We’re going to be 1 Corinthians 13 today.
This is the third week of season of Easter—
because someone has been raised from the dead,
and celebrating for just one day just won’t do.
During this season,
we’re reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus.
That’s what the early church was absolutely obsessed with—
the resurrection of Jesus.
They had seen something
that no one in the history of the world
had ever seen:
Their friend, their leader—Jesus—
had been murdered in the most barbaric of ways—
but then he had conquered death.
It wasn’t the ghost of Jesus—
it was actually him.
His tomb was empty.
They were interacting with him—
seeing him, hugging him, walking and talking and eating with him.
His lungs are breathing air again.
Over the last couple of weeks,
we’ve said that the early church became absolutely obsessed
with this literal, actual, unexpected resurrection of Jesus.
I would think so—
we would have be a bit preoccupied with it too.
They became obsessed
with the resurrection of Jesus
and what it means for the rest of the world.
We saw last week in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection of Jesus
means that God is going to reclaim creation.
Jesus’s resurrection had proven to them
that he truly was the long-awaited Messiah—the long-awaited king—
and what started with Jesus
isn’t going to stop with Jesus.
Jesus is eventually going to share his resurrection—
going to spill his resurrection out into—
into the rest of the human race.
More than that:
into the entire world.
That’s what we’re trying to reflect on—
what we’re trying to obsess over—
during these weeks:
How does the resurrection of Jesus
bring us hope before we die?
What does the resurrection means for us today?
Because the resurrection was the center of the earliest Christians’ hope for the world.
Jesus has risen from the dead,
Jesus has never died again,
Jesus is still human—he still has his body—
Jesus hasn’t evaporated or dematerialized,
and one day Jesus will rescue and transform this world.
This is the hope of the early church:
the world’s resurrected king
will bring resurrection to this world.
When we say it like that, it sounds a little different
than how a lot of Christians talk about hope.
We’ve mentioned this the last couple of weeks,
but a lot of times Christians talk about our hope
primarily in terms of “going to heaven when we die.”
Our ultimate hope becomes about
a mysterious, foggy, unearthly future somewhere else.
Resurrection might have been a great grand finale for Jesus,
but what is really important is what comes after this life.
The important thing becomes
making sure you’re going to heaven when you die
and then muddling through—slogging through—this world
so we can get on to the “real thing.”
But the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus
and the promise of our resurrection and the reclaiming of this world—
suddenly begin to change the way we understand our lives BEFORE death.
This world isn’t a trial run for the real thing.
Our lives aren’t a dress rehearsal for something else.
Today—this world—right now—
our lives—our decisions—our choices—
this is the real thing.
To be sure—
much is broken right now
much needs to be healed,
much needs to be transformed,
but this is the real thing.
Last week chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians,
we heard Paul talking about what we would call “the end of the world.”
But the end of the world actually sounded
like a new beginning for the world.
The world rescued and healed and transformed by Jesus—
but it’s still this world.
It’s still air and water and molecules and microbes and mammals—
it’s still the creation God called “good”—
it’s just been rescued.
It’s just been resurrected.
Last week we said:
at the end of the world many things will be different
and at the end of the world many things will be the same.
I think that might lead us to a question this week:
What is going to last beyond the end of the world?
When Jesus transforms the universe—
what are the decisions—the choices, the habits, the lives—
that are going last forever?
When Jesus sets the world right—
what’s going to keep going?
For tantalizing hints at this—
we’re going to reflect briefly on 1 Corinthians 13.
I say tantalizing hints because
there are limits to what we know.
We’re in the realm of mystery
when we talk about the resurrection of the dead
and the transformation of the universe
and a new earth and a new heavens.
But there ARE some things we can know,
and 1 Corinthians 13 gives us some insight.
(1 Cor 13) If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease;
where there are tongues, they will be stilled;
where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when completeness comes,
what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully,
even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
This familiar passage—
so often read at weddings or written on hallmark cards—
is actually leading into Paul talking about the end of the world.
The end of the world when
Jesus shares his resurrection
with the rest of the world.
That’s right—these cozy, familiar words from chapter 13
are intimately connected to what we looked at last week—
those mysterious, disorienting words from chapter 15.
(Another example of why it’s really important to read the Bible is context!)
We’re so cozy and familiar with this passage
that I think we have trouble hearing what it’s saying.
