Quinquagesima: God’s Love is Unconditional

Lessons: Isaiah 35:3-7, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 18:31-43
Hymns: 685, 587, 632, 634, 417

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      On this Lord’s Day, the Church and the world observe a number of festivals or events. At our church, today is Quinquagesima, which comes from the Latin for 50, for we are now about 50 days from Easter. On this Lord’s Day, some churches are observing the Transfiguration, which we observed three weeks ago. Some other churches simply view today as the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany.

      The world knows today as Valentine’s Day. In fact, many church calendars list today as the commemoration of St. Valentine, who was a Christian priest and physician who died on this day in AD 270 near Rome. There is little known about this St. Valentine, other than he died while defending the faith. Tradition has it that the Roman government executed him for conducting Christian weddings for young couples. In those days, polygamy was fashionable and so the government outlawed the marriage of young couples. Tradition also states that Valentine left a note of encouragement for his jailor’s child and this became the source for sending Valentine’s notes. In the 14th century, Chaucer first made a connection between Valentine’s Day and romantic love, which gave way to our modern observance of this day.

      On Quinquagesima, the Epistle reading is 1 Corinthians 13, which is known as the “Great Love Chapter” in the Bible. And this year, Quinquagesima falls on St. Valentine’s Day. While this has happened 4 other times in the past 100 years, this won’t occur again for 62 years, in 2083. So, I figured I need to preach on the Epistle, since this is my second—and last—opportunity to preach on this chapter on this day (I preached on the Gospel the last time this happened in 2010).

      I would like to cover two main points today: First, the meaning and application of our Epistle lesson and, second, show you some simple ways to help others close to you feel loved.

      Years ago, today’s Epistle was rarely read in weddings. The main wedding Epistle lesson used to be Ephesians 5 in which we hear that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her. Wives are to submit themselves to their husbands, respecting them, as the Church submits herself to Christ and honors Him. Those comforting words, teaching the Christological character of marriage, have been replaced by the almost flowery but still very serious words of our Epistle in Christian weddings.

      In fact, the context for 1 Corinthians 13 has nothing to do with weddings, but much of what Paul writes can be applied to marriages. When St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he addressed numerous abuses within the young congregation. One abuse had to do with spiritual gifts. Some were given various gifts, such as prophesying, performing miracles, speaking in tongues, or the interpretation of tongues. All of these were meant to build the Church up, and serve as signs that the Word proclaimed in the Church is true and comes from God. But those who had been given the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues were putting down those who hadn’t. Guided by the Holy Spirit, Paul reasons with them that they are all members of the Body, and therefore all are important. Then, he writes, “Earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31).

      What is that more excellent way? It is the way of 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” (1 Cor. 13:4-7). By writing this way, St. Paul was showing how unloving many in the Corinthian congregation had become. Then, he further intensifies his words: “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease” (1 Cor. 13:8). Those spiritual gifts which made some feel they were so special? Well, they were coming to an end! That’s why we no longer have them. God only intended to use specific spiritual gifts for a short period of time—the time in which the Apostles lived. Then, they would cease. God would instead choose to teach through the written Word—the Holy Bible.

      Following this chapter, Paul then explains the importance of prophecy and hearing the Word of God in an understood language. He even writes, “I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Cor. 14:19 NKJV). After all, is it not the most loving to teach and preach the saving Gospel in a way that people can understand? What good is such proclamation if no one can hear it in his own language?

      The word “love” occurs nine times in 1 Corinthians 13. In the Greek, there are several words for love. There’s filial love, or brotherly love—deep compassion toward others. There’s romantic love—a love expressed between married couples. And there’s unconditional love—a love toward others no matter the circumstances. God loves us with this type of love, and God expects us to love others with this same forgiving love. And it is this love alone that is mentioned here in our Epistle—unconditional love—agape love.

      Jesus described this love when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He didn’t love us because we deserve His love; He didn’t love us because we did something that would cause Him to accept us; He didn’t love us because we think we’re such awesome people. Instead, it is written, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16). In love, Jesus went to the cross, bearing our sins in His Body so that He would acquit of us of all sin by shedding His innocent Blood as the ransom payment for our sin.

