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Love Is a Package Deal Love

Love Is a Package Deal Love 

Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

1 Corinthians 13:4–7 nasb

How long must I put up with you?

Jesus’ actions answered his own question. . . . Until the rooster sings and the sweat stings and the

mallet rings

and a hillside of demons smirk at a dying God.

How long? Long enough for every sin to so soak my sinless soul

that heaven will turn in horror

until my swollen lips pronounce the final transaction: “It is finished.”

How long? Until it kills me.

My parents were not too big on restaurants. Partly because of the selection in our small town. Dairy Queen offered the gourmet selection, and everything went downhill from there. The main reason, though, was practicality. Why eat out when you can stay home? Restaurant trips were a Sunday-only, once-or-twice-a-month event. Funny, now that I am a parent, the philosophy is just the opposite. Why stay home when you can go out? (We tell our daughters it’s time to eat, and they head for the garage.)

But when I was growing up, we typically ate at home. And every time we ate at home, my mom gave my brother and me the same instructions: “Put a little bit of everything on your plate.”

We never had to be told to clean the plate. Eating volume was not a challenge. Variety was. Don’t get me wrong, Mom was a good cook. But boiled okra? Asparagus? More like “croak-ra” and “gasp-aragus.” Were they really intended for human consumption?

According to Mom, they were, and—according to Mom—they had to be eaten. “Eat some of everything.” That was the rule in our house. But that was not the rule at the cafeteria. On special occasions we made the forty-five-minute drive to the greatest culinary innovation since the gas stove: the cafeteria line. Ah, what a fine moment indeed to take a tray and gaze down the midway at the endless options. A veritable cornucopia of fine cuisine. Down the row you walk, intoxicated by the selection and liberated by the freedom. Yes to the fried fish; no to the fried tomatoes. Yes to the pecan pie; no, no, a thousand times no to the “croak-ra” and “gasp-aragus.” Cafeteria lines are great.

Wouldn’t it be nice if love were like a cafeteria line? What if you could look at the person with whom you live and select what you want and pass on what you don’t? What if parents could do this with kids? “I’ll take a plate of good grades and cute smiles, and I’m passing on the teenage identity crisis and tuition bills.”

What if kids could do the same with parents? “Please give me a helping of allowances and free lodging but no rules or curfews, thank you.”

And spouse with spouse? “H’m, how about a bowl of good health and good moods. But job transfers, in-laws, and laundry are not on my diet.”

Wouldn’t it be great if love were like a cafeteria line? It would be easier. It would be neater. It would be painless and peaceful. But you know what? It wouldn’t be love. Love doesn’t accept just a few things. Love is willing to accept all things.

“Love . . . bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7 NKJV).

The apostle is looking for a ribbon to wrap around one of the sweetest paragraphs in Scripture. I envision the leathery-faced saint pausing in his dictation. “Let me think for a moment.” Checking off his fingers, he reviews his list. “Let’s see, patience, kindness, envy, arrogance. We’ve mentioned rudeness, selfishness, and anger, forgiveness, evil, and truth. Have I covered all things? Ah, that’s it—all things. Here, write this down. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Paul was never more the wordsmith than when he crafted this sentence. Listen to its rhythm as originally written: panta stegei, panta pisteuei, panta elpigei, panta upomenei. (Now when people ask you what you are doing, you can say, “I’m reading some Greek.” Say it humbly, however, for love does not boast.) Did you notice the fourfold appearance of panta?

Expansions of panta appear in your English dictionary. Pantheism is the belief that God is in all things. A pantry is a cupboard where one can, hopefully, store all things. A panacea is a cure for all things. And a panoply is an array of all things. Panta means “all things.”

God’s view of love is like my mom’s view of food. When we love someone, we take the entire package. No picking and choosing. No large helpings of the good and passing on the bad. Love is a package deal.

But how can we love those we find difficult to love?