This passage is actually dropping hints about the end of the world.
Look at verses 8:
Love never fails.
Prophecies are eventually going to cease.
And spiritual gifts like tongues will be stilled.
And spiritual “knowledge”—
our Bible trivia and even our deepest theories and theologies—
all of that’s going to disappear one day too.
But love will never fail.
In verse 9, Paul says the same thing we did a few minutes ago:
right there’s a lot we don’t know.
We’re in the realm of mystery on a lot of things.
We know in part. We prophesy in part.
But—verse 10—when “the telos” comes—when completeness comes—
when “the goal” comes—when then “the end” comes—
(it’s the same word Paul uses chapter 15, verse 24)
—when “the end” comes,
all this knowing and doing “in part”
will also come to an end.
And that makes sense.
When we’re thinking about going somewhere on vacation
we might know “in part” what that will be like.
We’ve seen pictures of the bed and breakfast,
we’ve looked at maps showing us how to get there,
we’ve mapped out good restaurants and spots to visit—
We know about where we’re going—“in part.”
But once we get there—
once the completeness of our trip arrives—
we don’t have to bother with the knowing “in part” anymore.
We don’t keep looking at brochures or maps or pictures anymore.
We don’t have to speculate anymore.
We’ve reach “the telos,”
the end, the goal.
That’s what Paul is saying here.
Prophecy and spiritual gifts and knowledge and theories—
they’re all great, they’re all wonderful, they’re all vital.
But one day they’re not going to be needed.
One day the universe
is going to outgrow them.
Just like (v11)
Paul outgrew some things
from when he was a boy.
When Paul grew up,
he put the ways of childhood behind him.
The same is true for the universe.
One day God is going to “grow up” the universe.
Jesus is going to reclaim the world.
And at that point—
the universe has outgrown some things.
Why would you need prophecy anymore?
Or spiritual gifts like tongues?
Or theories or theologies?
Important as those things might be now—
they’re just baby clothes.
Paul is addressing a community of people
in the first-century city of Corinth
who want to be a part of important things.
They want to do important things.
They want to know important things.
And so they’re gravitating toward
what we gravitate toward.
Towards what looks “important.”
Towards the people who look “important”—
who look like they’ve got it all together.
Towards the experiences that look “important”—
prophecy or knowledge or transcendent spiritual moments.
Paul has been addressing these things the whole letter,
but now he’s just coming right out and saying it:
You’re obsessing over baby clothes.
One day… they’ll just going to be outgrown.
You’re obsessing over things that will not last.
When Jesus shares his resurrection—
when we finally see face to face (v12)
and know even as we are already fully know—
When the universe “grows up,”
there’s only going to be one thing that lasts:
Love will last.
Love is the only thing
the universe doesn’t outgrow.
Practically everything else is going to be outgrown.
The way things are now (v13)
there are three chief goods:
faith, hope, and love.
And the greatest of these is love.
Because everything else will get outgrown.
Not just spiritual gifts or bible trivia or mystical experiences—
One day faith will vanish—
we won’t need faith anymore,
we’ll just have sight.
One day hope won’t be necessary—
what we’re hoping for right now
will have finally arrived.
Love is what is going to last.
Daphne is almost 3 months old,
and we’re beginning to watch her outgrow clothes.
That’s to be expected.
That’s what we want.
But there are some things that she’s never going to outgrow.
There are some things
that are more central, more elemental, more vital,
Things like breathing
You expect your child to outgrow clothes—
that’s the most healthy, normal thing in the world.
But you don’t outgrow breathing.
That would be a problem.
with being alive.
For most practical purposes,
they’re the same thing.
You never outgrow breathing
because if you did,
you would stop living.
I think that’s the direction Paul is pointing us.
He’s cluing us in to what is going to last forever—
and it’s love.
That’s why the chapter begins the way it does.
It doesn’t matter what you’re doing—
no matter how spiritual looking it is,
no matter how important looking it is,
no matter how sacrificial looking it is—
If love isn’t driving us,
we’re just empty noise (v1).
If love isn’t driving us,
we gain nothing (v3).
We actually are nothing (v2).
If love isn’t driving us,
then we’re not really living.
We might look impressive in our baby clothes—
but we’re not practicing our breathing.
love is breathing.
Love literally is life.
I mean that really—actually. literally. ontologically.
