This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Sermon prepared by Rev. Richard deLange, Edmonton, Alberta
Additional printed sermons or DVDs can be obtained from this author by emailing him at [email protected]
Dear family of God,
When we think about raising godly and Christ-loving children, the first word that should come to mind is love. The primary ingredient that goes into raising children is love. So what better place to look than at the Bible’s famous love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.
This chapter is written to a church about relationships in the church. Corinth was a congregation divided by all kinds of issues. Some liked one preacher better than another, some acted like they were spiritually superior to others because they spoke in tongues, some considered themselves better than others because they had greater knowledge or faith than others. And all throughout history, those kinds of problems resurface in churches in one form or another.
It is not a big leap from speaking about a church family to addressing one home within that larger body. Each family has some of the same dynamics that you find at work—for good or bad—in the church family. So let’s look at our Lord’s call to love. Clearly, this is the most important ingredient in any relationship, and that certainly includes relationships in the home. You can’t miss that fact in the closing verse—v.13—of our chapter:
1Cor 13:13“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Dear friends, God’s love must be modelled in our homes. God ordained our homes to be the basic building block of society. When love is lacking in the home, the family falls apart. And when families fall apart, society does as well. As Christians, then, we have a high calling to build strong homes—for the good our children, for the good of society, and for the glory of God who calls us to do this. And it’s not just the calling of Christian parents but of the entire covenant community which vows at the baptism of our children to do our part in helping the children to know the love of Christ and to live for Him.
So turning to our text in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 we see five things which people might try to equate with love but which, all by themselves, will not build a strong home. Love is the primary ingredient in building a strong family but we learn in our reading that love is more important than certain things that we sometimes try to pass off as love.
First of all, love is more than talk. The Apostle tells the Corinthians,
1 Cor 13:1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Paul was addressing the matter of speaking in tongues. Some in the church claimed that their ability to speak a different language, possibly a heavenly language, made them better Christians. Paul quickly reminds those people that all the words of earth or from heaven are just a bunch of noise without love.
In our families, we can do a lot of talking. We can make a lot of noise, but are our words spoken in love?
Oh, when the baby is first born we speak with nothing but love in our hearts. We hold that little one close and tell her how beautiful she is. We tell our son how we can’t wait to get him home and how we look to watching playoff hockey with him. We tell her we’re excited about having a little girl who we can dress up and talk to. But before the child is one and certainly by the time she is two, our words may lack the love we had when she was born. When that kid pulls all of your groceries out of the cupboard for the tenth time in a week, Mom grows more frustrated and shouts, “I thought I told you not to do that again!” And what does daddy say when the kid is being toilet trained and poops her pants or messes on familyroom carpet? Are the words spoken in love?
When our kids enter the challenging but exciting phase of being a teenager, love calls us to be patient and try to understand what it’s like to be stuck in a cocoon… not really a caterpillar but not yet a butterfly, sandwiched between childhood and adulthood, fighting for your wings of independence. But our words can often ignore that reality and simply address the irritant: “Would you shut your big mouth!” Or “Why do you dress like a slob?” Or “I said no and that’s the end of it!” Are those kinds of statements spoken in love?
And likewise when the children move out of the house and begin lives as singles or married adults, parents must always ask themselves if our talk communicates love. Do our words build up or tear down? Jesus had this balance figured out. Remember how He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well? He had nothing to gain for Himself but showed true love for her condition. He entered her broken world and did not condemn her like everyone else. And having established a good relationship, He tells her to leave her life of sin. His talk there and elsewhere was filled with love for her and other sinners—people just like our children and us.
Secondly, love is more than knowledge. Again, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians in v.2
1 Cor 13:2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom [or know] all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.
Here is someone who is disrupting the church because he supposedly has greater insight into the things of God than everyone else. That’s his spiritual gift. But even if that’s true, Paul says it is nothing because he doesn’t use his knowledge lovingly. And that is also a danger in the family.
As parents and other adults in the covenant family, we very likely know a lot more about a lot of things than our kids. But it’s important to remember that being smarter doesn’t automatically increase your capacity to love. You might know a really smart person who is not very nice to be around. He uses his knowledge to make you feel dumb. He tries to impress you with his intelligence shooting out all kinds of facts or replying to everyone playing Trivial Pursuit with him, “You didn’t know that?” or “I could have told you that!” Those kinds of comments don’t warm you up to that person. At the same time, we might know people who are not the top of the class in terms of knowledge but they know how to show genuine love. Having a lower IQ—intelligence quotient—doesn’t stop you from having a high LQ or Love Quotient.
