April 24, 2022
• Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross
We start today with a new sermon series centered around the practical applications of Love. There is no area of your life where this does not apply. It’s a fitting direction considering last Sunday was the celebration Christ’s Resurrection. It was the ultimate display of love by a loving God. We learn in 1 John that God is not only described as being loving, but God is love. God is not just powerful, all knowing, but God exists as the embodiment of love.
As we go through these next few weeks, don’t just limit this to romantic love. The Greeks had different iterations of the word that described different kinds of relationships. It described love of friendships, family, our love for and from God, and romantic love.
So this will be something that you can use every single day of your life. If you have friends, you’ll be able to use. If you have children or grandchildren, love has practically implications. If you have neighbors, co-workers, classmates...If you connect with people online. It includes our love for self. And it includes our love for God. There are no relationships that don’t require us to live this out.
But for the best of us, love is easier said than done. It is something that we have to continuously work at it, learn it, unlearn it, tweak it, shape it, express it, give it, receive it.
That’s exactly why Paul had to write to the church in Corinth about it. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been in church for years or just starting out, most people have heard these words coming from 1st Corinthians 13. It’s one of the most commonly scriptures recited at weddings. In fact, how many of you have ever been to a wedding where this scripture was used? Again think beyond romantic love.
When you hear it, It almost seems like he’s preaching to the choir. He’s not writing to unbelievers. He’s not addressing people that are imprisoned. He’s not even addressing the Roman authorities or religious elite. They would have been first in the list. He’s address a church that struggle with how they are using love as an expression of their fair.
Paul is attempting to help the church in Corinth rethink, reimagine, and refocus how they live out heir faith, in particular how love is expressed.
Apparently their values started to shift. Love started to become an elective rather than a required value they needed to obtain. They started to place more of a priority on the outward expression of their gifts. They placed a higher value on things like in speaking in tongues, prophesying before people, having all knowledge, mountain moving faith, and even extreme levels of sacrifice. But here’s what Paul’s says…Paul says you can have all of the things and still have nothing if you don’t have love.
What makes Paul’s assertion even more interesting is that he’s spent the last chapter telling them how important each of their gifts were to the body of Christ. He tells them “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ... Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.. But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”
Paul’s spends the entire chapter reminding them of how important it was to value the different roles that each one of them played. It was his way of helping each believer see how important they were regardless of level of gifted ness. He was trying to create some form of unity to help everyone see how they belonged.
Does anyone know what this is? (Slide) It’s the picture of Tom Brady’s supposedly last touchdown he almost ever threw. It was auctioned off and the bid started at 100 thousand dollars and rose to over a half a million dollars. A day later he announced he was returning to football and the value of the ball dropped by 90 percent! One essential element lowered the value. Same ball. Same game. Same quarterback. Nothing about the ball changed, but the one essential completely changed its value.
So it is with our own lives. Think about all of the things that our culture values over love. We value stability. We value the acquisition of wealth and power. We value education. Think about all of the things that hold a higher value than love. That is what pool is speaking to Today. Paul is giving us an opportunity to reimagine, rethink, and refocus our priorities and values around love. Because without the presence of love, it lowers the value of so many other things in our lives. Same gift, but the value is lowered. Same talent. Same opportunity. Same abilities, but the impact and value is lowered if we don’t have love. According to Paul I can obtain all of these things and still have nothing.
You replicate what you reward.
Here’s how this happens. You replicate what you reward. (Slide) The kind of behaviors and values that get repeated are those that overtly and covertly get rewarded. Be careful what you reward. Be cautious with your congratulations. Watch who gets recognized. Pay attention to who gets the attention. Who gets promoted?
I don’t think it’s a mistake that Paul highlights these very public gifts that have high visibility and noteriety.
It’s not hard to see why people in Corinth started to value these outward display of gifts. It’s not as though love is not important, it just wasn’t essential. You can that these were the people that were well known and celebrated.
Think of how many ways we reward people. If I’m a good actor I can win and Oscar. If I’m great on Broadway, I can win a Tony. If I’m good at music, I can win a Grammy. At just about any level, you can get rewarded and recognized by the level of your giftedness.
We have created a culture where we have high praises for recognizing people with extraordinary gifts or talents. These are the people that get to lead. We see them on magazine covers. Some of them write books on being highly successful. They get paid to speak. And often, we will look past their personal lives. Why? Because they are great as what they do?
Here’s the problem. Without ever saying, it’s our reward system. Your value changes if your great. We give you power. We give you influence. Unknowingly, we are rewarded a particular set of values and behaviors and it gets replicated.
(Happens to the best of us). One of my earliest failures in leadership was limiting the people I chose in leadership positions. Took me two years in my last church to see I had set a unhealthy culture of who could serve in leadership. It was a congregation full of high powered high functioning people. Doctors. Lawyers. Former College President. People who worked on Wall Street. Many of them had great jobs and great influence. Here’s where I was convicted.
I was preaching a sermon on how God chose 12 ordinary people from Galilee. I talked all about how they were unlikely choices, but God saw something in them. It was one of the sermons where I got excited!
I don’t know it at the time, but the sermon was for me and not them. After church we had a church council meeting and looked around I realized the only people we had around the table were the high powered, high functioning people. Without even saying it, we were rewarding a certain lifestyle. Not bad, but it said to everyone else that they didn’t have enough influence to make an impact or make decisions.
