Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Love (I Corinthians 13) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel


Hannah Peterson, 23 years old, was involved in a serious car accident just one month before her wedding in Ontario.  She broke her pelvis in three places, punctured a kidney, broke some ribs, and suffered a concussion.  Despite being temporarily confined to a wheelchair; Hannah was determined not to let the accident affect her Wedding Day on August 25, 2016.   When it came time to walk down the aisle, her fiancé Stuart, tenderly carried her.

Hannah said that despite her predicament, the only emotion she allowed herself to feel on the day was joy.  Because of her injuries, Hannah sat in a wheelchair during most of her wedding, but she said: "I was determined to stand for my vows."  "That was difficult, even with Stuart holding me up.”  Hannah has continued to heal and after two months is able to walk around the house using a cane.  She added: "Stuart has never left my side during all of this.   He was strong for both of us. He always made me see how blessed I was."

We are thinking about love today because Tuesday is Valentine’s Day.  Valentine’s Day is named after a real person.  He was a Catholic bishop who lived in Rome in the 5th century.  He was young, handsome, wealthy and passionately in love with his fiancé.   As the wedding day was drawing near the Roman emperor declared that all Christians were guilty of treason.  To escape punishment, they had to worship the Roman Emperor and declare "Caesar is Lord."   As a Christian, Valentine affirmed that Jesus alone was Lord.   He refused to worship the emperor.   He was summarily arrested, tried, and condemned to death.  While awaiting his execution, Valentine wrote love letters to his fiancée, assuring her of his never-ending love.  On February 14, 259 A.D. he was martyred for his faith.

What does it mean to love someone?   Is that a simple question?  We turn to the New Testament where we find not one, but three different Greek words for love.   The first is philos from which is derived our word Philadelphia.  It refers to brotherly love or sisterly love.  It symbolizes the love between family members or the love between friends.  It refers to the love Brigitte and her teachers have for the children of our preschool.

A second Greek word for love in the New Testament is Eros, from which our word erotic comes.  It refers to romantic love, passionate love, sensual desire.  It is a love that is attracted to someone because of the qualities that person possesses: a free spirit, beauty, cuteness, lovableness, personality, intelligence.  Both of these biblical words for love are grounded in our feelings for one another.

The third Greek word is agape.  Agape love is not grounded in feelings.  It is grounded in principle, in faith, in obedience to God.  It is love in action.  It is a giving, not a receiving love.  It is a unilateral, not a mutual love.  It is helping a person you may not like.  It is reaching out to someone because of their need, not because you care for them.   It is giving money to a cause because you believe in the cause, not because you personally know those who will benefit from your act of charity.  “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death, your right to say it.”  I think that is a contemporary example of agape love.

Agape love is about doing the right thing, the good thing, acting justly out of obedience to Jesus, rather than acting out of emotions.  It is a decision one makes to honor someone.   It is love motivated by the power and love of God in our lives.  Agape love is loving like God loves.  By grace through faith, God gives us the ability to love like God does.

Our passage from I Corinthians 13 uses the third word, agape, when it speaks about love.   It reveals love’s qualities and virtues.   As you listen, think about how you have expressed agape love to someone or how someone has expressed agape love to you.

Love is patient!   It is grounded in self-awareness, an awareness of your own imperfections and flaws and foibles.  It is rooted in humility.  It knows relationships take time.  It acknowledges that people are a work in progress.  Patience means we make allowances for another’s shortcomings because we are acutely aware of our own.   We allow time for another person to grow and learn from their mistakes just as we are growing and learning.

I strive to give thanks every day because I know Nancy is more patient with me, than I am of her.   I am still enrolled in Patience 101 and hope to graduate to Patience 102 someday.  Patience is a vital dimension of love.  Can I get an amen!

Love is kind!  Kindness expresses love in pragmatic ways.    Kindness is helping another person simply because that person is in need.  Kindness means you are willing to share your time and resources without expecting anything in return.   Kindness is a phone call, listening, a visit, a gift, taking a meal, watching someone’s children, inviting to church, standing up for someone, helping financially.  Ephesians 4:32 says:  “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God has forgiven you.”  Yes, kindness is a vital dimension of love.

Love is secure!   Love is mature.  Love does not envy others; it isn’t boastful, resentful, rude or arrogant.   Envy and jealously reveal insecurity.  A loving relationship does not keep secrets or keep a record of wrongs or hurts against another.  Love forgives and let’s go and moves on.   Love says: “I will stand by you. I am there for you.”  Such commitment is possible when we are in a secure relationship with God in Christ.  We can love because we know God loves us.   Being secure is a vital dimension of love.

Love is generous.   It doesn’t insist on its own way.   Someone said there are four kinds of relationships.  First, take and take relationships.  I take from you and you take from me; I use you and you use me.  Second, give and take relationships.  I give and you take.  Know any relationships like that?  Third, fair exchange relationships or quid pro quo; you do this for me, I’ll do that for you, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.  Fourth, give and give relationships, relationships which are agape centered and God-centered, where both people are willing to share, to sacrifice, to compromise as an expression of their love for one another. 

Agape love is pro-active, it takes the initiative.  It is not afraid to give first or to forgive first or to apologize first.  God was pro-active.  Scripture says: “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  Jesus gave himself to us before we even knew him.”  Love is based in truth and honesty.  It is not deceptive.  Love values integrity.  Loving involves being vulnerable, even risking one’s life for another.  I think of the exemplary men and women of our military and the stories of heroism which we often hear.   To give one’s life for another is the ultimate act of agape love.

Love endures forever.  It perseveres.  It’s tenacious.  It honors commitment.   It doesn’t quit or run away at the first sign of trouble.  It bears all things, and believes, and hopes. It grows in wisdom and rises above childish thinking and expresses itself in mature and responsible ways.

I close with this story.  Roger Zerbe suffered from early onset Alzheimer's disease.  His wife, Becky, remembers a journal entry he left on her pillow after a particularly troubling bout of forgetfulness.  “Honey, today fear is taking over.  The day is coming when all my memories of this life we share will be gone. In fact, you and the boys will be gone from me. I will lose you even as I am surrounded by you and your love.  I don't want to leave you. I want to grow old in the warmth of memories. Forgive me for leaving so early and painfully.”

Blinking back tears, I picked up my pen and wrote: “My sweet husband, what will happen when we get to the point where you no longer know me? I will continue to go on loving you and caring for you—not because you know me or remember our life, but because I remember you.  I will remember the man who proposed to me and told me he loved me, the look on his face when his children were born, the father he was, the way he loved our extended family.  I'll recall his love for riding, hiking, and reading; his tears at sentimental movies; the unexpected witty remarks; and how he held my hand while he prayed. I cherish the pleasure, obligation, commitment, and opportunity to care for you because I remember you.”

To love another is an amazing privilege and honor.  Indeed, it’s a gift from God.   “These three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.”  Amen!

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