We see in the Lord how to love our children while having superior knowledge. After all, no one on earth or in heaven knows more than our Lord. And no one on earth or in heaven loves more than the Lord! Our Father in heaven looks at us, His children, every day. He knows us perfectly. He knows our strengths but also the sins we try to hide. And despite His perfect knowledge of us—sins and all—He loves His children.
His desire is not that we simply become more knowledgeable. After all, as someone said, we can possibly “train our kids to think like Einstein… but without love, it amounts to nothing.” You may focus on thinking that knowledge will open every door of opportunity for your kids. You may send your child to a good school. You may encourage him or her to get good grades and earn scholarships to a prestigious university. But without love, it amounts to nothing.
Instead, knowledge must enhance our love. It must help us see ourselves as we truly are, not as someone greater than anyone else. Our knowledge of children’s strengths and weaknesses must help us love them better, much like the Father’s perfect knowledge of us moves Him to love us so much that He gives us what we need in Christ. He knows our true condition and our desperate need of redemption. And even though we bring nothing to the relationship, He loves us perfectly. And precisely because of that—being loved by Him—creates a desire within us to please Him, doesn’t it? Yes! And it will do the same for the children in your family and in the covenant community. Use your knowledge to love better.
Third, love is more than faith. Paul tells us in second half of v.2,
1 Cor 13:2“…and if I have a faith that can move mountains[that’s big faith!], but have not love, I am nothing.”
From time to time, a church will see a family struggle with the faith of one another. There may be a Christian woman married to a non-Christian or a man who is not a strong Christian. She may be very sincere about her faith. She may have seen the Lord do great things in her life. She may have many wonderful testimonies of God’s answers to prayer. But in her zeal to make her husband grow in his faith, he only hears her nagging that he should have faith like hers. So rather than her husband feeling her love, he feels like she looks down on him. And he backs away from God even farther. Instead of being attracted to Christ by her strong faith, she turns him away.
Parents can do the same kind of thing with their children. Therefore it is important for adults to understand that we can’t force-feed faith to our kids. Faith can’t exist by itself. It must be rooted in love and express itself in love. Our children watch to see that our faith is genuine. And they measure the sincerity of our faith by the way we treat them and others. We can say all the right stuff about God, giving the air of great faith, but our children watch to see if our faith translates into love toward them and others.
The Bible says that Jesus embraced little children and blessed them. He did not try to impress them with great faith but He reached them with true love.
Fourth, love is more than compassion. Paul writes in v.3,
1 Cor 13:3If I give all I possess to the poor…, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Compassion is often equated with love but here a clear distinction is made. Just because you do a good thing like helping the poor, it doesn’t mean you do it in love. Paul seems to be addressing those with the gift of giving. But the danger is that these people become like Ananias and Sapphira in the early NT church. They did give generously but were motivated by selfish ambition. They wanted people to think they were really great Christians. Love for the poor was not their real motivation.
As Christian parents we need to make sure that we are genuine. Kids are master fake-detectors. Giving is a wonderful expression of love. But you can’t buy the love of your children the way Ananias and Sapphira tried to buy the respect of the early church. All too often today in our wealthy and materialist society, parents try to buy the love of their kids by getting them the things they want. That may be nice, but is love our motivation?
An one episode of Dr. Phil, a 13 year-old boy was so spoiled by his parents that they let him pick out his mom’s car—some kind of convertible sports car. And they even let him drive it—against the law—in the city streets. And the dad finally admitted that spoiling the kid was a bit of a cover up for not spending time with him. So on the outside there was an appearance of generosity, but there was not a willingness to do what it takes to truly show love to the child. As a result the kid was literally spoiled rotten. He kept wanting more and more from his parents to fill a void in his life. He needed love—just spending time together—not more lavish gifts which others might perceive as very compassionate or generous.
And finally, this morning, we see that love is more than sacrifice. We read in v.3
1 Cor 13:3If I … surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
No one will deny that sacrifice to the degree that Paul speaks of here can be the supreme indication of love. It is Jesus Himself who gave us the words,
John 15:13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
And He followed through with laying down His own life for us. But Paul’s point is that sometimes even big sacrifices on the outside can be made without love on the inside and therefore they are nothing.
Similar to the father who tries to buy his child’s affection, there are parents who deceive themselves into thinking that sacrifice is more important than love. Mom and Dad work hours and hours, neglecting to nurture their children, but the whole time they convince themselves that they are sacrificing time at home for the good of the family. They say, “Do you realize that I’m doing this to give my children a better chance of success in this world?” I suspect many parents do that but the kids never really understand that dad and mom love them because they never spend time with them—they are always too busy for the children.
