul does not disappoint.
From verses four through right, we receive, perhaps, one of the most memorable portions of Scripture. As I’ve mentioned, it’s often times the go-to reading for weddings. So much so, that even couples with little or no religious affiliation, may be inclined to include it in their special day. And it isn’t hard to understand why. In this small collection of sentences, we receive an admirable, meaningful, and almost whimsical definition of the mysterious force we call love.
For two people entering the covenant of marriage, this passage sets the bar high and the fences wide for how their affection and devotion should take form. But this text is not a marriage verse. Or rather, it was not written within the context or originally intended for weddings. That doesn’t mean it should not be included for such special occasions, but it does mean that we risk missing the true depth of this passage if we only apply it to romantic love.
N.T. Wright describes the predicament well. He says, “The very word ‘love’ causes us all sorts of problems in the English language. Our vocabulary has become impoverished.” Wright says that the very language and frequency we use when we talk about love has robbed it of its truest definition. He says that what is described herein 1 Corinthians 13 - is so much more. “What Paul has in mind is something which, though like our other loves in some ways, goes as far beyond them as sunlight goes beyond candles or electric light.” In other words, our definitions and uses for the word love, fall as short as the lightbulb in your basement, as it compares to the rising sun.
This shouldn’t surprise us, if we stop and think about it. Every outlet offers us their definition of love. Romantic movies and TV shows will encapsulate love in passion and romance and even physical love. Crusades of all sorts, will place sacrifice and fighting, for the defense of the good, as the ultimate display of love. Even children’s stories and programs define love as being accepting, a good friend, or being willing to share. In our attempt to capture the motivational power of love, we have thinned it out to a point where one definition seems impossible. But that’s not true. Not at all. Rather, in order to grasp the one, true definition of love we have, is to realize and accept one thing: Love has a name. And that name is Jesus.
If we were to stop and explore each individual facet of Paul’s words in this chapter, it would not take us long to see that the best vessel to hold this definition of love is not a quality or an expression, but rather a person. Specifically, the person of Jesus Christ. Patience, kindness, selflessness, faithfulness. Jesus. Not quick to anger, keeps no record of wrongs, rejoices in truth. Jesus. Always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus. Never fails. Jesus.
Paul is not describing a quality we are meant to embody, but rather a person we are meant to follow. And without that person, without Christ, everything else falls short of its ultimate potential. It doesn’t matter what gifts you have. It doesn’t matter what insights or knowledge. It doesn’t matter the level or intensity of your commitment or passion. Without Jesus, without love, it all ends up failing to be all it was designed to be. This is true with marriage, especially. It’s why this text, in the end, actually serves as a profound benediction and call to those entering marriage. This is true with parenting and with a career. It’s true with friendships and with social justice. In every corner, element, and moment of life, it is true. Every and all things are given their greatest depth and their most reaching ability - through Jesus Christ, the truest and only constant expression of love.
And so I’m not going to wrap up this message by telling you to love more. Because, as I’ve already shared, what love is can be ambiguous or debated. Instead, I encourage you to do two things. First, draw closer to Christ. Through prayer, through reading Scripture, through serving others, through forming or joining a small group, and in any other way you can imagine. Draw nearer to Christ. Not just learning more about Him, but leaning into His heart. And second, do what you find. As you begin to discern the postures, passions, and convictions of Jesus, do likewise. Care about the realities and the people He cares about. Practice the things and the motions He does. Speak in the way and with the words He uses. Be like Christ.
This is so much more than WWJD. I had plenty of those bracelets when I was a kid. And in its simplistic nature, sure, there is some value. But What Paul describes here, as love, and what I am encouraging you to venture to do is more than just playing “Simon says” with Jesus. That idea involves following rules, and perhaps feeling forced into one action or another. No. What I am encouraging you to do is more like that wonderful little thing that happens between best friends or long-married spouses. That adorable, but also deeply admirable and precious quality, where two lives seem to sync together, where speech, action, and heart are aligned between the two, in such a mysterious way, that it becomes the goal we set for ourselves and those we love. It comes from being close to Jesus, not simply obeying a few rules. It comes from genuinely wanting to be near Him. It comes from having the joy and relief of your heart, being found in the knowledge that you are loved, and that you are safe, and that nothing in this world is as precious as your relationship with that person.
That’s what love is. That’s who love is. And perhaps that is why a definition of love is so fickle and fleeting in this world. Because we shouldn’t be trying to define a feeling, or a lifestyle, or a ceremony, or an action. Because love isn’t even really a thing. Love is a person. Love has a name.