Sermon 93



Don’t Give Up

1 Corinthians 13:8


February 3, 2019


Grace and peace to you, in the name of God the Father, Son (+) and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we have a simple message – don’t give up! That is to say, don’t stopping loving your family (Hebrews 13:4; Colossians 3:21), neighbors (John 13:35), the stranger (Luke 10:37) and your enemies (Matthew 7:22) – or even the dead (R. F. Marshall, Kierkegaard for the Church, 2013, pp. 94–95). This is a simple message and it goes right to the point – keep on loving. So as we gather here in this consecrated place on the Sabbath to keep it holy, to worship God and praise his holy name, to learn from Him and be forgiven, let us do so by focusing on the love that never ends.


God Loved Us First

But why should we care about this? Aren’t there more effective ways of living than loving, after all? – like through intimidation (Robert J. Ringer, Winning Through Intimidation, 1984) or by deceit (Sissela Bok, Lying, 1978, 1999)? Well, maybe so, but we have been told that love is the “more excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31) – and so we’ll stay with that and see what it shows.

       But there is more. Not only should we keep on loving because it is the best way to go, but also because God loved us first (1 John 4:19). And because he did, we are then to follow suit and love each other as well. We are to be godly people.


It’s Our Fault

Now that could’ve been the end of the sermon today – just a short one, less than a minute long. But you screwed it up – and so have I. We have quit loving! Just look around us – there is loads of hatred in families (Bach & Wyden, The Intimate Enemy, 1968) and in our communities (Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give, 2017). And so we are going to have to go on a bit longer, to see how this all happened and how we can clean up the mess we have made – and so you see, we still have a lot of untangling left to do (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Remarks, 1975, p. 52) before this sermon can finally come to its measured and blessed end.

Aspiring to Love

Now, what shall we make of this mess? I Corinthians 13:8 says, “love never ends,” and yet we see it ending all over the place! Does our experience thereby falsify the Bible? Well, maybe or maybe not – especially if an “appeal” is embedded there as there is in 1 Corinthians 1:10 regarding being “united in the same mind and the same judgment.” In that case the indicative in 1 Corinthians 13:8 about love never ending would be an aspiration – an appeal, if you will – instead of an accomplished, established fact.

       Now we are gaining some traction. And we aren’t left without any help. Saint Paul first points out that love goes awry when we “insist on our own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5). That fouls everything up and explains why we stop loving. For that disregard for the beloved, kills our love for the beloved. Love ends because I’m trying to get my own way, when I love, rather than caring for the one I’m trying to help and befriend, when I love.


No Longer Living for Yourself

How are we going to stop this bad habit of ours – our insisting on our own way when loving others? Once again, we aren’t left alone to figure this out on our own. No, the Lord Jesus comes to our aid. He has three short, tough  words, all of which add up to the same thing – deny yourself (Luke 9:23), die to yourself (Matthew 16:25), hate yourself (Luke 14:26; John 12:25). They all are about no longer living “for yourself” (2 Corinthians 5:15). And that’s because we are “unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10). We aren’t crystalware – just earthenware, to be used for cleaning up messes (2 Corinthians 4:7). Martin Luther’s famous for saying we are just food for worms – stinking bags of maggot fodder (Luther’s Works 45:70). Why would we then insist on our own way? We’re worthless. These three short words cut us down to size, and build us up to love – so we can keep on trying never to stop loving. Now, finally, ever so slowly, we are in a position to inch our way forward – working diligently toward loving one another without end.

            And there is one further explanation – now we know “only in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). This is often overlooked even though it is mentioned four times in our little paragraph from Scripture. Because of this incompleteness we can’t insist on our own way because we don’t have sufficient evidence for our stance. I remember a fisticuffs I once had with a member here. He was relentlessly attacking me and I felt compelled to stop him in his tracks – which I did. Later I found out he was suffering from alcoholism and didn’t mean anything he said to me. There I learned the hard way about my partial knowledge. I should have been more tentative.

            Martin Luther buys into all of this – advising patience. “In whatever concerns me I will gladly humble myself,” he writes, “and even let you walk all over me” (LW 23:330). But Luther’s no masochist. He gets this from our Lord’s “turn the other check” saying (Matthew 5:39). So Christians don’t believe in order to gain respect and safety. One-on-one – we know we are unprotected sheep among fierce wolves (Matthew 10:16). This remains so even though nations can legitimately kill soldiers from attacking nations in order to save the innocent (Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14). And Luther even says that if you attack Christ he will stand his ground and make no “concessions” (LW 23:330). In fact, if we wrongly use love to diminish faith, then Luther says, “curse” such a love (LW 27:38). Following Luther’s distinction, then, while we won’t defend ourselves, we will rise up to protect the innocent (John 8:7) – still enduring tribulations ourselves (John 16:33).


Jesus the Steadfast

Does that then settle matters for us? Not really. No, like in everything else in the Bible, our goal is clarified only to show us what we are to do, and then that we can’t do it. We cannot aspire to goodness alone (John 15:5). We’re not the little engine that could – singing to ourselves, “I think I can, I think I can” (Munk & Hauman, The Little Engine That Could, 1954). No, the good we would do, we cannot do, because of our sinfulness (Romans 7:19). Christianity isn’t stoicism (John Lachs, Stoic Pragmatism, 2012). We need help from outside ourselves if we are going to love as we should. We need one who is steadfast. So “may the Lord direct your hearts to… the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5). The old Latin Bible calls this steadfastness the patientia or patience of Christ. Without his stability we could never be stable.

            And the good news is that Christ is stable! He is “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). He doesn’t help us to a point – and then back off to keep himself safe. No, he goes all the way to death for us. He is punished in our place (1 Peter 2:24) so that we might be set free from the punishment for our sins (Romans 5:9; John 3:36). And what is more, prior to his death, he also stood against those phony religious leaders who unnecessarily burdened Christ’s struggling followers (Matthew 23:4). So he thundered against the Scribes and Pharisees – “Woe to you, hypocrites” (Matthew 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29). And that was his stable, steadfast, final answer.

Saint Augustine famously had his Retractationes (AD 427) – second guessing at the end of his life what he might have said better in the first place. But not Jesus. He stood his ground. Even to this day. But not only does he do so by having his Spirit reinforce all that he taught (John 14:26) – but also by being present with us in and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. So come forward and eat and drink and be filled today at the Altar of the Lord – that Christ may abide in you so that you can abide in him and have your faith and love grow abundantly (John 6:56; 10:10). Join the ranks of Christians down through the generations who have received this Sacrament with joy – week in and week out.


Overcome Evil With the Good

Finally, on this day when we have seen how much has been done for us, let us, with full and thankful hearts, also have our love be made “genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good…. [and] overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9–21)! May we exalt in this genuine love – and then pray to God to grant it to us for the sake of Jesus our Lord, that we also may overcome evil forever and only with the good. In our love may we worry less about ourselves and more for the beaten down and broken hearted.

We know this is a mighty calling, but we also know that it is what our Lord wants for us. So pray with the assurance that it will be granted unto you. Know that God can make your love stable and ever more sure as the years go along – as you consistently and persistently inch toward that love which never ends. Give thanks to God for our Savior, Jesus, the Steadfast One, who works in us through his Word and Sacrament, that we also may become steadfast, albeit only imperfectly (Philippians 3:12). And in the end may this simple message with its short admonishment, overcome all the obstacles and enemies that stand against it, so that we may be counted among the faithful – who don’t give up. Amen.


(printed as preached but with a few changes)