Jesus is not and never was too busy for us. In His sacrifice for us it is clear that love for His own drove Him to the cross. Philippians 2 reminds us that Jesus
PHP 2:6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
PHP 2:7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
PHP 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
His love for us led Him to sacrifice His glory in order to dwell among us. As John also says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” His sacrifice was coming to be with us, to live among us, join in our sorrows and joys all so that He could show us the full extent of His love when He died on the cross. His sacrifice was not a cover up to get more things for Himself. It was to bless us for now and eternity because He loves us.
So the bottom line with each of these things—talk, knowledge, faith, compassion and sacrifice—is to be brutally honest with yourself before God. Parenting has great rewards but it can be hard work. It isn’t for cowards. And being part of the covenant community isn’t for cowards. It is a great privilege and responsibility. God has given us a high calling by placing children in our lives whom we must genuinely love in order to help them become the best citizens of God’s kingdom they can be! So as brothers and sisters in Christ we must take stock of our lives and ask hard questions sometimes. Maybe discuss these questions with your spouse and later with your kids. Or as a member of the church thinking about our covenant vows, ask yourself:
Am I talking with the kids or just talking at them?
Is my knowledge assisting me in showing Christ-like love to the children or am I merely making them feel dumb next to me?
Is it clear that my faith grows out of my love for Christ and inspires me to show genuine love to the children in my life? Or am I just trying to impress them with my faith?
Does my compassion and generosity flow freely to my family and others out of the love I have received from Christ? Or is it just another way of making others think I’m a great person?
And do my sacrifices really help my family and loved ones know that I love them, or am I just using that as an excuse not to show my love firsthand and face-to-face?
Yes, congregation, the calling to love is a great one! We don’t all have the same spiritual gifts and physical abilities but God has given us all the capacity to love as Christians because Christ first loved us. In word and deed we can point our children to the Source of love—Jesus Christ. And our Lord Jesus will supply us with the love we need to do the wonderful and challenging work of raising covenant children.
Suggested Order of Worship
We Gather to Praise Our God
Gathering Song:#557 My Jesus, I Love Thee (or Be Unto Your Name)
Call to Worship
Songs of Praise: #556Great is Thy Faithfulness (and/or In Christ Alone)
We Are Reconciled With God and Commit to Serving Him
God’s Will for our Lives: include Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 103:11-13
Song of Thanksgiving: #473To God Be the Glory
If during a baptism service:
We Witness the Sacrament of Infant Baptism
Vows of the Parents
Vows of the Congregation
Children’s Message (would fit well here)
Song: #588Tell your Children
We Hear God’s Word Together
Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 13
Sermon: Raising Kids: The Primary Ingredient
Prayer of Response: Heavenly Father, you have shown us the full extent of your love, giving your own Son to be our Savior. Lord Jesus, you sacrificed your glory and your life on earth in order to show us the depths of your love. Help us to love our children as we ought. Teach us to evaluate our lives and make the necessary changes—by the power of your Holy Spirit—to help our families and our church family to know our love—and yours—more fully. Amen.
Song of Response: A Christian Home (lyrics below to the tune of Psalter Hymnal #498)
We Bring Our Prayers and Gifts to God
Song of Confidence: #599 God of All Ages, Whose Almighty Hand
We Leave Under God’s Blessing
Doxology: #632To God Be the Glory(or Go My Children With My Blessing)
A Christian Home(lyrics)
O give us homes built firm upon the Savior,
Where Christ is Head, and Counselor and Guide;
Where ev'ry child is taught His love and favor
And gives his heart to Christ, the crucified:
How sweet to know that tho' his footsteps waver
His faithful Lord is walking by his side!
O give us homes with godly fathers, mothers,
Who always place their hope and trust in Him;
Whose tender patience turmoil never bothers,
Whose calm and courage trouble cannot dim;
A home where each finds joy in serving others,
And love still shines, tho' days be dark and grim.
O give us homes where Christ is Lord and Master,
The Bible read, and precious hymns still sung;
Where prayer comes first in peace or in disaster,
And praise is natural speech to ev'ry tongue;
Where mountains move before a faith that's vaster,
And Christ sufficient is for old and young.
O Lord, our God, our homes are Thine forever!
We trust to Thee their problems, toil, and care;
Their bonds of love no enemy can sever
If Thou art always Lord and Master there:
Be Thou the center of our least endeavor:
Be Thou our Guest, our hearts and homes to share.