The year was 1967, I had just turned seven years old, Canada was celebrating its centennial and two events happened that would mark and define the United States for years to come.
The first one took place mostly along the East Coast of the US and was referred to as “The Long hot summer of 1967” and it referred to the 159 race riots that erupted across the United States that summer. It was not a proud summer for the US.
On the other coast the city of San Francisco was bracing itself for an onslaught of “Hippies”. College and High school students had been streaming into the Haight-Ashbury district since spring break and the local authorities determined to stop the influx just brought more attention to the event.
By the time the summer was done over 100,000 so called hippies had converged on the city.
A number of groups and organizations in the community responded to the perceived crisis by forming the “Council of the Summer of Love”, which of course gave the summer it’s name.
The council coordinated efforts of community groups and churches to assist with free clinics, housing, food, sanitation and concerts.
Who were these hippies? Well sometimes they were called flower children but they were really an eclectic group. Made up mostly of folks in their mid-teens to mid-twenties who had avowed to not trust anyone over thirty. Most were suspicious of the government, rejected consumeristic lifestyles and opposed the Vietnam war. A few were interested in politics; others were more concerned with art, music and poetry while others embraced various world religions. It really was a mixed bag.
But it was also from this group that we saw the “Jesus Movement” of the late sixties take root and people lives are still being impacted by the churches that were formed out of that movement.
And wrap your head around the fact that the youngest of those counter culture hippies are now in their mid to late sixties and early seventies and some have grandkids who are over thirty.
It was at the summer of Love that Timothy Leary first used the phrase, "Turn on, tune in, drop out" and the song "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)", written by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, became the unofficial anthem of the summer.
I said all that to say that we are calling this Summer at Cornerstone the “Summer of Love” and for the next 10 weeks we will be focusing on 1 Corinthians 13, which is often referred to as the “Love Chapter” of the bible. We read a portion of the chapter earlier but now we are going to read all 13 verses together.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
And that’s where we are going to park for the Summer of Love.
Really though, 1 Corinthians 13 can’t be taken completely in isolation. It is part of an entire letter that was written by the apostle Paul to the Christ Followers who made up the church in Corinth, which was a city in Greece.
In the first eleven chapters of the letter Paul has been dealing with all kinds of moral and theological issues that had arisen in the church. Whenever I hear people say, “I wish the church could be more like the New Testament Church!” I wonder if they have actually read the New Testament.
Then in Chapter twelve Paul seems to turn a page as he talks about the gifts of the Spirit. There is the gift of speaking in unknown languages, the gift of prophecy, the gift of wisdom, the gift of healing and a bunch of others. And people get excited about those types of gifts.
But listen to the closing words of 1 Corinthians 12 1 Corinthians 12:31 . . . But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all. In the NIV it says 1 Corinthians 12:31 . . . And now I will show you the most excellent way.
A better way of life than the Corinthian Christians were presently living, a way more excellent than the promise of the spiritual gifts.
So the first thing that Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
So Paul begins with the premise that Christianity is Words, but not Just Words The temptation here is to negate the value of words, but that isn’t the intent. Words are an important part of how Christianity began. Remember Jesus went preaching and teaching. Crowds gathered to hear him speak words.
The church spread throughout the known world as people like Paul preached the word and taught about Christianity. Remember for the most part this was an oral culture. Even when words were written down, they were written down to be read out loud.
St. Francis of Assis is often quoted as having said “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” It’s kind of quotable, and inspirational but he didn't say that, we don’t know who did but there is no evidence at all that Francis did.
But it’s kind of a pithy and is used to show that deeds are more important than words and that you don’t even have to use words to convey the gospel of Christ. What it has become is a good excuse for not talking about your faith.
If you can preach the gospel without using words that would make you better than John Wesley or Augustine or for that matter Jesus. They all used words to preach the gospel.
Paul wrote in Romans 10:13-14 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?
So Paul is not trying to diminish the power of our words. Whether they be the eloquently spoken words of men. Those words that are crafted and polished to have maximum effect. Or even if they are the words of heaven, and there has been debate over whether the language of Angels referred to the miraculous gift of tongues or the actual language that the angels speak. We don’t know. And if someone tells you that they know for sure what Paul meant, they’re bluffing.
What Paul was telling the church was that words without love are empty, regardless of how eloquent and pretty they are. It’s easy to speak, it’s more difficult to speak in love.
I love the story about the hotheaded woman who once told John Wesley, "My talent is to speak my mind." To which Mr. Wesley replied, "Woman, God wouldn't care a bit if you would bury that talent."
In Ephesians 4:15 Paul talks about speaking the truth in love, and that is the challenge, to not just speak the truth, that’s the easy part, but to speak the truth in love.
Just take a minute and think about what you are going to say, because after you say it, after you speak those words, your words will rule over you. As long as those words remain unspoken, you rule over them.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote “If you think little of a person, you ought to say as little as you think.” That sounds safe, goes right along with what Andy Rooney said “Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.”
What Paul was saying was that without love there is no harmony in your words, there is only discord and noise, kind of like gongs and cymbals.
And boy after those words are spoken they are so hard for you to take back and so hard for others to forget.
Kind loving words don’t cost much, but they are so valuable. And for the preacher the warning is there as well, we hear about the preachers who preached “Hell Fire and Brimstone” but is that a preaching that is grounded in 1 Corinthians 13?