Love is life.
According to one New Testament writer,
love is the life of God himself.
There is nothing deeper than what Paul is talking about here—
than love—than agape.
Agape wasn’t a particularly special word in Greek.
The only reason it became special
is because it became a shorthand
for talking about Jesus.
God agapes the world enough to become part of the world—
to serve the world, to die for the world.
God sacrifices himself
to save and serve the world.
Jesus is the agape of God.
Jesus is how much God loves the world.
Love is at the center of the Christian understanding of God
and love is what we’re invited to participate in.
We’re invited to join the life of God.
We’re invited to give of ourselves and serve others
just as God gave of himself and served us.
And that’s why
love is what’s going to last forever.
Love is what the resurrection life looks like—
it’s what eternal life looks like.
And we’re invited to practice our breathing—
we’re invited to practice love—every single day.
The life of love. The life of agape.
The life of verses 4-8.
Not envy… contentment.
Not boasting… forgetting ourselves.
Not self-seeking… serving others.
Have you moments of entering into what is described here?
Of tasting this? Isn’t it good? It’s a quiet kind of inner rest.
It’s what we’re invited into.
A new way of living.
A true way of living.
We are invited to love.
Because really—when we’re doing this—
when we allow love to shape our souls
and let love flow through us into the world—
we’re practicing for God’s new world.
Love is what is going to last.
How much of our lives look different than this?
It’s so easy to chase what looks important to us—
to chase after all kinds of things in our lives—
and forget to breathe.
And forget to actually live.
Are there areas in your life
where you need to start breathing?
Are there areas in your life
where you need you need love
to fill the lungs of soul?
An example from my life—
I like quiet, reflective space.
Especially in the mornings if I can snag it.
Just some space to sit
and sip on some coffee
and read a little.
A lot of times,
I pray while I’m doing this too—
so it feels important to me.
On Wednesday morning,
Joy had just left to teach elementary chapel
and I was settling in to my chair
with my cup of coffee and a reflective work of theology
when I heard something on the baby monitor.
A baby is stirring.
Maybe she won’t wake up.
I just want 15 minutes—15 minutes, God.
It’s time to start the cycle of changing her,
feeding her, burping her, playing with her,
and then it’ll be time to go to work.
And this weekI had this moment
where I was suddenly aware of a choice.
I could clang
or I could breathe.
I could go upstairs and change and feed and burp and play
begrudgingly—with a dutiful, frustrated obligation—
or I could choose to really live.
I could love.
I could breathe the air of God’s new world right now.
And that choice—that choice to serve my daughter in love—
is a choice that matters forever.
That choice to love forms my soul in some kind of way
and roots me more deeply in the life of God himself.
And that choice to love love knits me and Daphne together.
It helps form a relationship that—in God’s mercy—will last forever.
We have these moments
all the time in our lives.
Something we want—something that’s important—
and then… we’ve find the pressing needs in front of us.
The pressing need of a diaper to change,
of that work to be done, of those responsibilities to attend to.
And in those moments,
we’ve also got an endless invitation.
An invitation to choose to breathe,
to choose to love,
to choose real and true life.
The opportunities are overwhelming.
The invitations are endless.
And we miss a lot of them—
I miss a lot of them.
We frequently clang more than we breathe.
But we can take heart because God—Father, Son, and Spirit—
God himself is love.
God not proud or self-seeking or easily angered.
God keeps no record of wrongs.
Despite our clanging,
God is patient, God is kind.
God always protects,
God never fails because God is love.
And if we want to truly be alive
God will not fail to teach us how to breathe.
That’s good news.
Love is what is going to last beyond the end of the world.
There’s a morning coming—Resurrection Morning—
when our bodies will be knit back together by God.
Our lungs are going to breathe in the crisp air of a new world.
We really will be breathing again.
But we won’t be breathing in Bible trivia or prophecies or spiritual mysteries.
We won’t even be breathing in faith or hope.
But we WILL still be breathing love.
Love is the air of new creation
and we’re invited to practice breathing today.
And we’re invited to trust—and we talk about this more next week—
that whatever we do in love right now
will never be lost.
Somehow—we don’t see it right now and have a hard time imagining it—
every act of love will last into God’s new world.
May we learn to practice
what the universe will never outgrow.
May we learn to breathe
the air of God’s future world
in our lives today and everyday.