There is an aroma that imminently comes of the Christian lifestyle. It is central to whether an action is Christian or not. In Greek the word for that aroma is agape. It is a special kind of love. For every action Greeks have a word. If you are romantically in love with another human being to the point of being their lover, it is called eros. If you are iron-clad friends who really care for each other, it is called philo.
Paul had been talking about the mystical body we call the church that has many different parts and that all are needed for that body to be Christ’s presence in the world today. He uses the word agape to describe this aroma. But before we look more deeply into this aroma, let us discover more about his audience.
He was talking to a group of folks not unlike many people today. While Paul had been the mission developer of the church in Corinth after he left and other Christian pastors came, the community began to argue who was the greatest pastor. They also began to argue about who was the best Christian and they were dealing with a very difficult sexual problem. The wife of a member of the congregation died, and he got married again. His son took her affections away and they were sleeping together.
It was to this environment that Paul writes this powerful chapter. He starts out by saying: it does not matter what gifts you have – whether it is speaking in tongues or preaching great sermons – if you don’t have that special gift of agape, you are nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.
If you are a person of deep faith and have an inside track of knowing what the will of God is or if your deep faith is so powerful that you can move mountains; if you do not have agape love, you are nothing. Not only that if you the greatest giver of money to the church, giving twice a tithe of 10%; give always everything you to care for the poor and do not have agape love, you gain nothing.
You are nothing more than a legend in your own mind.
Agape love is described in its behaviors. Such love is patient with people, no matter how long it takes for them to do what they said they would do. It celebrates the accomplishments of members of the community, rather than being jealous. It so loves that it is hard to get ruffled or resentful. It does not collect the sins others have committed to use that knowledge against them later. Instead, they focus on celebrating when someone does something right. This style of love has powerful staying power – it bears disappointments, believes the best of people, and hopes God’s will will have the final say.
But it is also a love that is impossible to fully express if you, like me, are a redeemed sinner. The deeper you go into this chapter, the more you realize this is the kind of love that comes from Christ and his dealings with us. Jesus is not only our Savior, but he is also the role model for the Christian life.
His kind of love never gives up on us no matter what happens.
I am amazed at the inventions that have happened since I was born. I am old enough to remember the phone in my parents’ home. When you picked it up to use it you had better listen to see if one of the other parties who used that line as well were talking.
Just think of the cell phone you have in your possession. You can use this phone to call anywhere in the world. It amazes me I can call anywhere in our country and not pay a long distance charge. Apple has a watch that can tell folks wherever you are if you are experiencing an emergency and even what sort of aid needs to be sent. But as the barker at the carnival says; “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
No matter what we learn, it is only partial. Just think of Covid. We are now in the third year of dealing with this disease and the offshoots that have evolved. I have had three vaccinations and I suspect by next fall I will be needing my fourth. Every year I am vaccinated for normal flu. When I worked for hospice, I took every vaccine offered knowing I would be in homes that were germ ridden. I remember in middle school taking the Salk vaccine. But try as we may a year from now all the knowledge we have about this disease may be out-of-date and there will be a new approach. As humans we still need to act – yet our knowledge will always be imperfect.
This is true in all our life. I am now the grandfather of a young man who soon will be 28 years old. My children are now in their 50’s. I remember the ideas I had about child rearing when they were born. I am terribly embarrassed over some of the things I did or failed to do as a dad.
If I am doing well as your pastor, it is because I have learned from some of the mistakes I made earlier in my ministry. I suspect by now I am making new mistakes.
Bit with Paul we can all say: Faith, Hope and Love abide, but the greatest of these is agape love.
If we look to Christ to help us continue to grow as his people, he will equip us more and more with the love described by Paul in this letter. Christ is the Savior of the world and our role model of what it means to be a loving, caring, productive follower forgiving our past and forgiving others who have hurt us and cleanse our souls so that Christ can love and lead us into his future. Amen.