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A clanging cymbal???

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” I Corinthians 13:1-8, NIV

Paul is showing us two things:

1. No matter what we are doing within the church, or how energetically we work to expand the kingdom of God, if we do not love others—truly and sincerely, it’s all a waste of time. He goes into detail to say to those of us that are gifted orators, or wise about what’s going on politically in the world, or to those who are brilliant and powerful—not matter what, if love for others is not the central thing that is motivating us….if love is not the hoped end result of what we are doing….if love is not the virtue by which all we do is measured and determined, we have accomplished nothing—and perhaps even done damage to God’s purposes.

That’s a pretty bold and sobering statement! So if I teach Sunday school, and even become totally impoverished to help others, and love is not the reason, it amounts to nothing? Apparently so! Work and money cannot replace love. Love is far more valuable and essential.

But Paul’s words are either ignored or not read often enough. Saint James talked about the danger of just praying for someone that needed food or shelter—his point was that we needed to take action, not just talk about it. And that’s true, of course. But think about the trillions of dollars we’ve spent, just in our nation, to help others, and yet it appears to have done nothing to change the hearts and destinies of millions and millions of Americans that still have their hands out expecting more. Ignoring people in need is not the answer, but neither is throwing money (or “reparations”) at them. The prevailing violence and hatred that divides our communities would not exist unless a profound lack of love was fanning the flames.

An outpouring of love will lead us to help and encourage the disenfranchised like nothing else ever will, but all the brilliant speeches, expensive payouts, angry debates and rioting will never bring peace and purpose to those that are lost—or that have been left behind economically.

What none of our statesmen, leaders or journalists seem to grasp is that we must, as a nation and as a personal choice, love those that are quite unlovable. That includes the illegal immigrants, the ultra-nationalists, the socialists, the LGBTQ community and all those in between. Love, is neither noble or a virtue if we only love those around us that are lovable.

Receiving gifts or support from those that don’t love us is not only uninspiring, we eventually end up resenting the ones giving the gifts. We might take their support, but only because we have to, or because we’ve become dependent upon it. So you might think that giving your money away is your language of love, or that volunteering with a blood drive is love in action, or that teaching or preaching is love. But all these things can be done with no love, and the world is the worse off because of it. If God’s love is in our hearts, our reactions and insight compels us to give away more than we can afford, to volunteer time and time again to help those that are in need, and to teach and preach and offer our very lives for those we love! But these activities are our response to love—-not our obedience to some guilt-filled advertisement or slick marketing scheme. When you do good things because of an out-pouring of love, you are blessed more than the receiver of your love!

Then Paul goes on to tell what love is— because it’s obvious that the folks Corinth had forgotten! And so have many of us, perhaps. What is love?

Love is patient. It’s been said that “the practice of patience toward one another, the overlooking of one another's defects, and the bearing of one another's burdens is the most elementary condition of all human and social activity in the family, in the professions, and in society.” Are you patient with those that annoy you?

…kind. According to Mark Twain, kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see. Kindness can traverse boundaries, race, and even disabilities. Don’t try to be kind—decide to love, and you will be kind.

…not jealous. "Comparison is the thief of joy." - Theodore Roosevelt. "If you have a grateful attitude, you’re going to be less focused on what others have and less likely to be unhappy because of envy" -Richard H. Smith

…not boastful . You’re not the focus, nor is an exaggeration of your abilities or action the focus, if you are living in love. Love is not about you—it’s about the other. Without another to love—-there is no love. This is what, by definition, if God is love, then for all eternity there had to be another to love—-the Son.

…not proud . Love is not only a focus upon the other, it’s forgetting about yourself as you pour out your affection on the good and the building up of the other one.

…not rude. Need I say more? There’s no place for rudeness in love. There’s a place for honesty….even direct confrontation and disagreements. But no one that is filled with the Holy Spirit goes about being rude.

Paul goes on to say that love does not demand its own way, is not irritable, keeps no record of being wronged, does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

So you get the idea that if this is love, a lot of folks who might call themselves “faithful churchgoers”, or “committed, conservative Christians”, are really…. an annoying noise to those that do not know Jesus Christ; and the lost might never come to Him if we don’t get back to the basics of love.

As a student of the Bible, though, what gets my attention is that we’re told at least three things about this kind of love:

1-We’re told that God is the source, and that it’s a gift. In John’s epistles, he’s clear that “love is of God and the one that does not love does not know God, for God is love. I am not speaking to you, or writing this homily, to condemn or judge you. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. But if you are incapable of love, it’s clearly because you do not know God. You’ve been fooled by some cheap imitation of love, or you’re just fooling yourself. But if people come across your lack of love and decide that they want nothing to do with Jesus, because they conclude that your lack of love reflect His lack of love, you need to ask yourself this question: “Do I want to stand before God knowing that I’ve caused others to stumble?” Do you really know the Author of love? You can’t fake God’s love. You have either experienced it, first hand, or you have not. But you cannot receive His love and not know the difference between His love—and the love that is common to all mankind. His is far superior and beyond any comparison.

2-But we’re also told that love we are to live is produced within us, by a natural out-pouring, or by-product, of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That means, I think, that if you are properly related to Jesus Christ, and therefore filled with His Holy Spirit, that love erupts from your soul! It bursts forth, unexpectedly, and the proper time, to the delight and joy of those that need to taste of His love.

3-Thirdly, and finally, we’re commanded to love! Jesus said, “ A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” So it seems a bit strange. Love is from God—not us. It’s a gift. It comes to us only by being filled with Holy Spirit—we cannot manufacture it on our own. And yet we are commanded to love each other. In fact, we are told time and again, that if we don’t love, we’re not going to get into heaven!

So what are we to do? We cannot demand that God give us His gift so that we can love others like He demands…we cannot force the Holy Spirit into our souls so that we bear the gift of love….and yet he DEMANDS that we love like He loves us! It’s an impossible demand!

It seems that God expects us to be what we are not! And that’s the truth of the good news. God does not expect us to simply admit that we are bad and beg to go to heaven. He expects us to confess our sins, plead for His mercy, and ask Jesus to come into our hearts to make us into new creatures—-creatures in which the Holy Spirit can dwell, and true love can flow.

We weren’t saved to simply avoid hell! We were saved to become true sons and daughters of a God who is by definition LOVE. How do you know that God’s love is really within you? Well, the Bible tells us to love our neighbors, which is easy, but also to love our enemies; probably because they are usually the same people. But I know for a fact that there are some folks, within our community, that absolutely do not love others—others that are as faithful and stout in their faith as other Christians, but think that it’s okay. It’s not!! It is the greatest stumbling block to the expansion of God’s Kingdom on earth!

The final thing Paul said about love is this:Finally, love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” I Corinthians 13:1-8, NIV) Does that describe the love you have for your fellow members of this fellowship…the love you have for your friends, family members and neighbors? And don’t you want to be the object of such love by all those around you, folks that claim to know God, whether near or far away, and regardless of your failures, mistakes and missteps?

The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost; people are being lost to eternal separation from God because we’re not loving them as we ought to.

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