Loving Like Jesus (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

1 Corinthians 13 love 08
Central to the teachings of Jesus is the command to love. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell stories of people who came to Jesus asking him which was the most important of God’s commandments. Jesus summarises the Old Testament law by replying that God wants us to love him with all our hearts, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). John develops this idea in his gospel when he tells the story of Jesus giving his disciples a new command: to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34). To make sure his followers get the point, John has Jesus repeating this same command twice more in 15:12 and 15:17.

Every book of the New Testament except one talks about what it means to love each other in the way Jesus taught at some point. The only book that doesn’t explicitly talk about Jesus’ command to love is the Acts of the Apostles. However, Acts has plenty of examples of how the early Christians loved each other in community and brought the message of Jesus’ love to the world. It is possible to read the entire Bible as an epic story of God’s love for people and the love it inspires for others.

While we might talk and read about God’s love for us in Jesus, we can still struggle with how that love looks practically in our lives. There are a lot of different ideas of how to follow Jesus’ teachings on love, and there are many ways we can show his love in our relationships. One of the most helpful passages in Scripture I have found that describes the love Jesus taught is 1 Corinthians 13.

One way this passage can help us love in the way Jesus taught is to read verses 4-8a with our own names substituted for the word ‘love’. Whenever I do that, it doesn’t take long at all before I start feeling very uncomfortable – usually around the word ‘patient.’ Replacing the word ‘love’ with our names shows us that we fall a long way short of loving people in the way Jesus wants us to. While this can make us uncomfortable, it’s not a bad thing because it shows us that if we are to live faithfully as Jesus’ followers, we need help to do it.

That’s where I read this passage again, but this time inserting ‘God’ for the word ‘love.’ We can do that because the Apostle John tells us that God is love (1 John 4:16). God is the source, the embodiment, the fullness of all love. By saying that ‘God is love’ john tells us that God is synonymous with love. When we read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a from this perspective, it tells us a lot about the nature of God:

God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. God does not dishonour others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails. (NIV)

Even when we fail to love others in the way God wants us to, the promise of this text is that God never fails to love us. God is patient with us even when we lose our patience with others. God is kind to us even when we are unkind to each other. God is not envious, boastful or proud, but instead embraces humility to serve us. God does not dishonour us, but gives us the honour of calling us his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. God is not self-seeking, but seeks what is good for us even though it kills him on a cross. God is not angry with us and keeps no record of our wrongs, but removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. God rejoices in the truth of his grace and peace. God is always protecting us, always trusting us with his goodness and gifts, always hoping for the best for us, always persevering and hanging in there for us. Ultimately, God will never fail us because the story of the Bible shows time and time again that God never fails his people.

God loves us this way because of what Jesus has done for us. God loves us in the way 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a describes because he entered into our broken human existence, taking our humanity on himself in the person of Jesus. He lived the perfect life that we fail to live, loving people in the perfect way God wants us to. Jesus took our flaws, failures and everything we don’t do in 1 Corinthians 13 to the cross, putting our wrongs to death once and for all. Then Jesus rose to new life so we can live new lives united with him through the Holy Spirit. God loves us perfectly even when we fail to love the way he wants us to because his Son Jesus lives in us.

Paul writes that when he was a child, he spoke and thought and reasoned like a child. As he matured, though, he put away childish ways (1 Cor 13:11). This is the spiritual growth that God wants for all of us. The path to spiritual maturity comes through recognising that we fail to love the way God wants us to and finding God’s love for us in Jesus. As we repent of our failure to love by turning towards God who is the source of perfect love in Jesus, and trust in his love for us, the Holy Spirit works in us to mature us as Jesus’ followers. I know from personal experience that when we recognise our failures in loving God and people, and when we turn to God in faith, trusting in his love for us in Jesus, it can change us into people who have a greater capacity to love others on the way 1 Corinthians 13 describes, even people who are hard to love. When we are able to love each other as the Spirit enable us, then people will see that we are followers of Jesus (John 13:35) and God’s love enters the lives of others through us.

Just about everything I do as a pastor is to help people grow in their faith in God’s love for them in Jesus so they can become more loving people towards others. 1 Corinthians 13 has become crucial to my understanding of what the love Jesus taught looks like. In the end, when everything else we think is so important is gone, then these three will remain: faith, hope and love. And, as Paul tells us, the greatest of these is love, because that’s where we find the life-changing goodness of God.

