What kind of love will change our world?

I recently preached at a wedding celebration on the classic wedding text, 1 Cor 13.1–8a. The celebration was international, and as a result had been delayed for two years because of Covid. The couple were young professionals and, apart from parents and some friends and relations of a similar age, the congregation were also mostly young professionals, many of whom were not church-goers. Because of a problem with transport for the main party, the service started half an hour late. The couple’s hyphenated surname began with the letters LD, hence my three points.

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship⌟ that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self–seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

Love never fails.

Here we are at last—two years and a little bit after the original plan! Many congratulations! For those of you who are not used to being in church, you need to know that the best sermons have three points, and in this case they will all begin with LD. It is also a golden rule of gardening that you plant things in threes, so this is a good one to follow! [Gardening is a shared interest.]

The first ‘LD’ is Love’s Details. This reading includes a remarkable list of qualities, and you can see that if you look carefully at the details.

First, says St Paul, ‘Love is patient’. The word he uses (which can be found in some older translations) is ‘long suffering.’ If you are the kind of person who is always on the go, who likes to get things done, and you are with someone who just likes to slow down and take their time—then you know what this ‘long suffering’ is all about!

Then, he says, ‘Love is kind’—ready to bless the other person, always will to do good, to be generous in your opinion of the other. There is an old Jewish saying: ‘The world is held together by two things: keeping the Torah; and acts of kindness’.

‘Love does not envy’—it doesn’t resent the success of another, but rejoices in it. ‘Love does not boast’—it does not need to make more of its own achievements, or draw attention to itself. It does not ‘seek the things of itself’ above others. It ‘keeps no record of wrongs’. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to remember when someone has wronged you? And yet, Paul says, love does not keep a log of the mistakes of others that have hurt us. That is why love never says ‘And another thing…’!

In one sense, it is quite hard to imagine what all these qualities look like, though you treasure them when you see them. But another way of understanding them is to imagine the opposite. Think of someone who is impatient, unkind, is envious and proud, insists on his or her own way, does remember all your mistakes—it is not a pleasant sight! Such people diminish us, crush us, limit us. They stop us from flourishing.

Yet in many ways we live in a culture that prizes these things. Doing these are the way to get on—and our social media context encourages them.

So when we do encounter someone who exhibits these qualities, it is like water in the desert. These virtues gives us space to thrive, to flourish, and to grow. When we see these qualities, they enlarge us, and we treasure them.

That leads to my second ‘LD’: Love’s Demands. You both know quite a bit about doing audits—so here is a personal audit you can do for yourself. Put your own name in this list!

John is patient, John is kind. Jane does not envy, Jane does not boast, Jane is not proud. John is not arrogant or rude. Jane does not insist on her own way, Jane is not easily angered. John keeps no record of wrongs, John always delights in the truth. [John and Jane are pseudonyms.]

We need to be clear here: this is not about losing your own identity, or becoming a doormat. But it is about giving yourself to the other. As you said in your vows: ‘All that I am I give to you’. The Christian understanding of marriage is this symmetry of love, this mutual giving of the self to the other.

But the moment you put your own name in it to do the audit, you realise how demanding this is! Why? Because we all have a natural tendency to put ourselves at the centre of our world—to be concerned about our own needs, our own progress, our own perceptions, our own success. (If you want to get a little philosophical about this, you can trace this tendency in Western thinking all the way back to Descartes, who put the self as the sensing centre of the world in his slogan ‘I think, therefore I am…’)

Yet these qualities demand that we do the opposite—that we put the other, his or her needs, desires, aspirations and happiness—at the centre. We de-centre ourselves.

This starts naturally enough by our love being drawn out of us by the other—as we can plainly see, that you love one another, and are both lovely people! But this is not enough, on its own, to last a lifetime. This de-centring love starts with personal passion, but it continues with daily decision.

That is why, in your vows, you did not say ‘I do’, which suggests this is a mere action, but ‘I will’, it is an act of decision, an act of the will. If passion is the fire burning bright at the centre of a relationship, day by day decision provides the fuel for the fire, and allows it to keep burning.

And as you give yourself away to the other in love, you find you receive yourself back in the self-giving of the other. You get a wonderful return on your investment! In your vows you didn’t say ‘All that I have I give to you’, since if you give your things away, you have less. Instead you said ‘All that I have I share with you” and then ‘All that I am a give to you.’ Love is the only thing that grows the more you give it away!

This is why marriage is the natural place for having children—since you give yourself to one another, and this results in the fruitfulness of new life—and you find yourself giving both yourselves away to yet another. Having children is the ultimate act of de-centring your life, of putting the needs of another ahead of your own!

The demands of love lead into my third point: Love divine (which would be a good line for a hymn!).

Here is something amazing—this reading was not written for weddings! Paul is writing to a struggling young community seeking to follow Jesus, but full of conflict, misunderstandings, and power plays. He says something remarkable—ridiculous even! To a religious community, who seek supernatural signs of God’s presence, power to perform miracles, insight to speak the mind of God, he says ‘I will show you a better way.’ This de-centring love, focussed on the other, is a surer sign of the presence of God than all these other things.

Perhaps we could paraphrase Paul’s opening comments like this:

I might have all the business analysis in the world, the best corporate strategy, spreadsheets to die for…but if I have not love, I am but computer error message, or a system crash. 

No-one gets to the end of their life and says ‘If only I had spent just a few more hours in the office.’ Sadly they sometimes do say ‘If only I had loved my friends and family better.’

This kind of love is something the whole world needs. Your relationship is a special focus of this—but its purpose is for it to be shared with the wider world. Now, I am not expecting that you will solve all the problems of the wold on your own! But notice how, in the service, marriage is constantly connected to the wider community. ‘This is a way of life all should honour’, and your friends and family will support you in it. But as you grow in this quality of love, you will also support and serve others through it.

This is not just a divine thing when it happens, as Paul claims. Because it demands the de-centring of ourselves, which goes against both our culture and our nature, we need divine help.

Why is this? You will find out if you read the gospels, the first four ‘books’ of the New Testament. If you have not read them, you should, regardless of whether you are ‘religious’ or not, because these documents have, more than any other, changed the world.

As you read them, you discover the central character, Jesus, who actually embodies all these thing. Jesus was patient, Jesus was kind to those he met; he was not envious or proud, he is not arrogant or rude, does not seek his own way, rejoices with the truth. Jesus, the gospels tell us, not only lived out this love, but is the one who is able to empower us to live it out as well. He is the one who can transform our lives, our relationships, our world.

As your friends and family, we rejoice with you this day—at last! We delight for you. And we pray for you, that you will know God’s blessing in your life together, till death do us part.

The sermon was followed by a reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

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22 thoughts on “What kind of love will change our world?”

  1. Thank you for this post, Ian.

    I hope it’s okay if I ‘nick’ appropriate parts of your ‘most excellent’ sermon! I am very fond of the opening prayer in CW Marriage Services, ‘God of wonder …’, which is also the Collect for Trinity 2, and I usually refer to ‘that most excellent gift of love’ in wedding sermons.

    I couldn’t help but chuckle at the line ‘… you need to know that the best sermons have three points’. I remember one of the best preachers ever (formerly at Hawkwell, then Rochford, Bert Fuller, who was a Reader) starting one sermon, ‘Most good sermons make three points’ (Then, a very long pause.) And so for that matter do most bad sermons!’

  2. Thanks Ian,
    I have to do the same reading next week in Chipping Someplace for a wedding.
    I was thinking ‘not again’.
    But now I can quickly put it in context and point to Jesus in the Gospels without taking too long by preamble.

    • Geoff, indeed (equally) Christ exalting, and different text and different speakers and different media. And I can actually spot other differences but I’m not sure if you want to know what they are 🙂

  3. It’s fine to have an opinion, but it becomes hate material when you publish it, […]
    I look forward to a day when people like the blogger will be criminalised for publishing such hate material.

    Da, Comrade Beria.

  4. The warnings that Christians give in respect of sex and marriage are based on three things: biblical teaching, biological reality, and the evidence of human experience. All three concern how people can best live in God’s world so that they flourish as he would wish. We’re talking facts here rather than the emotion of hate. It’s true that individuals can also be motivated by hate in any area of debate but the fact of someone saying something about your chosen lifestyle that you don’t agree with does not necessarily imply hatred; it may just as likely be motivated by concern for you, and therefore be an act of love. I’ve never seen any sign that Ian Paul is motivated by hatred of any group of people by what he has written.

    Conversely, your hope that he will one day be criminalised for expressing his views says a lot more about you than him. But we all have bad moments and go over the top with what we say – I certainly admit to doing that sometimes. It’s no big deal, but perhaps we should all learn something about ourselves from it; perhaps we are actually projecting our own prejudices, or hate even, onto the actions of the people we’re accusing!

    • Origen Adam, it is noticeable that your posts here are invariably laden with bitterness and vitriol. This is in contrast to other commenters here, who are gay and like you, disagree with Ian Paul’s stance on SSM, but do nor regard his posts as hateful – and do not feel the need to respond using epithets like ‘homophobe’ and ‘bigot’.

      So I am guessing that the way you react is linked to your personal experience as to how you perceive to have been treated by some sections of the church in the past. Is that correct?

      • I’m certainly bitter about the treatment of myself as a vulnerable adult by people who should have known better, and I’m angry that this treatment is still being meted out to young adults by people like the blogger.

        I’m not sure if my comments are vitriolic. Sometimes a rebuke of the blogger is needed, but it’s certainly very difficult not to respond in kind to the lengthy bigoted essays that are published here. In contrast, we only have a small paragraph to respond to the bigotry.

        I joined in with David Runcorns praise of Susannah, but bizarrely my comment was deleted by the blogger! It’s part of his prejudice and bullying to delete comments on a whim, or labeling them abusive or trolling!

      • Origen Adam, thank you for your reply.

