The Word Love

Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Our world is filled with words. Every year the editors of Merriam-Webster Dictionary choose what words are added to the dictionary. The basis of making such a decision is the frequency of its usage by a lot of people. Words are understood by the context in which they are used. They are interpreted by what the hearer/reader brings to them. The strength of the word is found in how it lives out in real life situations. Words have a great value in communicating an idea or concept or understanding. However, experience says that actions have a much stronger impact on people than words.

Paul is communicating a very important understanding of a frequently used word in his day and in our own. The passage from his  letter to the people of Corinth is well known by believers and non-believers  alike due to its frequent reading at weddings. This usage of the passage is not wrong but tends to leave the impression that Paul is writing about romantic love or solely a relationship between spouses. This impression could not be any farther from the purpose Paul intended. Paul is writing to a church with strong divisions and frequent conflicts. This passage lifts up to them a central understanding of what it means to be believers in Christ.

Paul knows that love is the core of who God is and how God  is revealed in Jesus. This love is not romantic in nature nor is it an emotion. The love which Paul writes about is a way of living. In order to understand love, Paul is indicating that it must be witnessed in the actions and attitudes of life. Jesus expressed love not in words but in how he lived, responded to people, and viewed the world around him. This is exactly what Paul is expressing to the people of Corinth. Knowledge, spiritual gifts and insights are nice but if they lack the living out of love in life, they lose their value. Paul tells the people that the greatest of the only three items which have sustaining value, faith, hope and love, is love. This love is experienced and known through the actions and attitudes displayed in human relationships.

Each of us needs to hear Paul’s teaching here frequently. We need to realize that as wonderful as words are in communicating, the communication through actions and attitudes is all which has lasting value. If we are going to be faithful in following the Lord and demonstrating who God is, we need to live in a manner where love is witnessed, love as defined here.

Love In Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21 (NIV)

” You’re going to come across people in your life who will say all the right words at all the right times. But in the end, it’s always their actions you should judge them by. It’s actions, not words, that matter.”

Nicolas Sparks

Nicolas Sparks is an American novelist who was born in Omaha, NE. He is probably best known for two of his twenty-one novels, “The Notebook” and “Message In a Bottle.” What Sparks says here is a sentiment which has been communicated in a variety of ways over thousands of years. The idea is that people can say all types of endearing words but only if their actions support those words can they be trusted and believed.

Paul is speaking to the believers in Rome regarding love. Paul instructs the people on how to live out love. He gives a list of behaviors which show love to be sincere. All of the behaviors focus on the good, caring for others and avoiding a revenge mentality.

Most of us have become accustomed to not trusting what we are told. Experiences with politicians, advertisements, telemarketers and leaders have caused us to be skeptical almost all the time. When we are told that we are loved, we struggle to truly believe it and are waiting for the catch. Only by seeing these words in action do we begin to believe them at all.

As believers in Christ, we are commissioned to share God’s love with others. The problem that arises is when we try to communicate the message of God’s love using only words. The skepticism mentioned above makes those words ineffective. We must live out the love of God in our lives. What Paul shares with the Romans are examples of how we can live out the love.

Communicating Love

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:11-12

How does someone communicate love to another person? The means of this communication is dependent upon the type of relationship which exists between the individuals. If the relationship is romantic in nature, the love will be communicated in physical ways, in gifts, in words, and in actions. A relationship which exists between co-workers or individuals who live next to each other lends itself to expressions of love in acts of helping and regular conversations. Expressions of love will vary along the spectrum between these two relationship descriptions. Another dynamic is the way love is communicated between strangers.

As we look at the assigned verses for today, it is clear that the Lord has an expectation that we will communicate love to others. The author of this letter states that we do this because God has loved us first. None of us have seen God but God is revealed to us when we love one another. This is not a physical revelation but a sense we have within ourselves as we express love.

Throughout Scripture, a clear insight into God is enveloped in the expression of love. From Deuteronomy when Moses says we are to love God and neighbor, to Jesus’s response to the question of the greatest commandment, to this passage found in a letter, love is how we are to understand God. God and love are synonymous.

We must find appropriate ways to communicate love to those in our lives. As we love others, we will come to understand God and God’s love more completely.

Lack of Language

This blog post is a continuation of the series which I began last week. The series is intended to give reasons which I believe cause people to say the church no longer works for them. Here are the earlier posts in the series:

Why Does Church No Longer Work

Lack of Authenticity

Lack of Relationships

Today, I am presenting the case that a lack of language is a reason which leads to the church no longer working in people’s lives. Let me be clear, the church uses a lot of words. However, those words are usually very difficult for people to understand unless they have had some training or education into the language of the church.

When I talk with people, I often hear them say that they feel they do not truly understand a lot of the words and terms which we use in the church. Most of these come from centuries long ago. They are not words which we use in everyday speaking. Some words have crossed over into discussions outside of the church but the understandings associated with them are very skewed or do not reflect the original intent of the word.

The late Eugene Petersen understood this was an issue over thirty years ago. In1993 he released a copy of The Message – New Testament. Petersen’s goal was to take the Bible and translate it into words that people of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century were using. Over the next nine years he would release the Old Testament translation in two sections and eventually the two Testaments together in one volume. Eugene Petersen understood that it was important for people to read the Bible in a language that made sense to them. Not a new idea since that is exactly what happened during the Protestant Reformation.

The language in which someone can read the Bible is an important piece but it cannot be the only piece. How many times do we use words such as grace, redemption, trinity, forgiveness, salvation, sin, atonement, unconditional love, or hope, yet never explain what we mean by them. What about the words we use in the building: narthex, sacristy, nave, sanctuary, altar, table, pulpit, lectern, or chalice. Again, words that we do not explain and assume everyone knows what we are talking about. The language of the church can be like a foreign language to individuals.

We need to take an example for Eugene Petersen. The church needs to translate its words into the language of today. Where an equivalent cannot be found, explanation and teaching is in order. Where we can use today’s words to describe a concept or aspect of our church space, then we need use today’s words and not the words of the sixteenth century.

Unfortunately, too many in the church seem to adopt the attitude that if a person wishes to be part of our fellowship, they need to learn the language. We expect change on the part of the individual. The problem with this view is that it presents a dividing of those who are in (the one’s who can speak the language) and those who are out (the one’s who have no understanding of the language). The bigger problem is that a large number will choose not to even attempt to learn this foreign language but instead walk out the door and find a place where they can understand what people are saying.