A person who came into my life during my college years was a very awkward classmate who attached himself to me … here, there, and everywhere on campus. Though obviously a good guy, he was not one whom you would especially reach out to include in your new group of social relationships. His manner of dress was decidedly out of the norm, wearing clothing of a type and style you would rather have expected to see on someone in their elderly years. He talked and talked … a lot! And that, along with his loud laugh, was awkward also. Hey, I was trying to make friends with what I perceived to be my true social caste – the cool kids and athletes who everyone wanted to know. This guy was an encumbrance to my successful rise to elite social status.
But he didn’t give up or go away. He clearly cared about me as a person and wanted to be my genuine friend. And he persisted until I finally came around and included him in my inner circle of relationships. In the end, I just couldn’t not like a person that genuinely loved me as a brother in Christ. He has remained a lifelong friend, possibly the most pure-hearted and loving guy ever … even if still unstylish and uncool by worldly standards.
Love wins, it always does, and that’s because it is the best and greatest thing ever.
The Corinthians were very impressed with other things – like all the showy and powerful accoutrements of this new Christian faith. These folks would definitely choose, if given a choice, to go to the church experience with the celebrity pastor and loud worship team bopping away on the latest pop worship tunes with colored lights swirling through the fog of the smoke machines. They would want to be a part of the congregation that boasted of its multi-faceted and extensive outreaches to those outside the walls.
And to this fascination with the boldly visible elements of the Christian life, Paul essentially says, “Yes, that stuff is OK, but if you don’t have the foundation of love, it ain’t worth much at all. That stuff is fluff, some day it passes away.”
Among the most loved of Scriptural passages is the famous 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to Corinth, the love chapter …
1 Corinthians 13:1 – 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. 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.
13:4 – 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.
13:8 – 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.
13:13 – And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
We know the story of the disciple John and his exile to Patmos very late in his life, the place where he received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the final book of our New Testament. A part of that prophecy was to speak to the church of Ephesus about their loss of the priority of love.
(These final paragraphs come from a devotional article sent out by our home office of the EFCA …)
After 18 long months on the island of Patmos, John was allowed to return to Ephesus, where he was joyfully reunited with his fellow believers. Once home, he discovered that in spite of a murderous emperor Domitian and the Lord’s assessment of the church, the gates of hell had not prevailed against the body of believers in Ephesus. According to one tradition handed down by Jerome, the elderly apostle had to be carried to the church in the arms of his disciples. At their gatherings, he would simply tell them, “Little children, love one another!” When they asked him why he kept repeating the same message, he reportedly said, “It is the Lord’s command. And if this alone be done, it is enough!” History tells us that John died peacefully of natural causes in 98 A.D.
I like to imagine John on board a ship leaving Patmos and sailing east for Ephesus. As the island got smaller and smaller in the western sky, perhaps John remembered and rejoiced afresh in the fact that there is a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. May we share in this remembrance, trusting that no matter what struggles we face, there is a throne that is established and occupied—and a King who will never be unseated.