May 01, 2022
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
1 Corinthians 13:4-6
We are spending four weeks looking at the greatest chapter on love in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13. To appreciate what Paul says it helps to know the recipients of his letter. The city of Corinth was about 200 years old when Paul traveled there and started a church. It had been destroyed by a Roman general following an uprising in 146BC and rebuilt by Julius Caesar a hundred years later.
In Paul’s day it was the capital of Achaia, the region of southern Greece, located on the Peloponnesus peninsula west of Athens, near a narrow isthmus of about 3 miles connecting the Aegean and Ionian Seas. This is important because Corinth was a major thoroughfare for ships traveling between the seas. To save time sailing around the peninsula, a track was laid to pull ships across the land. That means that among Corinth’s population of half a million a big percentage was slaves who did much of this work.
There was a temple to Aphrodite located on the mountain above Corinth. Aphrodite was the goddess of love. That basically meant it was a place of prostitution. So you can imagine how popular Corinth was with the sailors traveling there.
Corinth was a highly educated city. It was also a wealthy city. Merchants, bankers and business people did well in Corinth. This contributed to a very diverse population, something seen in the multitudes of religions. One commentator says, “there were temples for every god imaginable.”
And it was a big sports town. Corinth hosted the annual Isthmian Games a precursor to the Olympics which brought together people from all over the Roman world.
The sub-culture in Corinth was the advancement of self whether it was for business, education, pleasure or sports. Self-advancement was the goal. The diversity of Corinth often brought friction, especially when people’s personal interests collided. Much of this tension was experienced in the church Paul started. His first letter deals with many of the behaviors and flare-ups that were tempting to derail the community. And in chapter 13, Paul writes about what is the key to everything they were facing. It was the common denominator in all of their problems: Love. Practicing genuine love.
Now pastor Jevon started us off last week with the preamble to the chapter, and before I get into the meat of Paul’s examples of practical love, I want to pause and ask how helpful could Paul’s words be for us today? How similar is ancient Corinth to modern day Indianapolis? I mean Indianapolis is a big sports town, we have professional sports teams and are home to the headquarters of the NCAA.
We are a big commerce and education center. Did you realize we have 40 institutions of higher learning in Indianapolis?
We have a wide diversity of populations in Indy and its getting more diverse all the time. Sometimes this diversity presents challenges in our acceptance and understanding of each other.
We don’t have a Temple to Aphrodite in Indy, but sex and sexuality are certain big topics that bring with it tensions and challenges for understanding and acceptance.
Our crime and violence rates are soaring. Many of the shootings in Indianapolis involve families and friends who get into arguments that get out of control.
Take away the fact that we are not located near a body of water and we don’t see ships pulled by our city everyday, could Indianapolis be similar to ancient Corinth? If so, how helpful could Paul’s advice be for us?
Let’s dig into this understanding the particular word Paul uses for love in 1 Corinthians 13. It is agape. There are four key words for love used in Greek. One is phileo, this is brotherly or sisterly love. Hence Philadelphia, is the city of…“brotherly love.” Another word is eros from which we get the word erotic. This is sexual, romantic love. Then there is storge which is the love of family.
These are all human loves. But agape is different. It describes God’s love. It is the highest form of love. Agape refers to the self-giving, sacrificial nature of love. Agape puts the other’s needs into such focus that you desire to give of yourself to bless and make better that person. This is how God loves us.
So starting in verse 4 of chapter 13, Paul goes into detail to describe what this love looks like in action in both positive and negative ways. He says love is patient and kind, but also points out that love does not envy, boast, or dishonor others. Love isn’t proud, self-seeking or easily angered.
In the late 1800’s the Scottish evangelist Henry Drummond wrote a little book called The Greatest Thing in the World. It’s about love based on 1 Corinthians 13. He took this part of the letter where Paul describes these ways to practice agape love and put them into nine categories with some explanation. In a handout you received when you came in, you have these listed…
Now these are sort of microscopic ways to practice agape love, but I want to zoom out again and think of agape in that general sense of self-giving, sacrificial love, because this morning we want to share how we can practice agape love as a community…