Deuteronomy 6:4-5, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a     “Love”


            Last week we talked about the “Law” as it exists in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and to make a long sermon short, we said that the love that we have for God and our neighbors fulfills the law. Jesus said that he came to fulfill the Law. Moreover we can read in Saint Paul’s words from his letter to the church in Galatia chapter 5:22 “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against such things!”

            Last week I mentioned also that Jesus commands us to love. You can read this in all of the gospels, but I did read from Matthew 22 last time. We today call this “The Great Commandment.” Although we call it a commandment, we know that no one can simply command another to love. Love does not work that way, does it? Love is an emotion. So, we see that we love because “God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Last week I also mentioned John 3:16-17 that states that “God so loved the world that God gave his only begotten Son.” So, the question is to all of us, what would you feel for someone that could sacrifice so much out of love for you? Would you not naturally have love in your heart? And, what kind of love is that?


            We are supposed to be comparing and contrasting Hebrew ideas with Christian ones: What is love in the Old Testament? The word is “ahab.” This word is used as broadly as the English word love is. It describes, for instance, the love between a man and woman in Song of Songs 3:5. It describes the affection between Jonathon and David in 1 Samuel 20:17. And, in the text we first heard this morning, it describes the love that we have for God in heaven.

            What I find super fascinating about this is that regularly in the modern world, we set a division between human love and divine love. We say that human love is all about the self; whereas, divine love is selfless and unconditional. In other words, I love you because I am getting something out of it for myself. It fulfills my needs. I should at least get a box of chocolates on Valentines’ Day!

            Divine love is eternal and everlasting; whereas, human love is seemingly temporal. Even when we get married, we say “until death do us part,” or more commonly “Until as we both shall live.” I have heard some people respond to this idea by saying, “Nope, he is not getting out of this that easily!” Or, “You mean, all I have to do is kill him?”

            The third idea is that divine love is sacrificial. We know that God was willing to die on the Cross for us. God was ready to give his only Son. For whom would you die? If you could stop the war in Israel by offering up your own life, would you do it? Did not God do that for all of humanity?


            The New Testament commandment to love as Jesus gave us leans very much more to the divine than the human side of love. I believe the commandment is very much to love more divinely . Let us not make such a big contrast between human and divine love. Saint Paul is really trying hard to fulfill Jesus’ commandment when he is writing his letter to the people in the church at Corinth. He is really super upset with the people there! He sees his efforts to foster a Christian church there as a failure actually. There was so much tension between the church in Corinth and Paul that they would not support his ministry at all, so he went to making tents in order to feed himself, and when he finally left, they told him never to come back again. If you go on to read Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, you realize right off that Paul was writing to the church there because he knew he was not welcome to come back.

            So many people say these days, “We have to get back to the New Testament Church.” I say, ummm, “No thank you.” We have had two thousand years of trial and error with how to have church as Jesus intended, I am not going back to square one!

            To be sure with this text from 1 Corinthians, the one that is used again and again at marriage ceremonies, we only have to continue reading it to realize what was really on Paul’s heart. He gets kind of tough with those churchgoers in Corinth. He tells them to stop just speaking in tongues without having any kind of interpretation, that that practice is useless to the church. Go ahead and read around this “love passage” and see for yourselves! Paul is speaking about divine love, but it is really a kind of a tough love.

            Before we go any further, I do want to lift out that concept of “tough love” as it has been called today. Do you all remember when Jesus came to the Temple in Jerusalem and turned the tables of the money changers? Or when Jesus was a little bit curt with his disciples, especially Peter? Jesus even lays into his mother Mary somewhat at the marriage at Cana! Being loving towards others sometimes means going beyond the milktoast infantile understanding of love that might even lead us to a kind of sick codependency to abuse.

            Remember that Jesus commanded us to love others as we love ourselves. That means quite simply that there should be no sense of self-loathing as a Christian. So, we encourage others to seek the ideals of divine love as God loves us–but we do not put up with hate directed back to us by others. That is what Paul does with the people of Corinth. They have expressed hatred towards Paul, so he reminds them of the standard of divine love that every Chrsitian should shoot for.

            The Greek word for this divine love that Paul is asking of the Corinthians is “agape.” Today this word even exists in the English dictionary as an English word. It is also in many other European languages now. But, when it was first used in the New Testament, not many really understood what it meant. It was a rare word and out of use in New Testament Greek until the Gospel writers needed a word to denote divine love from God.

            But wait, Pastor! I am sure that some of you are thinking or have remembered that the entire Old Testament was translated into Greek nearly two hundred years before Jesus came into the picture. We call this version of the Old Testament the Septuigent because seventy scholars worked independently on the translation and when they brought all their work together, it matched perfectly. A perfect miracle! When those Greek scholars saw the word “ahab” in the Hebrew, they did not translate it as “agape,” but preferred the Greek word “eleos.” So “agape” is really a New Testament, Jesus and thereafter, concept. When people heard the commandment ot love God and love their neighbor with the term “agape,” they really had to ask themselves “What does that mean?” Today, we are still asking that question! It apparently is not the same as the Old Testament. The New Testament really is a new thing all together. It is the new covenant with God. It is our attempting to live the divine kind of love that Jesus shared with us.


            What happens when we accept the command to love in this new way as Christians, that is followers of Christ? What happens to us when we succeed in loving in this eternal, sacrificial and unconditional way?

 Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg at University of Pennsylvania states that daily prayer, focusing specifically on God’s love for you, as he recommends in his book How God Changes Your Brain, actually does change your brain. It gives you a life of less stress, more joy, and even makes you live longer. I have already stated statistically that people who go to church are happier and live generally two years longer than non-church goers. So, I am just going to put the two together and state here and now that loving God will rewire your brain and make your life better all around and longer even! I believe that is a reasonable statement of fact.

Loving others will also make your life more enjoyable. When people bother you, just count that as a blessing. Remember that people bothered Jesus, too. Living God’s love in this world is challenging, but it is so much better than just giving into the hatefulness of the world. People will challenge you: You might find yourself in a moment of tough love when someone will shake his or her head and make a “tisk” noise. “So, you call yourself a Christian?” they will chide. They might even get angry with you and ask you to leave. After all that is what happened to Saint Paul at Corinth–not to mention Ephesus and even a few other places. Paul’s response is correct: still strive for the divine love. Be patient and kind, forbear, forgive, hold to the eternal, sacrifice if needed, but continue to love unconditionally because that is what Jesus taught us.