1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:1-13
For the past month or so, as we have worked through these marks, it has hopefully opened our eyes to this idea of what it means to be a Christian. In his article The Character of a Methodist, John Wesley gives consideration as to why, these people called “Methodists” carry the moniker of Christian. He dives into the understanding of how the people in this movement should seek to embody the ideals that connect us to Christ.
We are a people deepening our relationship with a God who desires to love us. Out of this, there are two responses. Jesus reminds us that we are called to love God and love our neighbor.
In the first four marks, we have mostly looked at our relationship with God (justifiably as it is a big part of our faith).
- We began by exploring the way we express our love for God, and not just any ordinary love. We agape God in the same way that God agapes us. It is an unconditional love, based on love itself, not our own ideals or desires.
- Next, we talked about our calling to rejoice in God. We observed this idea of happiness and blessing as a mindset rather than merely an emotional response in life.
- Third, we unpacked the idea of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving (much like joy) is not something based on our present circumstances but based in part on God’s love and presence.
- Last week, we examined how we work and grow that relationship with God through healthy communication. We learned what it means to pray without ceasing.
The Final Mark
This all sets the stage for the final mark that Wesley enlightens us to. Wesley says,
“And while he thus always exercises his love to God, by praying without ceasing, rejoicing evermore, and in every thing giving thanks, this commandment is written in his heart, that he who loveth God, loves his brother also. And he accordingly loves his neighbor as himself; he loves every man as his own soul.”John Wesley, Found at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N20188.0001.001/1:3?rgn=div1;view=fulltext
The Final Mark: A Methodist Loves Others.
We began this series by talking about love. Specifically, what it means for God to love us, and what it means for us to return that love to God in proportion.
This last mark becomes the final logical step in our relationship with God. Just as the first four marks defined how we are in a relationship with God, now we consider our relationship with God’s creation. We see throughout scripture the foundation of love as the defining characteristic of our expression of faith towards creation. We see in 1 John 4:20:
“Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
John is bold enough to proclaim false prophecy on people who express love towards God, but do not express the same love towards others, but where does this sentiment even come from?
For this answer, we look toward Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 25:
“Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”Matthew 25:45-46 New Revised Standard Version
Hearing both of these foundations of faith it is no wonder why John Wesley considers what the marks of a Methodist are he considers the way we treat others as a manner of living out our faith. This love then is directly connected to our love for God.
Why? Because it is the same manner of love.
Remember when we started this series and we talked about the varying types of love that exist and the words that the Greeks used to differentiate these loves? You had philio, storge, eros, and agape. It was agape that stood out as the expression that God embodies towards us and that we are called to reciprocate.
However, Jesus calls us to extend that a step further. Not only is agape meant to be directed toward God, but toward our fellow human beings as well. Again this is not a qualifying love. Therefore, no matter who they are, what they believe, or even what they think about us we are called to love others…unconditionally. This is a dangerous and bold kind of love.
As I mentioned in the first mark, agape love is based on the nature of the giver of the love and not the receiver. There is no qualification for this love. We do not love out of familial obligation. We do not love because we have things in common with them. We do not love because we feel some sort of romantic or sexual attraction to them. No, we love because they are human beings, created and loved by God. Therefore, they deserve the love we have to offer.
We Need to Love Others
This can be one of the most difficult things for us to practice. We very often try to set stipulations on the love we offer to others.
Throughout history, we have declared who is most worthy of all that humans offer to other humans. We have denigrated others because we view them as less than others.
We have denigrated Africans by stripping them from their homeland and enslaving them. We have denigrated black people for the color of their skin segregating them to separate bathrooms, drinking fountains, and even schools. We have denigrated women by thinking them submissive in all things and excluding them from teaching, preaching, or even being their own individual selves apart from men. We have denigrated immigrants because they were not privileged enough to be born in this country. We have denigrated those different from us for being different and even used our faith to justify non-loving acts towards them.