The apostle Paul faced that same question. In fact, that’s the reason we have this epistle. The church he began in southern Greece had gone wacko. When it came to unity, the members of the church in Corinth were out of step with each other. The apostle has barely placed pen on parchment before he writes:

I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. (1 Cor. 1:10–11 RSV)

The Greek word for quarreling also described battles in war. The Corinthian congregation was at war. Why? They couldn’t agree on a leader. “One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another says, ‘I follow Apollos’; another says, ‘I follow Peter’; and another says, ‘I follow Christ’” (v. 12).

The church members had their favorite leaders. Some rallied around Paul, the church founder. Others liked Apollos, a dynamic speaker. Some preferred Peter, one of the original apostles. Some followed him, and others were happy just to follow Jesus. The congregation was divided into four groups, drawn and quartered into the Paulites, Apollosites, Peterites, and Jesusites. When it came to unity, the members were out of step.

When it came to morals, the church was out of control. Paul writes:

I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you, something so evil that even the pagans don’t do it. I am told that you have a man in your church who is living in sin with his father’s wife. And you are so proud of yourselves! Why aren’t you mourning in sorrow and shame? And why haven’t you removed this man from your fellowship? (1 Cor. 5:1–2 NLT)

Paul wonders what is worse—the activity of the man or the apathy of the church?

One man was having an affair with his father’s wife. Since Paul makes no mention of incest, the woman was likely his stepmother. Even the Corinthian society rebuffed such behavior. Roman law prohibited a son from marrying his father’s wife, even if the father had died.1 But smackdab in the middle of the church, an interfamily affair was taking place, and no one was saying anything!

When it came to morals, the church was out of control. Their moral depravity likely resulted from their shallow theology, for when it came to biblical knowledge, the church was out of line.

The controversy was this: Can we eat meat that has been offered to idols? Pagan worship, like Jewish, involved the sacrifice of animals. Only a portion of the sacrifice was actually burned. The rest was divided between the priests and the public. Could Christians eat such meat?

The pro-meats said yes. After all, as Paul says, “We all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God and no other” (1 Cor. 8:4 NLT). The pro-meats saw no problem with eating the meat.

The anti-meats, however, had a conscience problem. Paul uses verse 7 to put their dilemma in words: “Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated” (NLT).

Some members felt that eating idol-offered meat endorsed idol worship. The anti-meats had a hard time making the break. And the pro-meats had a hard time being patient. They felt free in Christ and couldn’t understand why others didn’t feel the same.

Paul agrees with their conviction: “We don’t miss out on anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do” (8:8 NLT). He had no trouble with the belief of the pro-meaters. But he had a lot of trouble with their arrogance. It’s hard to miss the sarcasm of verse 2: “You think that everyone should agree with your perfect knowledge. While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much” (8:1–2 NLT).

Ouch. The people had the right information but the wrong approach. They were too sophisticated for their own good.

Let’s tally up the Corinthian confusion. Regarding unity, they were out of step. In terms of morality, they were out of control. Theologically, they were out of line.

But there’s more! In the area of worship the church was way out of order. Just as their newfound freedom got them in trouble with morals and meat, it caused problems in the assembly.

Veils were a problem. Some of the women were coming to church without one. In Corinth, a veil was a sign of modesty and virtue. To appear unveiled in public was nothing short of immoral. The “enlightened” believers wanted to chuck the veils and “face” the future. Others, however, said, “Not so fast.” Paul was one of them. The unveiled woman might as well shave her head, he argues (11:5). As long as she is going to attract attention to herself, why hold back?

And then there was the matter of the Lord’s Supper. In Corinth the meal was more than crackers and juice; it was an extended time of food, fellowship, and worship. But some of the members were missing the point. They liked the food but disregarded the fellowship and worship. They arrived early and ate heartily, leaving nothing for the others but an empty table.

