Bishop Ernie Jackson of Grace Tabernacle church in the Bayview wrestles with the challenge of loving our neighbor . . . Even that one.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Three men from a local congregation were asked, “When you’re in your casket, and friends and members of your church are mourning over you, what would you like them to say?
Art said, “I would like them to say that I was a wonderful husband, a fine spiritual leader, and a great family man.”
George said, “I would like them to say, I was a wonderful teacher and a servant of God who made a huge difference in people’s lives!”
Don said, “I’d like them to say, “Look! He’s moving…!
“If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?”
1 John 4:20 ~John the Apostle
As we reflect on this morning’s text in First Corinthians 13, it has been called the Love Chapter because of its powerful description of love. It’s easy to talk about love; however, it’s much harder to do the tough work of living it. In fact, we live in a time when we sense more hatred than love. Love, as God intended it, is more than just passion, romantic feelings, or sentimental expressions. It involves commitment, sacrifice, and service—the kind of things that benefit both the giver and the receiver.
Love is like a secret agent that searches out our hearts and has kept a dossier of our entire life—a record of all of our failures, mistakes, offences, and yes—even our sins has been recorded. Love knows everything there is to know about us—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Yet, because God is love and gives love, because we have accepted Christ Jesus, who is our redeemer, God only sees the righteousness of Christ and therefore overlooks our egregious past, the present, and even our future failings. God continually beckons and calls to us to draw near to Him that we might be close to Him—in the center of His will where there is an abundance of love and, yes, forgiveness. 
Love and Grace Equals Redemption
It is because of love that, today, we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is nothing we could have done to earn salvation—no amount of money can purchase salvation because it is free to all who believe on Jesus Christ. The catalyst of salvation is love. John 3:16 is clear, “God so loved that word that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.” It is because of love that we all share in this great salvation, (1 Corinthians 12:13).
In Paul’s encomium of love, he presents love as a lifestyle for Christians—a way of living that reflects God’s character in us. In fact, in John 13:35, Jesus says: Your love and unselfish concern for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” And, so it is…that without saying that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, your actions of love will speak volumes to those who may not know Christ.
The Triad of the Other
“It is a difficult and rare virtue, to mean what we say, to love without deceit, to think no evil, to bear no grudge, to be free from selfishness, to be innocent and straightforward…simplehearted.” ~ John Henry Cardinal Newman
As Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 13, he writes: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” This phrase comes just after Paul’s eloquent and famous description of what true love—agape love—is. There are several ways in which love can be said to be the greatest. But, the question, begs a response, “What does it mean that the greatest of the three graces is love?”
Paul lists love along with faith and hope as a gift that lasts forever. The lasting nature of faith, hope, and love, make them greater than all other gifts of the Spirit he previously mentions, which are temporary. In 1Corinthians 13:8, Paul identifies the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge as coming to an end and says that of the three “forever gifts,” love is the greatest.
Love is the Greatest Gift
And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love,
1 Corinthians 13:13 AMP ~ The Apostle Paul
Love is greater than faith and hope in that both faith and hope depend on love for their existence. Without love, there can be no true faith; a loveless faith is nothing but an empty religious exercise. For example, Paul says: “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).  
And, without love, there can be no genuine hope; a loveless hope is an oxymoron, because we can’t truly hope for something that we do not love. (I will never hope for a root-canal!) No! Faith and hope are dead and become innate and sterile things if not accompanied by love. In truth, of these triad of graces, nothing matters but love.
Love – the Personification of God’s Nature
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Love is the greatest gift is because it is quintessential essence of God’s nature. First John 4:8 tells us that God is love. The book of John and John’s three letters are replete with the theme of love. In them we find that God gives us His love, and as we live our lives, we should reflect that love back to Him in our actions towards others. John writes, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Within this context Jesus taught that the greatest two commandments both include love, which are:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37–40).
John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift:
“Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.”
In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In diffusing love, it is spread abroad indiscriminately in everything spiritual and natural act that we do! Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift. Nothing matters but love!
God’s Word and Our Moral Conscious are at Times
Conflicted with God’s Requirements for Christian Living
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,”
Matthew 5:44 ~ Jesus Christ
When Jesus said: we are to love our enemies, He was creating a new standard for relationships. He proclaimed to the crowds listening to His Sermon on the Mount that they knew they were to love their neighbor because the command to love our neighbor was a law of God that had been passed down through them (Leviticus 19:18). That we must therefore hate our enemy was an inference incorrectly drawn from it by the Jews. While no Bible verse explicitly says “hate your enemy,” the Pharisees may have somewhat misapplied some of the Old Testament passages about hatred for God’s enemies (Psalm 139:19-22; 140:9-11).
Yet, I must confess that, although in Christ I am a new creation, my old self—the old Ernie—at times, arises when I have been offended and it causes me to inquire of God as to why must I love this [particular] enemy? You, yourself God, must admit that he’s not very handsome. He is not a believer. He does more harm than good. Why, I even heard that he cheats on his wife! Why must I love this person who has brought so much grief and pain into my life or the lives of my family and friends? Can I retaliate just a little bit? O God, can I at least through a rotten tomato or an egg at my him? I would feel so much better if I could punch him in the face. Tomorrow I will repent and confess to Rev. Weems of my wrong doing and ask for forgiveness. Tomorrow!
