************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13:7-8 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on July 26, 2007

1 Corinthians
1 Corinthians 13:7-8
"Love Never Fails"
TASC # 6

Let me deal with two objections I always hear to this agape love we've been looking at all week.

I was ordained for the ministry on a Friday night. Saturday morning there was a knock at the door. A young couple stood there. They were members of the church I was serving though I had not met them before that morning. "She wants to leave me," said the guy. "Can you talk her out of it?" While the guy waited in his car she told me she wanted to leave because she did not "feel in love" with him anymore.

"I don't love him/her anymore." That's what I normally hear when there are marriage problems. Spouses no longer feel in love with each other so they want my blessing on a separation and divorce.

I want to say to you young people what I say to every couple in my office: Love is NOT a feeling! Rather, love is a commandment. Did you know that when the Bible talks about love it almost always gives us a command? You don't command emotions. You do command actions. So love is not a feeling, it is not an emotion. Love is an action commanded by God. God doesn't tell you to feel in love with anyone – not your spouse, not your friends, not your pastor, not your parents. But God does command you how to act. God doesn't tell you to have warm, fuzzy feelings for Osama Bin Laden or the kid at school who always picks on you or that guy at work who routinely undermines you to the boss. God isn't telling you how to feel. God is telling you how to act.

Back to that young couple at my front door. You know what the wife was saying? When she said, "I don't love him anymore," what she was really saying was, "I have stopped behaving in loving ways towards my husband." That's what it comes down to. She is admitting she failure to act lovingly.

That is the first objection – how can I love when I don't feel in love? You feelings have nothing to do with it. When it comes to love God doesn't care at all for how you feel. He expects you to obey and to act in loving ways.

There is also a second objection – this command to love sounds so unconditional. Am I expected to show love to a spouse who beats me? Am I expected to show love for a parent who physically or sexually abuses me? Am I expected to show love to someone who always yells and screams and blows their top? Am I expected to show love to someone who only talks about themselves and their kids and never asks about me or my kids? Am I expected to show love to someone who is completely full of himself? Am I expected to show love to someone who is verbally abusive, impossible to please, and mean-spirited? Are there no boundaries to love? Does love ever say, "That's it. No more. I've had enough"?

I want to go back, for a moment, to what love is not. We looked at that on Tuesday. As you listen to what Paul says, think of the boundaries or limits he places on love:
(1 Cor 13:4-6) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. (5) It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (6) Love does not delight in evil ...
Eight times Paul uses the word "NOT" or "NO." Paul spends half of his time and half of his ink telling us what love does not do. In other words, Paul spends as much time telling us about the limits of love as he does telling us how far love should go. The NOTs tell us the boundaries God has established for love.

Do you hear the boundaries? If you have the agape love of Christ, you are NOT allowed to be rude, self-seeking, proud, and easily angered. If you have the agape love of Christ, you are NOT allowed to keep a record of wrongs. If you have the agape love of Christ you do NOT delight in evil. This does not mean you accept evil and abuse and anger, but it also means you are not unloving in how you deal with it.

All of this goes against our human grain. When someone takes advantage of your love and forgiving spirit, you want to call it quits. When someone hurts you and wounds you, you want to retaliate. What would have happened, do you think, if God and Christ decided there were limits to their agape love? What would have happened, do you think, if God and Christ based their agape love on our response? None of us would be saved. All of us would remain lost.
Topic: Love
Index: 2200-2209
Date: 2/1989.7

"We become vulnerable when we love people and go out of our way to help them." That's what the wealthy industrialist Charles Schwab declared after going to court and winning a nuisance suit at age 70. Given permission by the judge to speak to the audience, he made the following statement: "I'd like to say here in this court of law, and speaking as an old man, that nine-tenths of my troubles are traceable to my being kind to others. Look, you young people, if you want to steer away from trouble, be hard-boiled. Be quick with a good loud "no" to anyone and everyone. If you follow this rule, you will seldom be bothered as you tread life's pathway. Except you'll have no friends, you'll be lonely, and you won't have any fun!"
Like God's love, our love is to be love beyond limits.

I Love Always ...
A In his perfect love song Paul speaks to us about the limits of love when he uses the word "always."
(1 Cor 13:7) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Take note that Paul says "always" four times. Not some of the time. Not when we feel like it. Not when the other person deserves it. Always.

What does agape love always do?

First, we are told that agape love "always protects." The word that is used in the Greek means "to cover up." Cover up what? Agape love covers up your mouth. It keeps you quiet; it keeps you from saying too much too quickly. Agape love, in other words, lets you know when to keep your mouth shut – for the sake of the other person and the relationship. Sometimes we just want to say something. But agape love keeps us quiet. Agape love also covers up a critical eye. It allows you to look at your friend or parent or brother through a telescope rather than a microscope – you take the big view rather than looking for all the little faults. Agape love also covers up the little faults and habits that make up the other person and can be irritating – if they are not covered up. Agape love also covers up hurts and pains and burdens and sorrows to protect and shield and comfort the other person.

B Second, we are told that "agape love always trusts." When it comes to trust, there are three kinds of people. On the one side is the gullible person, who believes almost everything. On the other side is the cynic, who believes almost nothing. Somewhere between the two is the wise critic. Paul says, agape love "always trusts." Notice, then, where agape love seems to put you: on the side of the gullible. But not because you are so gullible. Rather, because you are so loving. Don't forget, agape love is in the business of giving rather than receiving. Love is ready to believe. Love throws off all reservations. Love does not worry about being cheated, because it has eyes only for the other's needs. If love seems a little naive it is not for lack of experience with people, but because love does not bother to calculate the odds on whether or not someone is telling the truth.

C Third, agape love "always hopes." By hope we do not mean escapism or fantasy that desires a cure for a disease, a solution for a problem, an escape from pain. Rather, love's hope looks to the promise of the final victory of Jesus Christ over all hurts and pains and problems. Filled with this hope, love gives a person courage to live today and face tomorrow no matter what happens!

D Fourth, agape love "always perseveres." There are many things that threaten to close the heart to the other person. There are so many hurts and pains and little idiosyncrasies that we inflict upon the each other. There are so many things we do and say without thinking or considering. But we are to continue in love anyway.
Topic: Submission
Subtopic: To Divine Will
Index: 3234
Date: 4/1988.29

Here is a marvelous piece of advice from the "Reader's Digest" (December 1982).

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for some underdogs anyway.
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you've got anyway.
Agape love always perseveres.

"Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." Agape love is love without limits.

II Love Never Fails
A As a nice follow up Paul tells us that "Love never fails." Or, as another translation puts it, "Love never ends." Agape love is forever.

In this light, consider a husband's reactions to his wife's cold during the first seven years of marriage:
First year: "Sugar dumpling, I'm really worried about you. You've got a bad sniffle and there's no telling about these things with all the strep throat going around. I'm putting you in the hospital this afternoon for a general checkup and a good rest. I know the food's lousy, but I'll be bringing your meals in. I've already got it all arranged with the floor supervisor."
Second year: "Listen, darling, I don't like the sound of that cough and I've called Doc Miller to rush over here. Now you go to bed like a good girl."
Third year: "Maybe you better lie down, honey. Nothing like a little rest when you feel lousy. I'll bring you something. Have we got any canned soup?"
Fourth year: "Now look, dear, be sensible. After you have fed the kids, washed the dishes, and swept the floor, you had better lie down."
Fifth year: "Why don't you take a couple of aspirin?"
Sixth year: "I wish you'd just gargle or something instead of sitting around barking like a seal all evening."
Seventh year: "For Pete's sake, stop sneezing! Are you trying to give me pneumonia?"
Paul says "Love never fails." Sounds like this love is quickly becoming terminal.

B "Love never fails." We can't say that about any other element of this life. In my first message I contrasted love with faith and hope. Love is greater than faith and hope because "Love never fails." Love is greater than faith and hope because "Love never ends." But someday, you know, faith will end – for we will live by sight and not by faith. Someday, you know, there will be no hope – for our hope will be fulfilled.

C "Love never fails." There are so many things in this life that seem eternal, fixed parts of the landscape. But they aren't. Before 9/11 we thought the World Trade Center would be part of the New York City landscape forever. But in one day they became a twisted pile of rubble. From outer space you can see the Great Wall of China – but someday that too will be gone. Isaiah tells us that when the Messiah comes "Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain" (Isa 40:4); think of what this means for Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon. None of this will remain; but love will.

D In his love song Paul holds up love against three other gifts from God: prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. All of them are good gifts from God needed by the church today but none of them, he says, has a place in the future.
(1 Cor 13:8) Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Take prophecy, for example. Those with this gift have special insight into the ways of God, the meaning of events, and what God requires of His children. What a splendid gift, but prophecy is not the ideal way of knowing and communicating God's will. In a perfect world, such as we have when Christ returns, every person is attuned to God and knows His will and prophets are no longer needed.

Speaking in tongues was never high on Paul's list of Christian needs, but he knew that some people found it to be a thrilling spiritual experience even though it sounds like gibberish to the casual listener. There is no need for tongue-speaking in the future life because all of God's children will have the most wonderful spiritual experience possible: the immediate but powerful presence of God and His Son.

The gift of knowledge, too, is a temporary thing. Our knowledge of God is temporal, limited, and imperfect. What we know of God now is never quite in focus; the details are unclear; the image is shaky. We do know some things, of course. We know enough to declare that God hates sin so much that we all deserve hell's eternal fires. We know that God wants us all to repent of our sin. We know that God wants us all to turn to Jesus for our salvation. We know all this, of course, but not much else. As Paul puts it later on in the same chapter:
(1 Cor 13:9-12) For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears ... (12) Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Prophecy, tongue-speaking, and knowledge – important gifts all – have no place in the future life. This is not the case with love. "Love never fails." Love never ends. Love abides. Love, true love, never dies.
A New England girl had just become engaged when the Civil War broke out. Her fiancι was called into the army, so their wedding had to be postponed. The young soldier managed to get through most of the conflict without injury, but at the Battle of the Wilderness he was severely wounded. His bride-to-be, not knowing of his condition, read and reread his letters, counting the days until he would return. Suddenly the letters stopped coming. Finally she received one, but it was written in an unfamiliar handwriting. It read, "There has been a terrible battle. It is very difficult for me to tell you this, but I have lost both my arms. I cannot write myself. So a friend is writing this letter for me. While you are as dear to me as ever, I feel I should release you from the obligation of our engagement."
The letter was never answered. Instead, the young woman took the next train and went directly to the place her loved one was being cared for. On arrival she found a sympathetic captain who gave her directions to the soldier's cot. Tearfully, she searched for him. The moment she saw the young man, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. "I will never give you up!" she cried. "These hands of mine will help you. I will take care of you."
This woman demonstrates to us the nature of love, agape love: agape love never gives up, never ends, never dies, never fails; it abides and endures forever.

Isn't agape love absolutely amazing? It is a command, not a feeling. It is unconditional and without limit. It is always there and never ends. But this should not surprise us because agape love is God's love for us in Christ.
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