I am a first year ordinand at St Mellitus College, hoping to be ordained in the Church of England in 2021.
I live in the North West of England, with my husband (Barry), and am part of a medium-sized church where I preach occasionally, and run after my toddler (Isobel) frequently. As a young(ish) woman I felt a responsibility to offer what God has spoken to me through His word. I long to see those called to preach, regardless of age or gender, stand up and speak truth bravely. Our country needs God’s truth.
The Power of Love: The Importance of Being Earnest by Olivia Haines
There are just three words I want to say to you today. Three words I want you to hear today.
Love is everything.
Love. Is. Everything.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes of the indispensability of love and all of its character. It is patient, kind, slow to anger, not self-seeking, rejoices with the truth. It protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. It does not keep a record of wrongs, nor shame others. It is not proud or boastful. It is everything.
Often read at weddings, this passage has a lot to say about love. But why did Paul choose to teach the Corinthians about it? Why was it so essential for him to impress upon them the greatness of love?
At the time of writing, the church in Corinth were falling out over which spiritual gifts were the greatest, experiencing disunity and jealousy, amongst many other things. The context of this particular chapter is that it comes immediately after Paul tells the Corinthians (in Chapter 12) that no one person amongst them is vital. Yes, there are those with prominent gifts, such as prophesy, teaching, healing and interpreting, but the whole church, the body of Christ, is one body with many parts. And Paul writes that all those parts suffer with one another, whilst equally rejoicing with one another. They are one body.
And so, Paul’s focus on love in 1 Corinthians 13 makes sense. You could be the greatest at prophesying but, if you do not have love, it is nothing. You could have a real gift for preaching but, without love, it is nothing. You could have everything that is outwardly good and seen as special but, without love, it is nothing. Whilst all that you’re fighting about will cease to exist, writes Paul, love will never fail. Love will always exist. In fact, we see in verse 10 that love is completeness. Paul builds his argument that the ‘most excellent way’ is love: when we are fully grown, when we are complete, love will be everything. You won’t need to worry about who is preaching and who is not, who is prophesying, and who is not, because love will suffice in its entirety.
Love is everything.
I wonder if you’ve seen the film, The Greatest Showman? In the box office it had great success and has become one of the highest grossing musicals of all time. Friends of mine, who are quick to state their dislike of musicals, rave about it; but on the face of it, it seems shallow and is only very loosely based on the main character P.T. Barnum’s life. And yet, the music, oh how the music explodes onto the screen and tells us of deeper truths which lie within all of us. I am certain that stirring of emotions from within is the catalyst for the film’s success.
‘What does all of this have to do with God’s word? What does this have to do with love?’ I hear you ask. Well, when I am in the very early stages of preparing to preach, I like to run and mull things over in my head. Sometimes I might mutter along to myself, phrasing and rephrasing things which occur to me about the passage. And sometimes, I have a sudden moment of inspiration. These moments tend to come from nowhere; they feel almost like a sucker punch, and they’re usually at the point in the run when I am struggling along, and my thoughts are turning to survival. It’s almost as though, when I am physically empty, the Lord is there with me to fill me up spiritually. It was at this point the other afternoon when the song Never Enough came onto my shuffle playlist; it was at this point I felt winded and yet had clarity; it was at this point that I burst into tears.
You see, the words woven through this melody have power. This wasn’t the first time this particular song made me cry: both my husband and I were moved to tears, when we watched the film for the first time. The lyrics reminded me of how I feel God working in my life. This idea that nothing in life could ever be enough, without Him. Nevertheless, here I was, several months later, crying because God had revealed something different.
‘All the shine of a thousand spotlights, all the stars we steal from the night sky, will never be enough, never be enough. Towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world, but it’ll never be enough, never be enough for me.’1
God does not need the shine of a thousand spotlights, He already holds the world in His hands. Indeed, He does not need to steal the stars from the night sky; they are His already. And yet, He chooses to say, ‘I am not done.’ He chooses to send His most beloved Son to live on earth, be crucified and then rise again. Why? Just so we can encounter Him. Just so creation can be restored. Just so we can take His hand and share in His story. This is the most extravagant and overwhelming display of love in all of history.
The song, according to its writers, is supposed to feel exactly like that: Extravagant. Overwhelming. They wanted to conjure up the image of ‘someone in a castle trying to count all of their riches and it still doesn’t add up to enough. It’s kind of that moment where someone isn’t really satisfied.’ And that was what came to mind when I was mulling over 1 Corinthians 13 on a long six-mile run.
God’s love for us is so extravagant, so rich, so complete, that He could not leave us and creation after the fall. All that we read about love in 1 Corinthians 13 is part of God’s character because He is love. God is patient, and kind. He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. God does not dishonour others, nor is He self-seeking, nor easily angered, and He keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. God never fails. He is complete and whole.
Yet, He chose to say, ‘It is not enough.’ His love is so complete that, despite our lack of whole-ness, He chose us. He chooses us. He chooses the impatient mother. The unkind classmate. The envious, boastful social media influencers. The proud and self-praising boss. The bully who humiliates. The angry teenager. The couple who bring up old grievances in new fights. The colleague who feels good when other people get their ‘comeuppance’. The teacher who fails to protect. The colleague you can’t trust. The friend who never sees the light at the end of the tunnel. The student dropout, who just can’t persevere.
We all know these people. We are these people. And God loves us anyway. It’s written throughout scripture, from Genesis through to Revelation. In John 3:16 it says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ As we think about how God loves us that much, that He would rather send His son to die in our place, than live eternally without us, it may be that you recognised one of those character traits in your life. How does your record of wrong doing affect your relationships? What does always being hopeful look like in your life? How is love hindered by your lack of generosity to those who wrong you?
For me, I struggle with patience. I have a three-year-old and it often feels like Groundhog Day as we spend yet another 90 minutes eating cereal or toast or pasta. How can it take so long to eat a simple meal? Yet, the impact that has on my relationship with her is negative. It creates tension, rather than peace; friction, rather than happiness; sadness, rather than joy. It is something I am working on at the moment and it is hard work, as I sit with her and find endless new ways to keep smiling whilst I wait for her to swallow her food. Yet, if God can look at my poor track record in my journey with Him, and show love in His patience with me, I can surely try to do the same with my toddler.
What is it in your life which is stopping you from showing love? God looks at us and says, ‘It will never be enough.’ So why is it enough for us to say we love, yet to withhold it in myriad ways offered in 1 Corinthians 13. What would our relationships look like if we applied ourselves in these areas? How could our communities be restored if our love looked like God’s love?
Love is everything.
Let’s do it right.
1‘Never Enough’ from The Greatest Showman, 2017, Written by Justin Paul / Beni Pasek
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