But, aside from this satire, the die has been cast. And, as a son of God, I am personally committed and bound by my love for God and His love for me to strive to obey His commands. Jesus replaced this revenge idea with an even higher standard saying: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). He goes on to explain that loving those who love us is easy and even unbelievers can do that, i.e., they have phileo [platonic, affectionate] love among themselves. Then He challenges us with the command, “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48). In other words:
commit yourself to grow into spiritual maturity both in mind and character, actively integrating godly values into your daily life.
Who Is My Neighbor
“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
Jesus explained to His followers that they should adhere to the real meaning of God’s law by loving their enemies as well as their neighbors. A Pharisee once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus then told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Here Jesus taught that His followers must demonstrate love to all kinds of people—no matter what faith, nationality, ethnicity, or personality—enemies included. If you love your enemies and “pray for those who persecute you,” you then truly reveal that Jesus is Lord of your life.
A Painful Lesson in Loving the Faceless Other
A story is told about a soldier who was finally coming home after having fought in Vietnam. He called his parents from San Francisco. “Mom and Dad, I’m coming home, but I’ve a favor to ask. I have a friend I’d like to bring home with me. “Sure,” they replied, “we’d love to meet him.”
“There’s something you should know,” the son continued, “he was hurt pretty badly in the fighting. He stepped on a land mind and lost an arm and a leg. He has nowhere else to go, and I want him to come live with us.”
His parents replied, “We’re sorry to hear that, son. Maybe we can help him find somewhere to live.”
“No, Mom and Dad, I want him to live with us.”
“Son,” said the father, “you don’t know what you’re asking. Someone with such a handicap would be a terrible burden on us. We have our own lives to live, and we can’t let something like this interfere with our lives. I think you should just come home and forget about this guy. He’ll find a way to live on his own.”
At that point, the son hung up the phone. The parents heard nothing more from him. Sometime later, however, they received a call from the San Francisco police. Their son had died after falling from a building, they were told. The police believed it was suicide.
The grief-stricken parents flew to San Francisco and were taken to the city morgue to identify the body of their son. They recognized him, but to their horror they also discovered something they didn’t know, their son had only one arm and one leg.
Moral: The parents in this story are like many of us. We find it easy to love those who look like us, with whom we have a healthy relationship, who are good-looking, who reflect our values, who are whole, healthy, and free of disabilities, or fun to have around. But, we don’t like people who invade our state of well-being—those who inconvenience us or make us feel uncomfortable. Like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we would rather cross the road than be imposed upon to help one in need of our understanding and love.
Praise God there is someone who won’t treat us that way. There is someone who love us with an unconditional love; someone who knows the worse thing there is to know about us and regardless to how broken how crippled, how messed we are—and yes, how sinful we may be, he will welcome us into the forever family. It is Jesus Christ! He loves us with an everlasting love and He is inviting you to love Him today!
Love never fails—it never ends!
1 Corinthians 13:8a ~ The Apostle Paul
What God has revealed to us in this morning’s text is that love is not based on emotion, but it is through our actions to each other and more so, to the faceless neighbor, that we show love. He has revealed that in this life that we live, nothing matters but love.
Love never fails—it never ends. In fact, as Paul eloquently affirms that God’s love for us is to strong that nothing at all can separate us from God’s eternal love: He says, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
A Poem by Emmet Fox
There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer.
No disease that enough love will not heal.
No door that enough love will not open.
No gulf that enough love will not bridge.
No wall that enough love will not throw down.
No sin that enough love will not redeem.
It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble.
How hopeless the outlook. How muddled the tangle. How great the mistake.
A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all.
If only one could love enough, you would be the happiest and most powerful being in the world.
“Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have!”
1 Samuel 25:6
 “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” 1 John 1:9 NRSV.
 “But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve,” Jeremiah 17:10, New Living Translation NLT.
 “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness,” Jeremiah 13:3 NIV.
 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven, Matthew 5:14-16 NRSV.
 Agape love is “love: the highest form of love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.”Not to be confused with “philēo” – brotherly love – agápē embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends, that serves regardless of circumstances, cf John 3:16; 11:1-3.
 “Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end,” 1 Corinthians 13:8 NRSV.
7 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love [for others growing out of God’s love for me], then I have become only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [just an annoying distraction],” 1 Corinthians 13:1 Amplified Version (AMP). Paul’s expression of love here means a profound thoughtfulness and unselfish concern for other believers regardless of their circumstances or station in life.
 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing,” 1 Corinthians 13:2 NRSV.
 “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him,” 1 John 3:17-19 NRSV.
9 “Our prayer must not be self-centered. It must arise not only because we feel our own need as a burden we must lay upon God, but also because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own. To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them,” John Calvin.
 Paul amplifies the revenge idea in Romans 12:17-20, teaching us to “Never repay anyone evil for evil. Take thought for what is right and gracious and proper in the sight of everyone. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the way open for God’s wrath [and His judicial righteousness]; for it is written [in Scripture], “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.”