Advertisements

God’s Saving Love (John 3:14-21)

block 2017 before v2block 2017 after v2

There is a renovation show on Australian television called The Block where contestants move into properties that are run-down and derelict. Over the following few months, the contestants turn these properties into million-dollar residences. It is quite amazing to see houses, motels and even warehouses, which have been condemned as unfit for people to live in, saved from demolition and made new through hard work, sacrifice and a bucket load of money.

People I know have different opinions about whether The Block is good TV or not, but thinking about this text from John 3:17, what happens on The Block is kind of what Jesus does for the world.

Last year when Australia was debating whether or not to legalise same-sex marriage, one thing that stood out to me in many of the voices I heard from outside the church was that people in our society perceive Christians as being largely judgemental and condemning. I often come across the same sentiment when I perform weddings or funerals. At least one person will often joke that the roof will fall in when they walk into the church. These two examples reflect an attitude which is probably held by most Australians that Christians are judgemental and condemning of others.

The Apostle John says exactly the opposite should be true. He writes that ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him’ (v17). We can often hear the word ‘condemn’ as a legal term. When a person is convicted of a crime, the judge will condemn the prisoner to a prison sentence, or, either historically or in some parts of the world, to death. However, another way we can think of being ‘condemned’ and ‘saved’ is like those properties on The Block. When our world was run-down and derelict because of sin, when it was broken and falling apart because of neglect and abuse, God made it his home in the person of Jesus. Then this carpenter’s son began the work of saving the world from being condemned by restoring it to its original beauty. In The Message, Eugene Petersen paraphrases John 1:14 as, ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.’ When God entered the world in the person of Jesus, he came to save the world from being condemned, not to tear it down, demolish or destroy it.

As people who live in this world which has been saved from being condemned, we can live as people who are free from condemnation. At one time or another in our lives, in one way or another, we can all suffer from condemnation. We can all see ourselves or feel like those run-down, derelict, neglected houses that are falling apart. The good news of Jesus, however, is that we have been saved from being condemned. Jesus has taken our condemnation on himself and has died as a condemned sinner so we can live free from any and all condemnation. That is why Jesus said to the woman who had been caught in adultery that he didn’t condemn her for her actions (John 8:1-11). That is also why the Apostle Paul wrote that ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). Because Jesus was condemned in our place, we can live free from condemnation every day of our lives through faith in him. When those voices from either within us or from outside us start to judge or condemn us, tell them to be quiet because Jesus was condemned in our place to save us from condemnation. The saving word of Jesus is stronger than the voices that whisper condemnation to us, so shut them up with the promise that Jesus was born, died and is raised again to save you, not to condemn you!

In a world that is quick to judge and condemn others for a whole lot of reasons, this is good news for everyone! The challenge that we face as the church is how to help our society understand that, as the living, breathing body of Christ in the world, we are here to save people from the condemnation they experience, not to add to it.

This is the fundamental mission of the church: to join with Jesus is saving a broken world from being condemned, no matter what the cost!

So how do we do that? It starts with each of us living in ways that are free from condemnation. I talk with too many children of God who suffer from feeling judged and condemned for a range of reasons. We need to be pursuing the saving love of God in Jesus that frees us from condemnation and living in that freedom every day of our lives. It might sound simple, and often it isn’t, but this is the foundational purpose of Christian community – to give people a place where they can find freedom from condemnation through the saving love of Christ.

Which leads us to the second way we can bring the good news of Jesus’ saving love to the world: we need to stop condemning each other. When we are speaking well of each other and speaking grace to each other, we give life to each other as members together of the body of Christ. To often we judge or criticise others in the church because we don’t like what they are doing or the way they do things, and too often this results in condemnation. We need to be speaking words of grace and love, hope and joy, peace and blessing to each other in the church. Yes, there might be times when we need to speak ‘the truth in love’ to each other, but we need to be doing it to build each other up in love, not tearing each other down (Ephesians 4:15,16).

The third way we can change our culture’s view of Christians is to speak these same words of grace and love to the people we meet every day of our lives. Each and every day we are with people who suffer from feeling condemned in lots of different ways. Instead of criticising others who think or behave differently to the way we think they should, what if we loved them as people who are part of the world that Jesus came to restore? We might not be able to change the perspective of our society as a whole, but if we can show Jesus’ saving love to one person today, and tomorrow, and the next day, then we are doing our part to work with Jesus in restoring a broken and condemned world.

I don’t think I’ll watch The Block the same way again. I used to see it as people who were desperately trying to make fast money by pushing themselves to the physical and emotional limit. Next time I’m watching it, though, I’m going to see these contestants as people who are willing to do whatever it takes to save a condemned house and make it new again, no matter what the cost.

Just like Jesus did to save a condemned world…