So I made a shift, I just came out and said it, I had to develop “ideal characteristics of leadership.” And then I had actually to empower those individuals. I had to change what I rewarded. I rewarded people for coming to Bible Study. I rewarded people for being kind and compassionate.
So to change behaviors, we have to change what gets rewarded. What gets recognized. Who gets promoted. Whatever we reward gets replicated. Too often in our culture, we will turn a blind eye to the absence of love in the presence of gifts and talents. But not for Paul. My talents are not an adequate substitute for what I’m lacking in my heart. That’s what you can sing your way of trouble. You can’t preach your way out of an addiction. Successful ladders doesn’t cure problems of the heart.
Good move, wrong motivation.
So here’s where I feel the challenge coming. Sometimes we have good moves can be done with the wrong motivations. (Slide) Paul is moving beyond the outcome of our gifts moving to a deeper level of commitment. Paul highlights very prestigious gifts and talents.
- Speaking in tongues refer to a supernatural language by which a believer communicates to God. Some believed it simply described a person that could communicate the gospel in different languages
- Then he talks about the gift I’d prophet you and having all knowledge and faith that can move mountains.
- Then he highlights the person that sacrifices everything.
These are great things TO DO. They are important. The church needs supernatural communication (how interpret it. The church needs proclamation, faith. and miracles. The church is based around sacrificial living. Here’s where Paul’s puts the challenge. He’s assertion of the presence of love is not suggestion that you have to be in a romantic relationship to make your life meaningful. He drawing a distinction between what you do and why you do it. God is not impressed with the work we do if it’s for the wrong reasons. Good moves can be done with the wrong motivations.
It’s possible to be martyred for your faith in Christ without caring about the people Jesus came to die for.
It’s possible to benefit from someone gifts and not recognize their humanity and treat them with dignity. Everyone that admiration is not a substitute for love.
It’s possible to love using your gifts in front of people and not love the people who receive your gifts.
It’s possible to give sacrificially and not care about the people that the money will impact.
It’s possible to serve people and not see them.
It’s possible someone to be a full member of the church and be active in all the ministries and still be the meanest person in the room.
It’s possible to think out gifts point to us, how good we are, how great we are, how gifted we are as opposed to how good God has been.
Our level of “giftedness” is not an indication of what lies in our hearts.
Love is my label.
Love now becomes my label.
Think of some of the past conversations that Jesus had with his disciples. Love was a constant theme. In fact, before Jesus was handed over to be crucified, he gave them an example of how to love this out. The night before he died they were eating a meal either, he got on his knees and started washing each of the disciples feet. This includes the feet of the same person that was going to Betty him. And he tells them something that’s going set the standard of living and being connected to him forever.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (Listen to what he says next.). By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” What would make them distinctive is their love for one another.
Love becomes the defining label or characteristic that makes them distinct. It’s not what they call themselves. It’s not their robust doctrine. It’s not their style of worship. Its not even the on which they worship. Their connection to Christ will be determined by what’s on the inside.
I am married to an individual that has strange desire of collecting purses. I have yet to understand why certain people care so much about “purses.” She has asked for them for bdays, mother’s days, Christmas. She has a whole row in her closet of nothing but purses. Red purse. Blue purse. Work Purse. Going out purse. I know you are supposed to compromise but I’ve gone on purse strike! I have committed my life to Christ and to the idea and not buying any more purses.
So there a few brands that she absolutely loves. One brand in particular had a lifetime warranty on their purses. So I was given the responsibility of going into this store and getting a strap fixed. Sound simple. But she gave me no receipt. No proof of purchase. She bought the purse years ago in a totally different city. Church I was worried.
So I go into this store full of purses. I calmly explain to them that my wife sent me on a mission to get the strap fixed but I had no receipt. “No problem”, she said.... Then she opens up the purse and starts inspecting the inside. Didn’t take her long. I noticed though that she never looked in the outside. Puts a tag on it and says that the purse would be ready in a few hours.
I was shocked! I just had to find out. I said how do u all tell if it’s real. She said the first place I look is the stitching and information on the label. The value was determined by internal inspection. It’s the quality that exists on the inside that determined the worth and authenticity of the purse.
What makes us recognizable to the world is what’s on the inside. Anybody can counterfeit whats on the outside. Anybody can sing a good song. Anybody can be successful. Anyone can preach a sermon. A dysfunctional person can gather large crowds. But what sets is apart of the label on the inside.
Here’s where we err. We often assume that what we do in the outside makes up for what we might lack on the inside. We sometimes live as though people should give as a pass, look the other, and be forgiving of our internal shortcomings, because of the outward display of our gifts and talents. The best of our gifts are not a substitute for the ways that we treat ourselves and other people.
As a society, we too easily excuse dysfunctional and detrimental behavior based on an individuals talent. The value is on what you can do, not who you are or how we care for people. The value is on how well you’ve mastered your field. The value is on your competency. The value is on acheivement. That’s not love.
Love becomes the label by which we are viewed in the eyes of God. Love is the label that makes us distinctive.
Here’s what I’ve been trying to say. God is not only calling us to make love important, God is calling us to make love essential. Love is not at elective. Because without it, what we have is absolutely nothing. Great job without love is nothing. Influence without love is nothing. Faith. Power. Authority. There is nothing that you can achieve that will be an adequate substitute.
This will be something that you can use every single day of your life. If you have friends, you’ll be able to use. If you have children or grandchildren, love has practically implications. If you have neighbors, co-workers, classmates...If you connect with people online. It includes our love for self. And it includes our love for God. There are no relationships that don’t require us to live this out.