LOVE: an ACTION; an ATTITUDE; a BEHAVIOR

                                                1 Corinthians 13: 1-13
       
             A Peanuts cartoon shows Lucy standing with her arms folded and a stern expression on her face.
               Charlie Brown pleads, “Lucy, you must be more loving. This world really needs love. You have to let yourself love to make this world a better place.”
               Lucy angrily whirls around and knocks Charlie Brown to the ground.
               She screams at him, “Look, Blockhead, the world I love; it's people I can't stand.”

             I'm sure we all feel that way from time to time, and some of us feel that way most of the time.
               Loving the world in general, loving life, isn't that difficult, but loving the people around us can be a major challenge.
               The reading from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians is typically read at weddings and anniversary celebrations. But, this was never the original intent.
               Instead, Paul was writing a rebuke to a dysfunctional church for their abuse of the spiritual gifts. 
               You see, Paul is arguing that love is an action, not an emotion.
               The kind of love Paul will talk about is seen, experienced, and demonstrated.
               This is contrary to our culture that has come to honor personal feeling above almost everything. We do what we want when we want because we “feel” like it. And if we don't “feel” like it, we don't do it.
               But the passage from first Corinthians is characterized by an absence of any stress on personal feelings. Instead the Apostle is describing what love looks like when it is lived out in the church.
               Since the love Paul advocates is an action rather than an emotion, he goes on to discuss how love should manifest itself.
               Our contemporary definition of love is that it is an emotion or a feeling—we love our jobs, we love football, we love pizza.
               Love, in Paul's view, is a word that can only be properly defined in terms of action, attitude, and behavior.
               Paul has no room for abstract, theoretical definitions; instead, he wants us to know what love looks like when we see it.
               The notion of love as an action rather than an emotion is captured by a comment    from ancient Greece. Dianekes, a Spartan champion at Thermopylae, was once asked what enabled him to act heroically in the face of mortal fear, what allowed him to counter his fear. He answered that the opposite of fear is not courage, the opposite of fear, he said, is love.
               In this case love of fellow soldiers, of friends, of comrades in arms manifested itself in heroic action.
               Paul observes that love is patient. 
               The Greek language has several words for “patience.” One signifies patience with circumstances, while another is used only in reference to patience with people.
               The Lord knows we need both kinds of patience, but it is this second word that is found here. The KJV renders this word “long-suffering.”
               Paul seems to be saying that love doesn't have a short fuse. It doesn't lose its temper easily.
               Now let's face it: we love our fellow human beings because of certain qualities and in spite of others. Patience means we don't allow the “in spite of” qualities to outweigh the “because of” qualities.
               Love as an action means we tolerate the shortcomings of others, in part at least, because we understand that God tolerates ours.
               Paul goes on to instruct us that love is kind. Kindness, however, is not to be equated with giving everyone what he or she wants. Sometimes we refer to the kindness Paul cites as tough love.
               It may seem contradictory, but love as kindness in action may mean forcing an addict to go through the hell of admission and withdrawal.
               Kindness may mean denying a child what they ask for in order to give them what they need.
               Kindness may even mean reporting a crime committed by a friend.
               Kindness means to withhold what harms, as well as give what heals.
               Love is kind, but often tough.
               Paul followed the two positive expressions of love with several explanations of how it does not behave.
               Perhaps the most important description that he offers is that love does not insist     on its own way; in other words, love is selfless, it may even be sacrificial.
               Love is the very antithesis of insisting upon one's own rights. Needless to say, this is a rare quality today.
               Ours is a society in which self-fulfillment is not only tolerated, it is even advocated. You can go to any bookstore and pick up titles like, “Winning Through Intimidation”; “Looking Out for Number One”; or “Creative Aggression.”
               But a self-absorbed narcissistic person cannot exercise love.
               Love is not possessive, demanding, stubborn, or dominating.
               Love listens as much as it speaks.
               Love in action does not insists on its own way. It is always willing to defer to others.
               Anyone who has spent more than a week married to another, understands that compromise and sacrificing our self-interest is essential to sustaining the relationship. 
               This is love as selfless action.
               Paul goes on to explain that love bears all things. I think that the action implied by bearing all things is forgiving one another. Forgiveness, you see, is the transmission fluid that preserves the engine of relationship.
               Forgiveness is what enables people to overlook harsh words said in anger and to refocus on the abiding treasure of the relationship itself.
               A wise man once said that “T here were many times in my life when I was sorry I opened my mouth. But there was never a time when I was sorry I kept silent.”
               Biting one's tongue is great prevention, but forgiveness is the cure for those times when we didn't remain silent.
            Paul's final description of love is that it never ends. That is why love is an action that manifests God's promise of salvation.
               Those we love may die, but our love for them remains as tangible evidence of their new lives in Christ.
               Those of us who have lost husbands, wives, or children know the immortality of love well, for it remains in us a dynamic action that comforts us and inspires us and builds faith in God.
               Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

            Amen.

 


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