However, Jesus teaches us to love others. Even the writer in John takes that teaching from Jesus and defines how our love for others is an expression of our love for God.
How We Love
So then we dive deeper into love and what it truly means if we are to understand how we are to live it. Paul enlightens us about this love, as he writes in this letter to the Corinthian Church.
Many of you may be familiar with this passage, as it is most often read at weddings. However, fun fact, Paul is not talking about romantic love or eros. Every time you see the word love, or charity as it is sometimes translated, in this passage it is agape.
*Now yes, there is a sense in which agape forms our understanding and is the foundation of other types of love, but to misconstrue this as only the love between spouses misunderstands Paul’s point here.
Paul is seeking to convey the true nature of agape. So what do we learn about love from Paul?
Unpacking 1 Corinthians 13
- First love never gives up.
- “Love is patient; love is kind;…”
- Even in trouble, even in bad times, love is always there. Even when someone hurts you beyond what seems like repair love is still there. As emotional beings, when we are hurt our first reaction is to restrict love to whoever hurt us. However, love is patient and kind, it doesn’t give up just because we are hurt, but should be extended even when it is tough. This does not mean that we just forgive and forget, but that even when harmed we still love, and find ways to be in a relationship with one another…sometimes that means a relationship without being near one another.
- Second love cares more for others than self.
- “Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;…”
- We are not meant to give based on how we feel. It is not envious of what we want, or boastful of what we have. It is not resentful and is not based on itself. When we love it is because we are called to do so. Love is the extension of helping others and doing good work for others who truly need it. God does not love for their personal self, but God loves out of the genuineness of creation. Therefore, we do not love for what we may get out of it, but because it is who we are called to be.
- Thirdly, love doesn’t keep score.
- “…it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”
- Love does not keep a record of our sins, and therefore if we are called to love, then we should not either. Love is rejoicing and flows from a rejoicing soul. However, when we get bogged down by the sins of others, and trying to keep track of what people have done wrong we lose sight of love. We lose sight of the love we are supposed to give and we don’t give it, because we deem people unworthy by their acts of our love. Yes, harm against us will and should affect how our relationship with others is expressed, but we must remain in a posture of love towards others.
- Fourth, love just exists.
- “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
- Love is always there. It has existed from the very beginning and it is the manner in which each one of us is created exactly in the manner that we are. All of the anger and hatred that we harbor and hold on to arises from our own human desires. It is something that has created a barrier in the way that God has called us to share their love.
- And lastly, love is the greatest.
- “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
- Why in these three is love the greatest? Because love is the outward expression of the other two. For Wesley, it was not enough to have faith or hope, but our faith and hope had to be lived out in our daily lives by our means of loving creation. If we see Wesley did not have the one mark of loving God, but five marks. Each mark plays on the idea of a faith that is not just had but a faith that is lived, and when Paul says love is the greatest he means it because it is the expression of our hope and our faith.
Paul describes a love that is all-giving no matter who the person is and calls us to recognize whom we have failed to love and seek to mend those relationships. It means that despite knowing that all lives matter it is focusing our hearts and minds on ones that have not been loved. It means that despite seeing the terrible tragedies happening all around us that we answer hate with love. It means that even if someone hurts you that you work towards reconciliation and love. Even if they are unwilling to do so.
Better With Love,
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”Martin Luther King Jr. – Quote found at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/martin_luther_king_jr_101472
I love the first three verses of this 1 Corinthians passage, and I especially love it the way it is written by Eugene Peterson in the message,
“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
We are truly bankrupt without love. The commandments are to love God and love neighbor. Those are the bookends of our faith. When we combine these five marks, when we love God, rejoice in God always, in everything give thanks, pray constantly, and love others we produce the fruit of a living and active faith. A faith that does not judge, but a faith that is an expression of the God who loves us beyond all measure.
I want you to take a deep and long look at yourself. Who are you failing to love? How could you be better about loving all of God’s children on this earth? And how can you use all of these marks together to produce a more fruitful faith?