Sunday September 15, 2002 | Greg Boyd
1 If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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. 3 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.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 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. 12 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.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Greg focused specifically on what love is in itself and how we become lovers in the biblical sense. He started out by turning to the classic biblical text on love: 1 Cor. 13. He reminded us that verses 1-3 clearly show the “all or nothing” character of love. One can have amazing experiences of God, faith to move mountains, and be a sacrificial disciple, but if you don’t have love, it means nothing to God.
Previously we have heard Greg preach about “Love and the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” then about “Love and Judgment,” and now this new series is entitled: “How to become a passionate lover.” Here we will focus in more specifically on what Love is in itself and how we become “lovers,” in the biblical sense. Greg started out by turning to the classic biblical text on love: 1 Cor. 13. He reminded us that verses 1-3 clearly show the “all or nothing” character of love. One can have amazing experiences of God, faith to move mountains, and be a sacrificial disciple, but if you don’t have love, it means nothing to God.
One thing that is strikingly absent from the 1 Cor. 13 passage is the modern idea of love as essentially a “feeling.” This is striking to us in America especially because we so often grant authority to our own feelings about things. We here in the “land of opportunity” have to make choices all the time and many of them are based on our own “likes and dislikes.” If we don’t like an idea, that sometimes is enough for us to dismiss that thought as untrue. But of course, if we consider this more carefully, it is apparent that this is faulty reasoning. Our feelings about an idea do not determine whether that idea is true or not. One common place where this emerges for Christians in America is in their feelings about God. We often say or think, “I don’t feel like God loves me.” It may be true that one feels that way, but does that really mean that God, in fact, stopped loving you? Tragically, some people conclude that this is the case.
An important point of Greg’s sermon was that feelings are not a trustworthy guide to reality. Instead feelings are a guide to how you think about reality. This is good news! If you recognize that your feeling that “God doesn’t love you” is not really a guide to truth, you are free to look elsewhere for the truth. A more reliable source is of course, God, who unambiguously tells us that you truly are loved by God, regardless of whether you feel that way or not. Greg described two ways that we “get” our feelings. In the first way, we have experiences that give us a picture of how reality is. A feeling is created by that picture, often on the basis of what that picture means about us as an individual. That feeling begins to color and shape later experiences that we have so that they are consistent with the previous one. In this system, we seem to be the victims of our circumstances and our feelings serve to reinforce the patterns established by powers outside of our control. In the second model offered things are radically different. We receive true input about who we are from God. We believe this input and internalize it. Make it our core identity. Then when we have experiences that conflict with this, we know that the source of our identity has more authority than the experiences and the powers we encounter in those experiences. We rest secure in Christ. We take captive our thoughts (2 Cor. 10:3-5) because we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We are not victims of our circumstances, but rather we stand firm in the truth of what God says about us. God, after all, is our creator and has the right to define us. Let God be true and every other input a liar (Romans 3:4).
One consequence of misunderstanding all of this is that if we think of love as a feeling, we will not be able to love as God requires. The test case Greg offered is that of the command: love your enemies. (Luke 6:27-28) But how can we love our enemies? Especially if it means feeling affectionate toward them? We cannot. For this reason, we must see that the love that is being described in 1 Cor. 13 and many other places needs a different definition than the one our culture would give it. In Greek (the language of the New Testament) there are four words that commonly get translated into our English word “love”. “Storge” which means “affection.” We often mean this when we say we “love ice cream.” It is used to identify a preference for one thing over another. “Phileo” is the “love” of friendship where there is a common bond that is shared. “Eros” is the love of deep desire. This is the love of intimacy and romance. We get the word “erotic” from the root Greek “eros.” Finally, “agape” is the love that refers to a commitment and implies action. This commitment recognizes the infinite worth of others and does so without partiality. This is the love of God.