      As you can tell, this is unconditional love. While there’s certainly a place for filial (friendship/brotherly) love and God has established marriage to express eros love, the most important love is unconditional. This is the kind of love God has toward us. It is what drove Him to cover our sins through His Son.

      And with this love, we are to love our neighbor. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39). Unconditionally.

      I know; we are too weak to love others this way. We don’t want to even think about loving others like this, especially when they have harmed us or caused us much grief. In fact, many couples don’t even want to love their spouses like this. Yet, it is what God has called on us to do. We can only love because God in Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19). And with this love, we live in patience with our neighbor, we are kind to one another, we do not envy or boast, we are not arrogant or rude. We do not insist on our own way. We are not irritable or resentful. In fact, with this love, we rejoice in the truth. We have no time for hearsay, half-truths, or lies. And love rejoices in God’s truth. True love toward our neighbor will also desire for them true and pure doctrine—God’s truth, as Paul was teaching and doing in our Epistle.

      Of course, what has been said here about loving our neighbors also applies to loving our spouses. And so, these words may rightly be applied to those who enter the godly estate of holy matrimony. But we must not lose sight of the original intent of these words, and that they were written to teach Christians to get along in love at Church, recognizing each soul as valuable and precious in God’s sight.

      Related to this theme of love in our Epistle and on Valentine’s Day, I want to share with you some insight that I think is quite important for healthy relationships. I’m not only talking about husbands and wives, but also relationships with parents and children, teachers and students, even neighbors or close friends. This is based on a book called “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman. He has had many clients who struggled to feel loved and after studying many cases, he found that people feel loved in different ways. When teachers make their students feel loved, students respond well. Children face fewer emotional challenges when they feel loved by their parents. Of course, marriages do well when both feel loved by the other. He talks about everyone having a love tank that can be filled in five different ways. They are: 1) Words of affirmation, 2) Acts of service, 3) Giving gifts, 4) Spending quality time, and 5) Physical touch. People feel loved by all of these, but each person feels most loved by one of these. Just think about your spouse or each of your children. And think about yourself. Which of these five do they (or you) appreciate the most? You can figure these out by 1) Observing behavior, 2) Considering what you complain about, and 3) Thinking about what you request most often. Then see how they relate to the 5 categories I mentioned (review).

      If you have children, consider each child individually. One child may feel your love the most when you give a hug. Another child may feel your love the most when you praise your child for a job well-done. If you are married, teach your spouse the one that makes you feel loved the most. She may feel loved the most when hugged, or when he gives unexpected gifts. He may feel loved the most when she cooks a good meal or says, “I love you.”

      It really is good to learn these things and then learn to express them. That way you can fulfill the needs of your spouse and children, and they can do the same for you.

      In fact, God does all of these for us. 1) He speaks to us His love. 2) He serves us by sending His Son to pay for our sins on the cross. 3) He gives us the gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation. 4) He spends time with us in that He comes to us through His Word right here and He hears every prayer we pray. 5). And He touches us through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and individual Absolution by the Pastor.

      Really, the Lord’s Supper encompasses all of these. Valentine’s Day is a common day to take a loved one out to eat. That’s truly fine and good. And here, in the Divine Service, we have a finer meal expressing greater love than any fancy restaurant could provide. For Jesus comes in love and feeds us His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Here we have a meal expressing Christ’s bleeding, dying love. You are also united to the loved ones who have gone before you as you participate in the Sacrament. And you are united to one another—these, your brothers and sisters in Christ–all in Christ’s love. Can you think of a finer way to date your valentine than by worshipping together, praying together, and communing together? And God has blessed us with the opportunity to do so every week! And remember, if your loved one has entered the Church Triumphant, you are closest to him or her when you come to receive Holy Communion.

      God bless you as you receive the love of Christ and express His sacrificial and saving love to one another. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen