Valentine’s Day Talking Points
1 Cor. 13:1-8a, 13
Happy Valentine’s Day! According to legend, a Priest named Valentinus defied Emperor Claudius II’s outrageous order to cease all marriages during his brief reign (268-70 AD). In the midst of war, the Emperor reasoned that single men were better soldiers—so he canceled engagements and marriages. Well, “Valentine,” as we know him, thought this policy was ridiculous not to mention unbiblical, so he continued to perform marriages. And because of Valentine’s defiance of the Emperor’s edict and his dedication to the sacred institution of marriage, he was imprisoned after being caught doing a secret ceremony. Legend has it that he had a number of conversations with the jailer’s daughter, and before his execution, wrote a note to her from prison, signed “From your Valentine.” The Prefect ordered him beaten with clubs and beheaded on February 14, 269 or 270, the day we celebrate.[1]
Since it is Valentine’s Day, let’s look at the portrait of love that ought to mark the life of every Christ-follower and be the cornerstone of every marriage in 1 Corinthians 13. No poet has ever dipped his pen in ink and written its equal. Not Shakespeare, not Byron, not Shelly, not Keats, not even Browning with his: “How do I love thee, let me count the ways.” How important is love and what does real love look like? Paul paints this incredible portrait of love in these verses.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends… So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13)
Here are two things that make Christianity different from every other faith. One: we serve a Risen Lord. Two: When we receive Jesus, we have the love of God living in our hearts, and that makes us different from everyone else. A living Lord and a loving faith.
Paul addresses this very gifted but loveless church at Corinth and says: “I don’t care how gifted you are, if you don’t have love, you’re nothing, of no account, of no value. You’re worthless.”
A. Tongues: And he begins with the very thing they valued most at Corinth, the gift of tongues. He says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels.” Paul is talking about the ability to speak all languages, known and unknown, the tongues of men and of angels. What if I was fluent in every language on the face of the earth? And not only would I be perfectly understood, people would be moved by what I said. I could look in the mirror and say: “Wow, I am something.” But Paul says: “Without love you are nothing.” That’s what he means by a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. In Corinth, pagan worshippers would bang gongs and cymbals to get the attention of their dead, dumb deity. And Paul said, “Without love, your speaking in tongues is as worthless as trying to wake up a pagan god.”
B. Prophecy: Paul goes on: “If I have the gift of prophecy…”  What if I could predict the future with 100 percent accuracy? What if I knew when the next major hurricane would strike? Or if I knew what the stock market was going to do and make investments accordingly? Or if I knew when and where the ISIS terrorist network is going to strike next? The President of the United States would call me every morning and say: “Hey, what’s going down today?” After a few days of that, I could begin to feel awfully important and look into the mirror and say to myself: “I am something.” Paul says: “If you know the future perfectly, and don’t have the love of God, say it with me: “I am nothing.”
C. Mysteries: And if I can fathom all mysteries. If I were able to walk the halls of hospitals and understand the mysteries behind the suffering…people dying of COVID, cancer, and all manner of diseases. And I pray: “Lord, help us discover the solution to these mysterious and deadly diseases and this terrible virus.” But what if I could go to the CDC and say: “I have solved the mystery of COVID and can prevent anyone from getting any of the variants? Or I could go to the American Cancer Society HQ in Atlanta, Ga. and announce: “I have solved the mystery of cancer.” I would win the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The New York Times and every media organization in America would be beating on my door, demanding an interview. And after a week or two of that, I’d get the idea that: “I am something!” Paul says: “If you have the ability to solve all mysteries and do not have the love of God,” say it with me: “I am nothing.”
D. Knowledge: And have all knowledge. Think about that. I attended two colleges, two universities, and two seminaries over a period of 12 years until I finished my PhD. And I’ve found out that knowledge is kind of like the vastness of an ocean, because the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. Just like when you’re a college freshman, you think you’ve got it all figured out. But Paul says: “If you have all knowledge, and don’t have love,” say it with me: “I am nothing.” It may be trite but it’s still true: The world doesn’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
E. Faith: And though I have all faith, so that I can move mountains. There have been people of great faith not only in the Bible but in modern times. I think of George Mueller who cared for thousands of orphans and raised millions of dollars without asking anybody for one penny. Mueller had mountain-moving faith. But if I have the faith of the Prophet Elijah or the Apostle Paul or George Mueller, if I have mountain-moving faith, but have no love, Paul says: “I am nothing.”
F. Giving: If I give all I possess to the poor. If I had so much money that it would make the combined fortunes of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Microsoft’s Bill Gates look like pocket change, and I gave every penny of it to the poor, and then gave my body to be burned, but I did it without love, God would reject the ashes. Paul says: “If I give all I have, even to the giving of myself, and don’t have love, I gain nothing.” Bottom line? It doesn’t matter how gifted I am, without love, I am and have nothing, and I gain...nothing!
Listen, the only motivation for Christian work and witness should be love—when we seek the highest good of another person—everything else is worthless. In fact, if the love of God is not evident in us, our home life, our churches, and our work relationships, then we might as well not even name the name of Christ. Why? Because love is the essence of who God is. In fact, the Apostle John came right out and said it: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
 Paul proceeds to give us a full-length portrait of God’s kind of love, which in the Greek language is the word agape. There are actually 14 different colors that make up Paul’s palette as he paints this portrait. And these are the characteristics that should mark the life of every believer, a life of love (v. 4-8). For the sake of time, I’m going to pare it down to 10.
1. Agape Love is Steadfast Love (v. 4a): Love is patient, the KJV says: Love suffers long. God says: “If you have my love, you will be patient.” Are you a patient person? Are you patient with people when you are pressed? Are you patient with your spouse? Are you patient with your children? Are you patient with your family? Are you patient with your colleagues at work? If you are an impatient person, if you are quick to lose your temper, if you are quick to give up on people, then you don’t love with God’s kind of love, because love is patient, it suffers long. The Bible says of Jesus in John 13:1, that “Having loved His own…He loved them unto the end.” Do you know what was going on? The disciples were arguing about who was greatest, but He put up with them, He served them by washing their feet, He was patient with them. True love is patient.
2. Agape Love is Serving Love (v. 4b): Love is kind. What is kindness? It is serving one another. Kindness is love in action. It is the ability to love other people who do not deserve to be loved. People who deserve love the least, need it the most. See, if you love someone, you won’t give them what they deserve; you will give them what they need. Jesus said: “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you” (Matthew 5:44). You are to do good, speak well, and pray hard.
3. Agape Love is Sincere Love (v. 4c): Love does not envy. If I envy you, it is because you have something that I want and don’t have. If we are envious of another person, it is because we don’t love the person we envy. If I cringe when you are praised, if I feel that your gain is my loss, then I don’t sincerely love you. True love is sincere love. It rejoices when another is blessed, it is not envious.
4. Agape Love is Self-Effacing Love (v. 4d): It does not boast, it is not proud. Love does not put itself on parade. True love enables us to be humble. See, if I love you, I can’t look down on you and rejoice that I’ve got more than you. Self-promoting pride and agape love cannot walk hand in hand. You cannot be big-headed and big-hearted at the same time.
5. Agape Love is Self-Restraining Love (v. 5a): It is not rude. The KJV says: “It doth not behave itself unseemly.” Do you know what that means? True love enables us to be courteous, to demonstrate good manners. Love is not rude. But this is the rude generation. They elbow their way in, they don’t want to wait in line, they don’t know how to say: “Please,” they don’t know how to say: “Thank you.” Since when has it become out of style to be mannerly? When has it become out of style to speak graciously and respectfully? Courtesy is just love in the little things. And a person who doesn’t love in the little things probably doesn’t love in the big things. Love is not rude.
6. Agape Love is Self-Denying Love (v. 5b): It does not seek its own way. It is not self-seeking. It is not selfish. It doesn’t say: “Me first.” True love is self-denying love, it doesn’t serve itself. During the Holocaust, a Polish Jewish mother, hearing the oncoming tanks of the Nazis coming, ran into the woods with her three children. She stayed there for weeks living on roots, berries and whatever they could find. One morning they were discovered by a Polish farmer, who saw that they were starving to death, so he demanded that they come out of the woods and sent his son to get a loaf of bread. When he handed the bread to the mother, she ripped it in three parts, and placed them in the trembling hands of her hungry children. Seeing this, the son said to his father, “She kept none for herself because she’s not hungry?” The father replied: “She kept none for herself because she is a mother. She will die to see her children live.” Love is not self-seeking, it is self-denying. Like the Lord Jesus, who always thought of others before He thought of Himself, she loved to the point of sacrifice.
7. Agape Love is Serene Love (v. 5c): It is not irritable. Another version renders this: “It is not easily angered.” Love is not touchy, love is not quick to take offense. Folks who explode at the least thing do not have enough of the love of Jesus there to hold back from making like a volcano and “blowing up.” If you want to know what you are full of, just see what spills out when you are knocked around a bit. True love is serene love.
8. Agape Love is Sacrificial Love (v. 5d): It is not resentful. It doesn’t hold grudges. Another translation renders it: “It keeps no record of wrong.” Two guys were talking about their wives, and one said: “When we argue and fight, my wife gets historical.” The other guy said: “Don’t you mean hysterical?” The first guy replied: “No, she gets historical…she recalls everything I have ever done that she thinks is wrong.” Well, true love doesn’t “get historical.” True love is able to forgive. And that is costly. There can be no forgiveness without somebody paying a price. We can’t keep a record of the wrongs against us.
9. Agape Love is Sympathetic Love (v. 6a): It does not rejoice at wrongdoing. It does not delight in evil. How is that sympathetic love? Because when somebody is in sin, when somebody falls, when somebody does wrong, you don’t rejoice, you weep! Do you know what the sin of the gossip is? Basically, the gossiper rejoices in evil. When they hear something bad, they can’t wait to tell it! We aren’t to rejoice in sin. True love is sympathetic love.
10. Agape Love is “Stubborn” Love (v. 7): It always perseveres. True love keeps on keeping on. It never quits. I’ve told my wife that if she ever leaves me that I’m going with her. It is stubborn love. That is why we need to take divorce out of our vocabulary. Yes, I realize there is adultery, there is abandonment, and there is abuse, but the ideal is found in Jesus’ words: “Therefore what God has brought together, let no one separate” (Matt. 19:4-6). Sometimes we throw in the towel too quickly. God forgives us and takes us back. He doesn’t give up. That’s why C.S. Lewis called him the “Hound of Heaven.” He pursues us relentlessly. Love bears all things, it believes all things, it hopes all things, it endures all things. Love never fails.
That is the kind of love that ought to be true of every person who names the name of Christ. It was true in the early church. They saw to it that there was no needy person among them, even if they had to sell some of their own possessions to meet the need (Acts 2:45; 4:34-35). In a “me-first” world, that got the people’s attention. It is interesting when you look back at what onlookers said about the early church. The thing that stood out in their minds is recorded in a letter from one Roman official to another. He watched these Christians relate to each other with agape love, and was astounded when he wrote: “Behold, how they love one another.” Jesus said: “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another” (John 13:35). The world, and especially Generation Z, is looking for that kind of authentic love before they will buy into our messaging on other issues.
The church needs to show the love of Christ in practical ways, like participating in a Habitat for Humanity build, serving in a soup kitchen, helping in a homeless shelter, volunteering at the Pregnancy Resource Center, going on a disaster relief trip to serve hurting people in need. When we show that kind of love, we have credibility. Then it is not so easy for the world to call us “self-righteous” or “hypocrite” or make us into one dimensional people, who are easy to caricature, and burn in effigy. Demonstrating real compassion will make a difference with the next generation who only knows what we are against, not what we are for. They think that we are motivated by hate, but let’s surprise them with our love.
Prayer: God, let us love You with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let us love each other with Your kind of love, a selfless love that sacrifices to the point of suffering. Let our churches become loving churches. Teach us how to love those who are lost, those who are trapped in destructive lifestyles, those who oppose us. Teach us how to love our enemies, and when we don’t have it in us, grace us with it anyway. Let us love so that the world may see it and be drawn to the Savior who is the source of it. In His name we pray, Amen.