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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Real Love

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Published in honor and celebration of Rev. Jerry Reiter’s 91st birthday celebrated in Heaven, Saturday 01/29/2022.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

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. 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. 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.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 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. 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.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I Cor. 12:27-13:13

If you want to know about metals, you ask an expert on metals – like Paul Korinko. If you want to know about submarines, you ask an expert on submarines – like Tom Dix. And if you want to know about carving meat, you ask an expert on carving meat – like Marvin Zuelsdorf. And if you want to know about love, you ask an expert on love – like me! :)

You laugh! That’s a coincidence. When the Draft Board sent me greetings, I told them, “I don’t want to go into the Army – I’m a lover, not a warrior!” they laughed too! (I don’t think my wife should have laughed so hard, though ;))

Well, I’m going to talk about love for a few minutes anyway – based on what Paul wrote. He was an expert on love! First let me tell you this: a wonderful thing to remember about our universe is that it was born in love. God is love. And all of His actions proceed from love.

One day God in His great love decided that He was going to make a universe. He made a beautiful universe, lovingly, and in this universe He put a little jewel called “Earth.” And on Earth one day He created out of unbelievable love, man. And one of the greatest things about being a human being is to realize that we are the pinnacle of a Divine Creation which was totally made out of love! And that in a very special way God set His love upon us, and made us capable of loving God in return.

This is the great end or aim of mankind: to be able to know God, and to love God, and then to love our neighbor as ourselves. As the old sentimental song says, “Love makes the world go ‘round.” Get away from the sentimentality of it, and into the theology of it, and we have to agree. It really is love that initiated it. It really is love that’s the cause of it. And it really is love that’s the end of our universe. Love does make the world go ‘round!

So, therefore one of the most important things we can ever discover – one of the most important things we can ever talk about – is what love is all about.

Against this general background, there is a kind of love with which I want to pay particular attention to today. And it’s the kind of love that exists in a very special – very beautiful – way, between two people, who are part of God’s loving creation. But now God, in a creative way, has brought them into a relationship with each other. That is based on a very special kind of love.

I believe it’s true that two basic needs of all of us are the need to know that we are loved, and the need to express love. And I believe that very often the problems we experience in our lives are caused by our not feeling that we are loved, or by our not feeling that we can express love. And not only is this true in a general sense, but it’s very true in many marriages, many engagements, many courtships, and many friendships. The difficulties that people run into are often difficulties where they are not able to express their love, or they’re not sure that they are loved. So the subject of love is one that we should consider very carefully!

Now, there are some mistaken ideas about love, and most of them could probably be included under the little phrase: “Getting instead of giving.” For example, there’s the “love if” kind of love. It’s the love which will be given “if” certain requirements are met. I’ll love you if you’ll marry me. I’ll love you if you’ll let me. I’ll love you if you come up to my expectations as a husband, or a wife. I’ll love you if – you can even find this between a parent and a child. I’ll love you if you’re good – if you take your shoes off when you come in the house – if you get good grades in school – if you make the team. “Love if” isn’t real love – it’s selfish – it’s purpose is to get something in exchange for love.

Or there’s the “because of” kind of love. I love you because you’re rich. I love you because you’re successful. I love you because you’re pretty – or handsome. In this kind of love the person is loved because of something he is, something he has, or something he does. This is a dangerous sort of love because competition can enter in, and it means that people can’t be themselves. What happens if she finds out about the real me? What happens if someone prettier, or more handsome, comes along?

And then there’s another mistaken idea about love, and that’s “love like.” We see it portrayed on television, or in movies, or in books or magazines and we think, “Now if I don’t experience that, like he or she did, then I must not be in love.” You may have seen the movie, “Love Story,” which came out with the phrase, “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.” That’s nuts! Love is continually having to say you’re sorry! We get this glamorized, idealized idea of love and then we measure our own experience by it, and we say, “Because I’m not experiencing that, or feeling like this, then I’m not in love.”

But enough negative thoughts about our human kinds of love. Let’s read again the best definition of love I know of: “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preservers. Love never fails.” (I Cor. 13:4-8a)

Now that’s real love. That’s love that gives instead of gets. That’s what can be called the “in spite of” kind of love.

The “in spite of” kind of love is different from the “if” kind of love in that it has no strings attached and expects nothing in return. It’s different from the “because” kind of love in that it’s not brought forth by some attractive quality in the person who’s being loved. It’s different from the “like” kind of love in that it isn’t based on some comparison with what we think love is, or ought to be. In this kind of love, the person is loved “in spite of,” not “because of,” what he or she is.

The wonderful message of the Bible is that in Jesus Christ this kind of love became available to us. The love that Christ brings to us from God the Father is not the “if” or “because” kind of love. God doesn’t say to us, “I will love you if you are a good and moral person, if you go to church, if you give contributions to Christian causes, if you read the Bible, if you pray… if anything.” There are no “ifs” of any kind in God’s love. He loves us as we are, not for what He can get out of us. There’s no requirement we must meet for God to love us, no condition to fulfill.

How can we know that? The fact that Jesus died on the cross for us is proof. Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world and lived out His life in goodness and love toward all people, especially giving Himself to the poor and despised from whom He could expect nothing in return. He paid a high price for serving those who had nothing to return to Him.

Even while He was dying on the cross, He still loved those who were putting Him to death. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And Paul wrote: “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” This is the genuine “in spite of” kind of love in all its fullness and purity.

Now the question is, how do we respond to God’s “in spite of” kind of love? With “if” or “because of” or some other form of getting love? No, I don’t believe that’s what Jesus had in mind when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Jesus gives us the commandment to love as He does, and He also gives us the ability to do it. Not perfectly like He does, of course, but better and better as we trust our welfare to God and think more of the welfare of others. Jesus is the source of pure love, and with His help we can go about establishing our families and our friendships on the basis of “in spite of” love.

The proof that we have really received this pure love from God is our ability to love others “in spite of” what they are. “We love, because He first loved us.” We can forgive those whom we could never forgive before. We can love those whom we hated. Not because we’ve suddenly become such good people, but because God has filled us to overflowing with His own love. We become the pipeline for the divine love. And then we can begin to understand why “Love never fails.”


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