Jan. 31, 2010
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
1 Cor. 13:1-13
At last! Here are life perspectives that make sense. Today’s passage of Scripture shows us a way to live that will grant peace with other people and with God. This is a more excellent way.
The Normal Way
In order to understand a more excellent way through life, Paul first gives us a glimpse of what life is like in normal ways. These normal ways produce lots of noise, arrogance and vanity.
I. Words Without Love Equal Noise
Much that is said in relationships is uttered from selfish motives—not to build up the other person or to protect the relationship. When that happens, those words end up simply being noise. As Paul puts it, “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Albert Schweitzer was a brilliant philosopher, scientist and musician in the early 20th century. He decided to go to medical school, then use his medical training to take modern medicine to the Congo. He ran into enormous opposition from his friends—especially his Christian friends!
Schweitzer wrote about this in his autobiography: “When it became known through the letters I had sent from Paris, I had hard battles to fight with my relations
and friends. Almost more than with my contemplated new start itself they reproached me with not having shown them so much confidence as to discuss it with them first. With this side issue they tormented me beyond measure during those difficult weeks. That theological friends should outdo the others in their protests struck me as all the more preposterous, because they had, no doubt, all preached a fine sermon—perhaps a very fine one—showing how St. Paul, as he has
recorded in his letter to the Galatians, ‘conferred not with flesh and blood’ beforehand about what he meant to do for Jesus.
“In the many verbal duels which I had to fight, as a weary opponent, with people who passed for Christians, it moved me strangely to see them so far from perceiving that the effort to serve the love preached by Jesus may sweep a man into a new course of life, although they read in the New Testament that it can do so, and found it there quite in order. I had assumed as a matter of course that familiarity with the sayings of Jesus would produce a much better appreciation of what to popular logic is nonrational, than my own case had allowed me to assert.”3
II. Knowledge and Power Without Love Equal Arrogance
In 1977, a man named Jean Bedel Bokassa, a former French paratrooper, proclaimed himself emperor of the Central African Republic. This new nation was founded in 1960 and had a population of two million people. It is listed among the 25 poorest nations. The average annual income was $155 when Bokassa took over. Even so, he held an inaugural gala that cost $30 million! He had a six-foot diamond-encrusted scepter, a 24-foot red velvet cape, and a two-ton gold-plated throne. His 2,000 guests were served hundreds of pounds of caviar and 24,000 bottles of champagne, all flown in by chartered plane from France.
Despite the poverty of his people and the extravagance of his coronation, Bokassa was quoted as saying, “One cannot create a great history without sacrifices.”
True enough, but who made the sacrifice?
III. Righteousness Without Love Equals Vanity
You could give your possessions to the poor and offer yourself as a sacrifice; but unless the motivation is love, the effort is mere vanity. Now we will see what happens when we follow a better path. As Paul puts it, “the most excellent way.”
The Excellent Way
IV. Love Is Found in Attitudes (
We can do things, even good things, without a good attitude; but instead of gritting our teeth and plowing ahead, let us work on our attitudes. Let us work to align them with the attitudes of our Lord.
What are those attitudes of the excellent way? Let me list them: patience, kindness, civility, forgiveness, perseverance.
V. Love Is Found in Action (
When all is said and done, actions promoted by love endure. The ringing biblical admonition is deceptively simple: “Love never fails.” Faith stays put, and hope is
available—but love endures because it is the greatest virtue and action.