There are many things that people of different religions and philosophies disagree on but there is one thing that almost everyone agrees on: the importance of love. It doesn’t matter of you are a Christian or an atheist or any other belief system, people instinctively know that love is important. We see it in our music and television shows and movies and books. People may disagree about what love looks like, focusing on either physical or emotional or spiritual aspects, but we agree love is important. This is an important point of contact for Christians because love is central to our faith. Love is not just an add on or is not just compatible, love is the essence of Christianity. For myself, one of the reasons I became a Christian was because I saw the faith primarily about love for God and love for people rather than a list of rules. One of the most beloved passages of the Bible is Paul’s love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13. What people do not realize is that this is not Paul’s only love chapter. He also has some great things to say about love in this chapter. Let us take a look at what he says.
Before we get into love, let us look at worship. As Christians, our role is to be involved in worship. That is not controversial. When a person walks into a church building, they may hope to find love, but they expect to find worship. That is one of the differences between a Christian and a non-Christian. It is not about how good we are or how nice we are but who we worship. The question is: how do we worship? Well that is simple, we worship with hymns and prayers and Bible readings. Of course all of that is good but Paul has another concept of worship. Remember as one raised Jewish, Paul’s concept of worship was shaped by sacrifice. People would bring animals to the temple in Jerusalem and sacrifice them to God. Since Jesus died for us, we no longer need to sacrifice animals. But that does not mean that sacrifice is finished. Paul tells us to offer our bodies as sacrifices. In the temple a sacrifice required the death of the animal but here Paul specifies that we are living sacrifices. Most translations say this is our spiritual act of worship. That is strange because the Greek does not say this. It literally says it is our logical act of worship. You can see why they make it spiritual as that sounds much more uplifting than logical. But what Paul is saying is that this type of worship logically flows from who we are and what Jesus has done to make us right with God. If God showed his love for us by giving us his Son, we need to ask what kind of worship would emerge from that? Paul points to the living sacrifice, that is the worship of living our lives. Our next question is: what does that look like?
The first step in living a life of worship is to get a proper perspective of ourselves. There are two extremes, that of making too much of ourselves and that of making too little of ourselves. It is easy to see ourselves as as the centre of the universe, to focus on our own wants and to ignore the needs of others. That does not lead very well into a life of worship. The other extreme is to put ourselves down. I call this worm theology. It sounds spiritual but it is not. We are not trash. When God created humanity, he said we were very good. As Christians we are adopted into God’s family. What we need is a balance, one that sees us as we are and as God sees us. Paul tells us: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3 NIV) To illustrate this, Paul uses the example of the body. This is the same image that he uses in 1 Corinthians 12. The church is not just an organization, we are the body of Christ. Each member has a role. This is an incredible image. This tells us that we are not worthless, as the body needs us. But we are not everything, that is we need everyone else. If we truly understand this, then we are in the proper place of humility.
Once we are dedicated to worshiping God with our lifestyle and we are seeing ourselves in a healthy way, we are ready for our logical worship. Our logical worship is loving people. Not just believing love or even feeling love but acting in love. What I appreciate about what Paul says is the acknowledgment of reality. The truth is that some people are easy to love and others less so. Certain circumstances make it more difficult to love. Paul’s vision of love does not ignore this reality but meets is head on. Look at what Paul says about love. Love must be sincere. It is not a mask so that you can get what you want or look respectable, it comes from the heart. Love includes an element of hate. That sounds strange but it is true. We do not hate people but if we are filled with love, we should have deep hatred of evil. We are to be devoted to one another, this is not just a casual feeling. We are to honor one another before ourselves. It is easy to get the tinge of jealousy when we see others accomplish the things we wished for ourselves. Give them the honour due them apart from how much you wish you were like them. Never lack in zeal and keep spiritual fervor. Do you get a sense at how important this is for Paul. He expects love to be more than a minor part of our life, it should occupy our thoughts and actions. Joyful in hope, patient in affliction. As we go through life together, we will encounter great difficulties. We do not ignore suffering, nor do we give up in despair. We have hope, we have patience, and most of all we have prayer. We cannot abandon our friends to suffering, we must walk with them through it, confident that a powerful God cares about what is happening. Love is supposed to be practical. That means sharing out of our blessings. Society says to accumulate for yourself, God says to give away to others. We are to practice hospitality, that means inviting people into our homes and welcoming them as part of the family. What about those bad people who give us a hard time? Love them. Bless them. Paul understands that it is not always within our power to restore relationships and experience reconciliation. But as much as it is in our power, we need to try. Even if it looks hopeless, the fact that we try is a witness to the faith we have and the God we serve. What kind of people should we be with? The good, beautiful and respectable people? We should associate with everyone, whether they hate us or if they are low on what society thinks is important. There is so much in our world that will encourage us to act in bad ways. We are told not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good. Love will always be the stronger power.
Many of the new atheists are spending their time pointing out the evils of religion. They tell us that religion poisons everything. I don’t know about other religions, but what I know about Christianity is that it is about love. Love does not poison. Love is about making a difference in people’s lives, rejoicing in the good times and supporting in the hard times. It seems to me that we need more of this in this world. This is the type of worship God is looking for. Not just hymns and prayers, but living a life of love as a natural outflowing of what God has done for us. That is logical worship.