24/06/2020 Chris Nelson
A reflection given during a weekly church group meeting based on 1 Corinthians chapter 13
For me ,our faith is surely a revolutionary love story, God’s love for us and our [often inadequate] response to it.
We see that love in the creation of His glorious universe, including our world and the creation of humanity to enjoy its glories. In the Old Testament the Jews gradually learned more about this creator God. His gifts culminated in the ultimate gift of His son. In the humanity of Jesus we learn more of what God is like and what he wants us to be like.
The word which we hear most often in the New Testament and indeed in our Services, is love. We see that love demonstrated most fully in the life of Jesus and His teaching and most powerfully in His self-giving for us in His death. The wonder of His resurrection affirms His identity and power.
Just before His death, Jesus gave His disciples, (us) a new commandment, to love each other as He loved them. As an example of what that love meant He then washed his disciples feet. This was at a time of dirt roads, in a hot country and where people wore open sandals. The result was that it was an unpleasant task, done by the least important servant. It also involved becoming physically lower than the person who had their feet washed. I think the last monarch to wash the feet of his/her subjects was Edward the Confessor.
Since then it has not been considered seemly, or appropriate, for the sovereign to lower him/herself to such an unpleasant task. I imagine there would be outrage if it were suggested that our Queen did so, instead of giving the symbolic Maundy money; but the Son of God lowered himself to the place of servant. It means that nothing should be too difficult for us to do for others in love and service, remembering “what you do for the least important person, you do as for me.”
In English we only have one word for love, to convey the trivial “I love chocolate” [though some of you may not consider that trivial!] to the most deeply felt emotion for partner, family, friend, nation etc. In the Bible most helpfully, there are three words to define different sorts of love. There is philio for family, friendship feeling, eros for erotic, sexual love and agape. It is this third definition which Jesus and St. Paul use. We all know that there are some people with whom we just get on, we click, we feel comfortable with them; while with some others we just don’t take to them somehow. That is an emotional response over which we have little control. Agape is a decision of the will. We decide that person will be given kindness, consideration, patience etc. all the things which we would naturally give to a friend.
When my three grandchildren were small, I tried to explain to them another amazing aspect of love. I said that if I only had two sweets, one of them would have to go without (they looked worried!) I then told them that loving one of them didn’t mean that I had run out of love for the other two. Wonderfully, loving one person doesn’t mean that we have any less love for others.
And so, to St. Paul’s glorious discourse on the subject of love, one I’m sure many of you are familiar with. He certainly uses a lot of hyperbole to make his point! He starts by saying that if he could speak the language of human beings and even angels that would stir people like a fanfare of trumpets or clashing cymbals, but had no love, he would achieve nothing more. Similarly, if he could foretell the future and had all human knowledge, the secrets of God and in addition had enough faith to move mountains, but had no love, he says that he would amount to nothing at all. He continues that if he were to sell all he had to feed the hungry and for his convictions allowed his body to be burned and yet still had no love, he would have achieved precisely nothing.
Then St. Paul goes on to describe what love is like. One of its qualities is kindness. In the drama “Good Omens”, which you may have watched, at one point the good and bad angel witness the crucifixion.
Appalled by the brutality of it, the bad angel asked the good one what this person could possibly have done to merit such a terrible death. The good angel says he told people to be kind to each other, to which the bad angel responds,” yes, that would do it….”
So, love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous or conceited, or ill mannered, or selfish, or irritable, or touchy. Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, but delights in the truth. It is always ready to excuse and to hope. Love knows no limit to its endurance. It can outlast anything. It is the one thing that stands when all else has fallen.
St. Paul gives examples; inspired messages are temporary, the gift of speaking in tongues will cease, as will knowledge. That is because knowledge is always incomplete, as are inspired messages. He continues that when he was a child he talked, thought and argued like a child, but as an adult those childish things have no more significance for him. In conclusion he says that at present we see a baffling reflection of reality, as if we were looking at a landscape in a very small mirror, but the time would come when we will be able to see reality properly. At present all we know of truth is a fraction of the truth, but the time will come when we shall know fully, as God knows us.
The last line of the glorious poetry of 1 Corinthians 13 is so well known and significant “In short, there are three things that last forever, faith, hope and love….and the greatest of these, is love.”