1 Cor 13:1-7 If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
These words are often heard at weddings, not at funerals. But they are just as appropriate. In marriage we see the romantic side of love, the love of one for another. But in reflecting back over an entire life we can see how that love flowed out to others, to see the hard work that it did in tough times, and to see that love is not merely something that is felt but something that one does.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he was writing to a church divided. There were rival groups fighting for attention and power while more serious issues were being ignored. They were boasting about their wisdom and knowledge, but Paul was pointing out that their wisdom was futile. The church was “majoring in the minors” to borrow a phrase. Paul responds to a number of their questions about the order of the service and so on, points out where he sees them in error. And then it’s at this point that he points them to the “why” behind the “what to do”.
Paul has just finished speaking about spiritual gifts – the foundation of the body of Christ. In this letter it’s the topic he speaks on longest, because it’s at the core of the divisions in the church. He appeals to the gospel as the one thing that binds them all together. But then he goes on in chapter 13 to speak of how love the most important spiritual gift of all. It’s important to notice this because the prior gifts – prophecy, wisdom, charity, for example – are the ones that get the most attention in the world. But Paul notes that if we don’t have love, the most basic of gifts, all the other gifts are meaningless.
I chose this passage because when speaking with Tom, one of the things he mentioned that characterized his father was his love. He practiced it and taught it. He taught patience, kindness, respect, and perseverance.
That’s what love is. It is not just a feeling or emotion, but it is something that one does. In the New Testament, the word Agape – the word for love used here – is used 137 times as a verb and 116 times as a noun. It is therefore at least as important to be loving as it is to feel love, if not more so.
But love is not cheap, it costs something. It often doesn’t come easily to us, because of that cost. Perhaps that’s why it can be hard sometimes to live this way and to lay our lives down sacrificially for others. More often than not though I think we’re fooled into believing that we don’t have enough to give away, and that we need more than we can give. We need more time, more resources, more energy. When I have enough then I can be generous, but when will I have enough?
It’s easy and perhaps tempting to live in a small world, a world of hoarders and doomsday preppers, believing that what we have is only enough for me and my own and that nothing can be given away without loss on my end. However when we fearfully hold on to what we have with closed fists, it’s not long before we’re buried in our own trash and filth or found dead in our fortress alone.
It may be easy to be lulled into thinking that those things are what matters. Yet as the author Francis Chan said, “God’s definition of what matters is pretty straightforward. He measures our lives by how we love.”
Therefore I leave you with this message, to continue to grow in love. Do it today, because one thing every funeral reminds us of is that time is short. Every funeral makes us stop and pause and hopefully re-evaluate things. We have the choice to take advantage of that pause – one of God’s “be still” moments – or continue on the road we’re on with the cruise control on, comfortable but oblivious. Bob Goff, one of my favorite writers, said “Living a life fully engaged and full of whimsey and the kind of things that love does is something most people plan to do, but along the way they just kind of forget. Their dreams become one of those “we’ll get there next time” deferrals. The sad thing is, for many there is no “next time” because passing on a chance to cross over is an overall attitude toward life rather than a single decision…In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put: love does”