Love Is

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”[1] These beautiful words of the Holy Spirit are given to us this week through St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. These are words that we’ve heard and read and sung and aspired to. These words have been read at many weddings to encourage husbands and wives as they begin their new life together in the love of Christ. Yet, for over a thousand years this text has been the epistle reading for this Sunday, the last before Lent.

I don’t remember who it was who first taught me this text, but I was taught to understand this text by taking wherever “love” is written in this text and read, “Jesus.” Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus bears all things and endures all things. His love for us will never end. Jesus’ love for us wasn’t even diminished by the prospect of dying on the cross. Jesus bore the rejection, the suffering, the pain and dying, all for us – so that our sins might be forgiven. Out of His great love for us, He died for us. By our Baptism into His death and resurrection, that great love which He has for us is given to us. By the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts through Baptism, we are led to share that same love with those around us. The love of Christ within us causes us to be long-suffering, to be forgiving, and to rejoice with truth.

I.

As I said, the epistle reading this week has, for generations, been paired with the Gospel reading from Luke 18. This Sunday is called Quinquagesima, which means, “about fifty days before Easter.” As we stand on the verge of our Lord’s Lent, we hear of His nearing Jerusalem for the last time. The Transfiguration happened back in Luke 9, and ever since then, Jesus has been traveling upward and forward, toward Jerusalem. It’s not a long journey, but Jesus sort of meanders – He preaches and teaches and heals all over, so that many might hear and believe in Him. Many do believe, but some don’t yet understand why Jesus has come. So, Jesus, taking the twelve, said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”[2]

Jesus explains to the Disciples here – for a third time – why He’s come: to fulfill the promises of God by being mocked, humiliated, spit upon, and killed. Then, He will rise from the dead. All these things must be done to secure for the world the forgiveness of sins, to fulfill God’s Law and remove His righteous wrath from us poor sinners. Jesus here demonstrates the depth of His great love for us. There is nothing He would not endure, nothing He would not suffer, for us – for you and me. He did not despise us for our sin, but He has been patient with us. He did not keep a record of all the things that we have done wrong, but instead, died for them all.

When Jesus died on the cross, He accomplished what theologians call, “The Great Exchange.” That means, that when Jesus died on the cross, He died taking our sins upon Himself and we, in turn, receive His righteousness. He takes our place in death so that we share His place in life. This exchange happens in Baptism. That’s what St. Paul talks about in Romans 6, how we are buried with Christ in Baptism and raised with Him to new life. In Baptism, we receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts, bringing with Him the love of Christ. This is why St. Paul writes what he does to the Corinthians.

II.

You might remember that the Corinthian congregation was founded by St. Paul. They were a young congregation, a lively one. They were composed of both Jewish and Gentile converts to the faith. Yet, they had problems. For one, false doctrine had infected the congregation. St. Paul spent much of the letter teaching on topics related to the Sixth and Eighth Commandments. Second – what prompted the text today – the congregation was not living in the love of Christ. Many held themselves to be more important than others. Those with certain gifts pitted themselves against others who had different gifts. The different members of the one body of Christ all tried to be the most important member. St. Paul said to them, that if he were to speak in the tongues of men and angels, if he were to prophesy and understand all mysteries, if he were to give away everything he had – but had not love – it would all be for nothing.

Perhaps, we are not so different from the Corinthians. We have been called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel of Christ. We have been united with our Lord through Baptism into His death and resurrection. We have received the body and the blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Yet, we often times think of ourselves as the most valuable member of the body. We have related to others, even in this very congregation, with less than Christian charity. We have not explained everything in the kindest way, we have not forgiven as we’ve been forgiven; and, when we’ve been sinned against, we have lashed out in one way or another.

For these behaviors, we should be ashamed. But, my friends, this is why these texts from Sts. Paul and Luke are heard together. While we are impatient with those around us, Christ has been patient with us. While we have kept record of our brother’s sins, our God has kept none. And, while we have failed to endure the life to which we have been called, Christ fulfilled His purpose by dying on the cross for us. For, He is love. And this love He has for us, has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.[3] By the working of the Holy Spirit within us, the love of Christ is carried out in our lives.

III.

How? In the ways Paul talks about in our text. First, the love of Christ is patient. In Greek, this word means “longsuffering,” and is most often used for God – who bears with us in our iniquity. So, also, are we called to be with those around us. The fact is, we are all sinners. And, because we are sinners, we sin. But, instead of demanding absolute perfection from others, the love of Christ within us causes us to forgive and bear with those who sin against us. Second, Christ’s love within us leads us to not keep a record of wrongs. The English says, “[love is not] resentful,” but the Greek means that the love of Christ which has been poured into our hearts through Baptism causes us to forgive and not store up the number of someone else’s sins. Third, St. Paul says, “[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”[4] This means that the love of Christ which has been given to us produces in us a rejoicing at the common confession of the truth. The love which we have been given causes us to joy at being together: here in worship, in Bible study, and all the other times where we speak and share the living Word of God.

Often times, this text is preached as a Law text. However, it is also Gospel. Patience, forgiveness, and a love for each other are good things produced in us by the Holy Spirit. We do not make ourselves be this way. Rather, the Spirit produces these things in us through faith. However, the Old Adam still claws away at us. He is drowned in our Baptism, but the temptation to sin will never be fully removed until we put off this sinful flesh in the Resurrection. So, when we hear this text and find these things not happening in our lives, here’s what we can do: confess our sins and receive Christ’s absolution. For our sins, Christ suffered and died on the cross. By His Word, He forgives us our sins, strengthens in the faith, and produces these good things in us. We should pray that the Holy Spirit would ever increase these good fruits within us.

Dear friends, this is the last Sunday before our Lord’s Lent begins. On Wednesday, we will receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads in repentance of our sins, but also in faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. Out His great love for us, He suffered and endured all things so that we might live with Him in life. By His Holy Spirit, that love is also poured into our hearts so that might live in love toward each other. God grant this unto us all. Amen.


[1] 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, English Standard Version.

[2] Lk. 18:31-33.

[3] Rom. 5:5.

[4] 1 Cor. 13:6.

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