William Barclay warns preachers that “The preaching which is all threat and no love may terrify but it will not save.”
Nowhere in the bible are we told that we are to scare the Hell out of people, but we are told that we are to show them the love that God has for them.
But it wasn’t just the misuse of words that Paul was concerned with, he continues on in 1 Corinthians saying 1 Corinthians 13:2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. So, next we are told that Christianity is Knowledge, but not Just Knowledge
Through the years, I have met some folks who seem to almost exalt in the fact that they aren’t all that knowledgeable about their faith. They seem to feel that they have a purer relationship with Jesus because it’s not cluttered up with theology and stuff like that. They talk about having a simple faith.
You don’t have to read very far in the New Testament to see the value that Paul and others place on knowledge. Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Philippi was recorded in Philippians 1:9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.
And Peter encourages the early church with these words: 2 Peter 1:5 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge . . .
Peter and Paul weren’t telling people that they needed to read every new Christian best seller that came out and to immerse themselves in every new Christian fad that showed up. But they were telling people that they had to know the how’s and the why’s of their salvation. That they needed to know what the bible says and what the bible doesn’t say.
Theodore Roosevelt once wrote “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” That falls in the category of All “Generalizations are wrong.” But I will say that as a Christian a knowledge of the bible of what you believe and why you believe, is essential to your faith.
And that happens when you read the bible and discuss it with other Christians. And if you don’t have a bible, just mention it to the staff and we will get you a bible.
But in light of all of that, if you have knowledge but no love, you might as well be as dumb as a stump for all that it matters.
You know what I mean, you’ve seen people who have to be right. They won’t have a discussion, they won’t hear other views. And they alienate themselves from others and even when they are right it doesn’t matter because nobody cares.
Confession time, I have people in my life that when they start I just check out, it wouldn’t matter if they were telling me the secrets of the ages because I can’t have a discussion with them. It’s their way their views and their truth and they won’t listen to anything else.
And when you use your knowledge or your debating skills to win the point without regards to how you leave the other person feeling, you’re a bully. And nobody likes bullies.
Earlier in his letter Paul warned the Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 . . . But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.
Paul’s first two statements make sense, the third one is a little confusing. 1 Corinthians 13:3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. So it is here that we discover that Christianity is Action, but not Just Action
There are times I think that we get stuck in Ephesians 2:9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. And we are so afraid that we might boast about the good things we do that we just don’t do any good things.
And we aren’t saved by our good works, but paradoxically we are saved to do good works.
You don’t have to look very far into Jesus’ words to see him commanding us to respond to the needs of others. Not just think about it, but to do it. James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his letter James 2:14-16 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
By the way, that is a rhetorical question, James wasn’t really looking for an aswer.
And Paul isn’t telling us to not give to the poor not to do good deeds. He just saying do it out of love not simply out of obligation.
Deepak Chopra wrote “Love without action is meaningless. Action without love is irrelevant.” And yes I know Chopra is a new age guy.
And those good works done without love will still benefit the recipient. If they were hungry and you gave them food without love, their hunger would still be satisfied. If they were thirsty and you gave them a drink, their thirst would still be slacked. If they were cold and you gave them clothes out of a feeling of obligation they’d still be warm.
It would be you who missed out.
Love is the magic ingredient. J Vernon McGee was a Presbyterian preacher and he summed it up this like this, “Look at it this way: Write down a string of zeros -- eloquence alone is zero, prophecy alone is zero, knowledge alone is zero, faith alone is zero, sacrifice alone is zero, martyrdom alone is zero. Six zeros still add up to nothing. But you put the numeral 1 to the left of that string of zeros, and every zero amounts to something. And, friend, love is the thing that needs to be added to every gift of the Spirit. Without love your gift is worthless.”
So over the next couple of months, “The Summer of Love” we will not be describing love, we will be painting a picture of love.
Have you ever tried to describe something that is indescribable? I cannot adequately describe the Great Pyramid, even after having climbed it and gone into it. But I could show you a picture. What describes Egypt more than a picture of a man and his minion on a camel in front of the pyramids of Giza?
How would you describe a platypus?
I’ve seen a platypus and I’d be hard pressed to describe it. Well, it’s a mammal, that lives it the water it’s got a bill like a duck and tail like a beaver. It’s furry but it’s got webbed feet, and it doesn’t give birth it lays eggs, oh and the mother nurse her young.
There is no way that you could describe a Platypus to a person who had never seen it before that would accurately portray it. But you could show them a picture.
And it’s the same way with love. And when we look at the picture that Paul paints for us of love, it is hard to believe that it was painted 2000 years ago, because it is as fresh as tomorrow.
And it would do well to learn from the painting because the bible tells us in 1 John 3:18 “Let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”
We often think of love as an emotion and so we fall into love and we fall out of love. We experience love at first sight. When it comes to love most of us would agree with Woody Allen when he said “I was nauseous and tingly all over. I was either in love or I had smallpox.”
But if love is simply an emotion than love couldn’t be something that God would command of us.
You can’t be commanded to feel something. Love is something you do. It may produce emotions, but first and foremost is an action.
And we are commanded to love. John 13:34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.
And then Jesus spells out the consequence of obeying that commandment: John 13: 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”