The women were missing the point with the veil. The others were missing the point with communion. And all of them were missing the point with the gifts of the Spirit. Some were proud of their gifts; others felt shortchanged. There was too much tongue speaking and preaching and not enough interpretation and listening, resulting in pandemonium (14:23).

Oh, Corinth. You have a problem on every pew! Territorially selfish. Morally shameless. Theologically reckless. And corporately thoughtless. How do you help a congregation like that?

You can correct them. Paul does. You can instruct them, which Paul does. You can reason with them; Paul does. But at some point, you stop talking to the head and start appealing to the heart.

And Paul does that: “Love . . . bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (13:4–7 NKJV).

You parents can relate to Paul’s problem. You’ve been there. From your daughter’s bedroom comes a bloodcurdling cry. You rush to find your eight-year-old son yelling and his six-year-old sister tear streaked. You sigh, “What happened?” You never should have asked.

“He threw my Baby-Don’t-Potty out the window.”

“Well, she stepped on my WWF Nintendo game.”

And off they go. He did. She did. She did. He did. You shake your head and wonder why your kids couldn’t have been blessed with more traits from your side of the family.

Finally you make a “T” with your hands and shout, “Time out!” Forget the problems. You’re going to the heart of the matter. You speak to your kids about something higher than toys, something grander than games. You speak to them about love. You speak to them about family. You dry her tears and stroke his head and wax eloquent on the topic of families’ sticking together and looking out for each other. You tell them that life is too short for fights, and people are too precious for anger, and in the end the only thing that really solves it all is love.

They listen. They nod. And you are flooded with a fine feeling of satisfaction. You stand and then leave. The fighting could start again. But at least you planted the seed.

Paul could say the same. For twelve chapters, he’s wrestled to untie the knots of disunity. For three more chapters, he’ll try to make sense out of their conflicts. But chapter thirteen is his “Time out!” He sees only one solution. And that solution is a five-letter Greek word: A-G-A-P-E. Agape.

Paul could have used the Greek word eros. But he’s not speaking of sexual love. He could have used the term phileo, but he presents far more than friendship. Or he could have used storge, a tender term for the love of family. But Paul has more in mind than domestic peace.

He envisions an agape love. Agape love cares for others because God has cared for us. Agape love goes beyond sentiment and good wishes. Because God loved first, agape love responds. Because God was gracious, agape love forgives the mistake when the offense is high. Agape offers patience when stress is abundant and extends kindness when kindness is rare. Why?

Because God offered both to us.

Agape love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (13:7 NKJV).

This is the type of love that Paul prescribes for the church in Corinth. Don’t we need the same prescription today? Don’t groups still fight with each other? Don’t we flirt with those we shouldn’t? Aren’t we sometimes quiet when we should speak? And don’t those who have found freedom still have the hardest time with those who haven’t? Someday there will be a community where everyone behaves and no one complains. But it won’t be this side of heaven.

So till then what do we do? We reason. We confront. We teach. But most of all we love.

Such love isn’t easy. Not for you. Not for me. Not even for Jesus. Want proof? Listen to his frustration: “You people have no faith. How long must I stay with you? How long must I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19).

Even the Son of God was handed plates of “croak-ra” and “gasp-aragus.” To know Jesus asked such a question reassures us. But to hear how he answered it will change us. How long must I put up with you?

“Long enough to be called crazy by my brothers and a liar by my neighbors. Long enough to be run out of my town and my Temple. Long enough to be laughed at, cursed, slapped, hit, blindfolded, and mocked. Long enough to feel warm spit and sharp whips and see my own blood puddle at my feet.”

How long? “Until the rooster sings and the sweat stings and the mallet rings and a hillside of demons smirk at a dying God.”

How long? “Long enough for every sin to so soak my sinless soul that heaven will turn in horror until my swollen lips pronounce the final transaction: ‘It is finished.’”

How long? “Until it kills me.”

Jesus bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, and endured all things. Every single one.

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