The Most Important Thing
Topic: Mother's Day Scripture: John 13:33–13:35, 1 Corinthians 13:1–13:13
Today is Mother’s Day, and I believe it’s important that we make the intentional effort to celebrate and show appreciation for the women in our lives that have left a personal and meaningful mark on us. In that spirit, I thought it would be a good opportunity to have some others contribute to the message today, so I took to Facebook, and I asked folks to respond to this question: What are some of the things you learned from your mother? You can check out all the responses on my post, but I want to share a few that prove how much we learn from our moms.
I had a few friends from my high school years chime in. A friend named Shayna said, “The key to life is having the right tools and knowing how to use them and knowing when to hire someone else to use them for you.” Another high school friend, Kimberly, shared: “My mom taught me that when we face trials, remember it could always be worse.” I had several folks share their pearls of wisdom or sayings. Some even put the words in quotation marks like they were directly quoting their mother. There were sayings like “treat others the way you want to be treated,” “get your work done, then you can have fun,” and “everything in moderation.” Some of the things shared weren’t lessons, but more like examples they grew to follow. Things like kindness, patience, perseverance, and, in Darren Brant’s case, the gift of gab. Folks shared how their mothers taught them things like how to make pie, how to budget, how to read, and even how to pray. One of my favorite responses came from Amanda Cryer. She said, “My mom taught me how to behave at the dinner table — use the right utensil, take small bites, use my manners — so I’ll be ready whenever I dine with the Queen of England.” Good lesson because you never know, right?
I don’t know why, but for the last few months, I’ve been thinking more about my mom than usual. You all have been kind enough to receive the words I’ve shared about her in a couple of my sermons recently. And, of course, I think about her a lot today. Even though she passed away when I was a kid, she still taught me some important things. I’ll start with The Most Important Thing: My mom was the one who introduced me to Star Wars. I know, I know. The list could end there, and we’re already talking mom of the century but believe it or not, there’s more. My mom showed me how to get through difficult situations. She showed me what it looked like to be kind to everyone, not just certain people. She taught me how to take joy in the little things and how to be happy with what I had. My mom was also the person who first introduced me to God, and she was the example I followed in what it meant to love others. As much as I love Star Wars, my mom showed me what love looks like, and that is really The Most Important Thing she ever taught me.
And an important thing it is. Is there really anything else more important than love? There have been countless stories written, songs sung, and movies made that seem to attest to that fact. But it’s not just The Beatles who tell us that all you need is love or Jackie DeShannon who reminds us that what the world needs now is love, sweet love. One of the most important voices in our Christian faith and the author of most of the New Testament seems to think so as well. The apostle Paul talked about love a great deal in his letters to the various churches that have become a part of our Bible. But there is no more famous, well-known, and oft-quoted instance than the words he offered to the Christ-followers in the city of Corinth. Words we’ve probably heard at a wedding, maybe even had read at our own. Words that have been painted on decorative wall hangings and written in countless greeting cards. Those words serve as our text this morning so let’s read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
As I mentioned, this passage might sound familiar to you. What’s fascinating, though, is that the apostle Paul wasn’t talking about marriage when he offered these words to his audience. He wasn’t talking about romantic love at all. I love the way NT Wright describes this when he says, “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.” I understand why this is a popular Scripture reading at weddings, but, in all honesty, what Paul is talking about entails a reality so much bigger and more reaching. Paul is addressing The Most Important Thing.
We can’t help but be wowed by the definition Paul offers. We’re told how love is more important than anything else. It’s more important than speaking in tongues. It’s more important than prophecy. It’s more important than knowledge and more important than faith. Paul even says it’s more important than serving the poor. Even if we have or do all those things, if we don’t have love, then it means almost nothing. With something that important, it’s natural to wonder: Ok, what is love? What does that look like? Do I have it? Again, Paul offers some clarification. He describes the kind of love he is talking about, the kind of love that is supposed to be found in the hearts and practiced in the lives of those who love and follow Jesus.
Love is patient. I swear I won’t do this with all the descriptors, but I have to share this. Patient here does not mean the ability to sit in traffic without rolling up your windows and screaming into oblivion. No, the patience here applies specifically to being patient with other people. William Barclay did a Greek study of the word Paul uses here, and Barclay offers this: “The Greek word used in the New Testament always describes patience with people and not patience with circumstances.” So, even with the very first word Paul uses to describe love, we are shown this love is about people, not things or situations. But we can go on. Love patient, it’s kind. It doesn’t envy or brag. It’s not proud or selfish. It doesn’t talk about or hurt others. It’s not quick to anger, and it doesn’t keep a running list of the mistakes others have made. Love has no time for evil but is, instead, focused on the truth. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
If you’re sitting there realizing that you have a lot more of those boxes unchecked than you’d like to admit, then you and I are in the same boat. Please believe me when I say to you that just because love is The Most Important Thing does not convince me that it’s an easy thing. It’s not. And even Paul shows us that it takes time. Just as a child grows and eventually leaves behind childish things and behaviors, so too does it take time for us to grow into the love we are meant to hold, embody, and share. And Paul takes an even more reassuring step further. He admits that we can’t fully grasp it or see it in its entirety. It is something we have to continually live into, wrestle with, and figure out. It’s a process, a journey. One we do with our Savior and one we do with each other. But this isn’t like that project at home you know you need to finish but just haven’t gotten around to. Love, the kind of love Paul talks about and that we see displayed in Jesus, is much more urgent and much more needed in our world.
Jesus said it in the reading from John we heard earlier. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” And then what does Jesus say? He says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples….” We know the answer, right? They will know you are my disciples by where you spend your Sunday mornings. No. They will know you are my disciples by your right theology. Nope. They will know you are my disciples by how many Bible verses you can recite. That’s not it either. They will know you are my disciples by how you vote. They will know you are my disciples by what side you take in the complicated and contentious issue society is facing right now. Don’t misunderstand me here. All of those things matter. They are all important. But they are not The Most Important Thing. Not according to Paul and not according to Jesus. And those other realities (where or how much we come to church, what type of theology we hold, or how strongly we feel about our political convictions) aren’t how the rest of the world will know we follow the Son of God. Only love can do that.
My mom was the first person to show me what it looks like to love others. Maybe some of you also learned that important lesson from your mom. But what Paul is saying to the people in Corinth, what Jesus says to his disciples, is that we will be the ones to teach the world what it looks to love. Love is the single Most Important Thing when it comes to being a follower of Jesus, and it is our #1 responsibility. Coming back to NT Wright again, he says this about what Paul hoped for from the Christ-followers he was writing to: “They need to pause, to move into a different key and rhythm, and deepen their understanding of the highest virtue, the greatest quality, the most Jesus-like characteristic you can imagine: love.”
I wish I had six easy steps for you to apply to your life to love more like Christ. But I don’t. I have what you have. The example of Jesus in the gospels, the instruction, and guidance offered by His followers, this community we call the church that we are a part of. On top of that, I have a conviction that this world would be better, intrinsically and noticeably better, if Christ-followers like you and me were more known for our love of God and our love of one another than we are for what we are against or upset about.
If we want to be the example of love our Savior calls us to be and that this world needs, then we need to work at it. We need to take advantage of every instance that offers us the chance to be more patient with people. We need to make that extra effort to be kind wherever we are. We need to learn to focus on the needs and blessings of others more than ourselves. We need to stop villainizing those who think differently than us. We need to show this world what true love, what Christ’s love, looks like because that truly is The Most Important Thing.