1 Corinthians 13
February 14, 2021
“If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” How can St. Paul say such a thing about faith? Jesus himself is the one who said that if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you could command mountains to move, and they would obey you (Matthew 17:20). We know that we are saved by faith alone, apart from our works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:25-28; 4:4-5). Even in our Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the blind man, “Your faith has saved you.” It is faith, which saves us. Not our works. Not our love. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. And it is incredibly comforting, because our love and works are always imperfect. If our salvation depended on them, our salvation would ever be in doubt. So, why does St. Paul say that faith without love is nothing?
First, because faith must have an object in order to be anything. Faith is only as good as its object. The object of faith is what it receives, that is, what it trusts in. You could have great faith in money. Many do. But that faith certainly won’t give you eternal life! You can have faith in yourself, faith in some political leader, faith in humanity, faith in faith itself! None of these faiths will save you. So, what is the object of saving faith? What does saving faith trust in? In a word, “Love.”
No, not just any love. Certainly not what this perverse world calls love! The object of saving faith is God’s love. Saving faith trusts in God’s love; receives God’s love; is saved by God’s love. Jesus declares, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Scripture again asserts, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Again, St. Paul writes to the Romans in chapter 5, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And blind Bartimaeus, the man to whom Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you,” what was his faith in? What did he cry out? “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38) What is mercy, but the kindest and most undeserving display of love? The faith, which saved Bartimaeus, was the faith in Jesus’ love!
The object of saving faith is love, God’s love, which he put into action by sending his Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins. Faith receives the promise that God forgives us and will give us eternal life on account of Jesus Christ, who has washed away our sins and clothes us in his righteousness. Faith trusts in the love God has for us, and so faith saves us. Without this love as faith’s object, faith is nothing.
There is another reason why faith without love is nothing. Because the outward fruit of faith is love, that is, that we would love one another in word and action. Again, Scripture says, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16) and “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11) and “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the love of God we receive through faith pours out of us. It is the fruit that reveals a believing heart. This is why Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Yet, this love cannot be pursued without faith in Christ’s love for us! It is all too common that Christians and congregations become embarrassed of the Gospel of Christ. They think it is too much to focus every week on Jesus’ dying for our sins. It gets too repetitive. It’s not relevant to people’s day to day lives. Besides, not everyone believes in Jesus, but certainly everyone can agree that we should love one another! So, Christians seek to focus less on the Gospel that Jesus died for sinners and more on acts of love. Churches believe their primary mission is not the proclamation of the Gospel (Mark 16:15), but missions of mercy, helping the poor, etc. Preachers think their hearers need something more practical for their day-to-day life than the preaching of Christ crucified, so they promote 12 step programs to improve your marriage, your budget, your job, your relationship with your kids, and anything else that can fit into a neat and tidy outline.
And of course, missions of mercy are important, it is good to feed the poor. Scripture commands us to help those in need (1 John 3:17). And obtaining knowledge that will help with your relationships at home and at work and help you manage your life better are certainly practical! Yet, these are not the primary mission of the church. The preaching of Christ crucified is (1 Corinthians 2:2; 9:16). Preaching Christ crucified is always the most loving and practical thing. And without this love, all your acts of mercy and prudent wisdom are nothing. The Christian Church can offer the world nothing if it does not offer Christ the Crucified.
“If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, … If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” You can only love if you have received Christ’s love through faith. Without faith in Christ’s love, you can give away all your wealth, feed all the poor in the world, and write the best self-help book, and you will still have nothing. It won’t please God. It won’t save you.
This is because it is impossible to truly love God and your neighbor unless you have received God’s love through faith. In Luke chapter 7, a sinful woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair before anointing them with expensive ointment. Jesus is judged harshly by his host for permitting this sinful woman to touch him, so Jesus responds with a parable. He asks, “A certain moneylender has two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which one of them will love him more?” The obvious answer is that the one who is forgiven the greater debt will love more. Jesus then concludes that the woman has been forgiven much. What is his proof? She loves much. Much love proves much forgiveness.
Without God showing his love to us by forgiving our sins, we could not love him. We can only be afraid of him and hate him for judging us unless we know that he loves us. We can only know that God loves us through the cross of Christ. Pursuing missions of love and knowledge without the proclamation of God’s love for us through the cross of Christ is a foolish venture that will end in vanity. Yet, faith which truly trusts in God’s love for us will bear much fruits of love as certainly as apple trees bear apples and orange trees bear oranges. Love is the fruit of saving faith. When St. Paul says that a faith that can remove mountains is nothing without love, he is saying that there is no such mountain-moving-faith without love. Saving faith produces love. If you have faith in Christ, you love. If you do not have faith in Christ, then you will not love.
Just look at how St. Paul describes love, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Who is St. Paul describing? Is he not perfectly describing our Lord Jesus? Jesus patiently endures with our weaknesses and sin. He’s kind to us. Although he is the Lord of heaven, he came to earth to serve us and he still gladly dwells with his humble Church on earth. He did not insist on his own way, but did the will of his Father by going to the cross as a willing sacrifice for our sins! He doesn’t love us by accepting the evil we do. He does not rejoice in evil as our present world insists he does. Rather, he rejoices in the truth. Nothing causes Jesus to rejoice more than sinners repenting and turning to him for forgiveness (Luke 15:16-17).
And so, through faith in our Savior Jesus who loves us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20), we live out this love. We strive to be patient and kind, because Christ is patient with us. We do not insist on our own way, but seek to follow God’s Word above all else, and consider others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). We don’t use love as an excuse to sin, but as an opportunity to repent and confess Christ by forgiving those who sin against us! We bear with the weaknesses of others. We put the best construction on others and believe the best about them before we believe evil against them. We suffer before we harm our neighbor. These are the fruits of faith. This is what God’s love does through us. And when we see that we’ve failed to live this love, we turn to Love himself, our Savior Jesus Christ.
“Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Here St. Paul is saying that love is the greatest Christian virtue. Yet, how can our love be greater than our faith. It is clear that our faith does not exists apart from our love, but neither does our love exist apart from our faith. So, why does St. Paul, who preaches that we are saved by grace through faith alone say that our love is greatest? Because love never ends.
We have faith now. We hope now in what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1; Romans 8:24). Yet, there will come a day when we will no longer be looking through a mirror dimly, but we will see God as he is, because we will be like him (1 John 3:2). Faith is an instrument God uses to save us in this sinful and perishing world. Through faith, we receive what we cannot yet see. Through faith, we are children waiting for a blessed inheritance. Yet, when the perfect comes, when the eyes of faith are replaced with the eyes of renewed flesh, we shall see our Redeemer (Job 19:25-26). Faith will have outgrown its purpose. We will no longer hope. Rather, we will live with Christ in love forever. That is the goal of our faith: eternal love. This love was from the beginning when God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loved one another with perfect and eternal love. This love was brought forth in stunning magnitude on the cross where our God died for us. This love was placed into our hearts through faith. And we ourselves will live in perfect love, which we have learned from our Savior Jesus. Our love for God and one another will never end. Amen.