By Paul Koch
It is always a delight to receive a gift, that small thrill that comes with opening wrapping paper is unlike any other. It is fun to give gifts as well; gifts are a way of sharing in each other’s lives. And I think gifts that given without a reason, without a special date on the calendar, are often some of the most precious of gifts – gifts given just because. Yet once a gift is given you no longer have control over it, once it leaves your hands and is placed into the hands of another you cannot force the receiver of the gift to use it as you had imagined them using it. This is best illustrated when my children receive something in a large box and set it aside only to be completely infatuated with the box itself.
But gifts that are given can be misused in much more devious ways. Gifts can be used to cause division they can be used as status symbols as a measure of who is better than another. This is what happens after Christmas when the kids get back to school and they immediately begin comparing what they got, it’s an opportunity to gloat to look better than the next guy, but those who gave the gifts certainly didn’t give them to be used in this manner. And I know we would love to imagine that while our gifts may go awry certainly the gifts of God aren’t used in such a way. His gifts, his blessing wouldn’t ever be used to pit one against another, to establish that one deserves glory while the other pity. But we know better don’t we? We know that even the blessings of God delivered into our hands can be used to divide and break rather than unite and heal.
But this is nothing new, it has always been the case in the church, it was certainly the case in Corinth where St. Paul voiced his great concern (1 Cor. 13:1-13). He begins by saying that if you possessed the highest gifts; if you could speak in the tongues of angles and men, if you had prophetic powers and understood all the mysteries of God, if you had the gift of faith so powerful that you could move mountains and yet you had not love then all these things would be a sham. Without love is it all for nothing, a loveless tongue speaker would be like a noisy brass gong. The thing that keeps the blessings of God true blessings in this life of faith is love. Love is absolutely necessary.
Now love is powerfully misunderstood in our day, in fact I think it has been misunderstood for a long long time. For starters we use love in all kinds of ways; I love my motorcycle, and my kids and my wife and my church but I mean very different things by that word in each circumstance. Most of all we tend to understand love as some sort of emotion. So we speak of being in and out of love, love is a feeling we have toward someone else. This feeling is the basis of many decisions in our world including marriage. Which perhaps is why so many marriages fail, for when the feeling ebbs away the basis for the union fades with it.
But listen to the way St. Paul describes love. Love is much more than a feeling, love is a verb and action word, love does things – love then involves decisions and an act of the will.
Love acts with patience and kindness, it is not envious of others nor does it boast in itself. Love is not arrogant or rude it does not insist on having things its own way, love is longsuffering and enduring. Love is more than just how you feel it is more than a fleeting emotion of man, love is an action inspired by God himself.
Love is a gift that can never be exhausted. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love entwines your life and the gifts that you’ve been given with the lives and the gifts of others. Love will not allow us to recede into ourselves to seek only our own betterment, love drives us recklessly in the lives of each other. Whatever gifts you’ve been given they were not delivered to you to be horded away, to be kept to yourself. These gifts you have are not there to lift up yourself but to lift up one another. Each and every one of you has been blessed with gifts by God and those gifts are given to be poured out into each other’s lives. For this is the mighty work of love.
Paul teaches us that love absolutely necessary, without it all other gifts fall flat. And he reminded us that love is not an emotion or feeling but an action, it does things, it rejoices with the truth and rejects wrongdoing. Love then is most clearly demonstrated for us not in the story of the tragic lover’s Romeo and Juliette but in the Son of God who suffered died and rose for you. Love would not back down from the task; love would not reject the course of action that would bring suffering and disgrace of the cross. Love endured, it went on, it held fast, it willing chose to die so that you might live.
So then Paul reminds us that this love will never end. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away – but not love. How important is love? Everything else will pass away; all other gifts will come to an end but love, why love will remain. And in a way this only makes sense, for everything else, from your job to your talents and abilities, to your faith itself, all of it will cease to matter when this age comes to a close. When our Lord returns and ushers in that more glorious day of a new heavens and new earth, then these gifts will cease to be of importance. But you know what will remain? Your brothers and sisters in Christ will remain – and so love will remain.
Paul says us that our situation here and now is one that is partial. Our knowledge and understanding are broken and incomplete; they are like looking through a dim and faded mirror. Paul compares us to children, but there is something wonderful about children. Though their knowledge and understand are lacking though they may not have it all figured out, they can and often do love.
You have been and are this day loved by that immeasurable love of Christ. An enduring love that acted to seek and save you, and so you are free now to love each other. The greatest of all gifts are faith hope and love, says Paul but the greatest of these, the gift that makes them all work is love. And in this love you are washed and clothed and nourished.