        “I’m certainly bitter about the treatment of myself as a vulnerable adult by people who should have known better, ”

        Could you explain a little more what that treatment was so that it helps the rest of us to understand you a bit better? You sound like you are hurting a lot.

        “I’m not sure if my comments are vitriolic”

        Yes they are. Continuing to direct comments such as ‘homophobe’ and ‘bigot’ to people you don’t agree with speaks of bitter criticism and malice. There are plenty who don’t agree with what Ian has written but not feel the need to do this let alone think them worthy of criminalisation so why do you?

        In your reply to Ian Paul above:

        “It’s easy to delete people’s comments you don’t agree with and call them trolling. Why don’t you say why you disagree with each point instead?”

        Well yes, but I would have though that is a criticism easily leveled at you Origen Adam.

        May I ask if it is your de-facto position to label anyone who disagrees with SSM and the other things associated with it and – argues this from Scripture like Ian Paul and other writers here -*must be* by definition -a homophobe and a bigot?

        Is it the case that in your book they can’t be anything else?

        Sure you don’t agree with him. Then why don’t you advance a better argument(s) and explain why rather that firing personal epithets like homophobe and bigot which do nothing to advance your cause, do not engage with the reasoning in the OP and get you removed from commenting.

      • Crybully: A person who engages in intimidation, harassment, or other abusive behaviour while claiming to be a victim.

        A great deal of contemporary activism is based on this type of engagement.

  5. As a gay man who reads this blog on a regular basis, I can assure you that Ian does not publish ‘hate material’. He consistently states what he believes the Bible says about gay sex, and the reality is many Christians agree with that understanding.

    I pray to God that the day you speak of never happens.

    He loves you but that doesnt mean He wants you to live the life you choose.


  6. If it is any consolation Origen who probably won’t have very long to wait.

    Mt observation is that vitriol normally comes from the LGBT side. Here you may occasionally hear the Bible’s perspective on the legitimacy of LGBT beliefs but it is unlikely to be voiced with venom or any wishing of ill-will. In fact, the one desire would be that LGBT folks have their lives transformed by the gospel, We all need this.

    As I read your comment Origen it seems to me the hate is all one-sided.

    • Hi John, I would implore you to try and read some of the bloggers articles as one of the people they are targeting. Whilst they might be written in articulate academic language there is no masking the prejudice.

      And then his acolytes remove the gloves entirely in the comments section. People like Susannah are to be congratulated at the way they engage, but others of us aren’t as generous.

      Even your response is hurtful: do you not think that LGBTs lives have already been “transformed by the gospel”?

      • Hi Origen

        As I think someone said above I wonder if you are willing to accept any criticism of the LGBT position in reference to the Bible.

        Unfortunately, I don’t think LGBT lives are transformed by the gospel for such transformation would mean turning away from LGBT sexual preferences. PC1 has homosexual leanings but he turns away from it because that is what God demands. I am sure that is not easy for him but the rewards of a clean life in fellowship with God overcomes all else.

        None of us opposed to LGBT values are opposed to LGBT people. We will frankly express our belief that practising homosexuality is wrong and has eternal consequences. I think it is important that we don’t think all who disagree with us are prejudiced against us or characterised (as some would say) by hate.

        I can see criticism of a chosen lifestyle is hurtful but to deny this is to deny free speech which would be damaging to us all.

        I suppose, Origen, I would say that your quarrel is not with us but with God. What God says about homosexual practice is what matters.

        I would if you have listened to any podcasts by Becket Cook?

  7. I have repeated asked you to engage in debate rather than trolling, but you don’t respond. So I have deleted this comment and others, and ask you not to comment until you can do so within the guidelines. Thank you.

  8. Origen

    Of we are acting out of love we will tell the other the truth. Love will also control how we tell the truth. I for one get this wrong. I am often impatient and can be sharp when perhaps I should give time for the other to change.

    We should all aim to act out of love and have patience.

  9. Adam, Im not really sure what ‘ex-gay’ means. Im still a gay man (I find men physically/sexually attractive and not women, though I doubt I find more than 10% of men actually attractive) and that hasnt changed over the years, and I dont expect it to. I think ‘pray the gay away’ is nonsense. But I cant reconcile what I think God says through the Bible, both Old & New Testaments, and having a gay sexual relationship.

    Ive looked at the issue for a long time and am still convinced God hasnt changed His mind on the matter. I find the ‘pro-gay’ Biblical argument very lacking. That doesnt mean I dont ‘struggle’ but I try. But we are all weak – I wonder sometimes how those who are straight and married would cope if they were told God doesnt approve of your relationship, you have to stop having sex and that deep relationship with your wife. And be single for the rest of your time on earth. A few open mouths I envisage!

    I get that you are looking for love. And we all need not just want human love and acceptance as well as God’s. And sadly that Ive found is often lacking in churches – how many men make genuine friendships in their church? Where is the love?!

    And yet, I cant deny what the Lord says.

    But Im glad you dont want to treat people like me harshly. Phew!


  10. Excellent… Thanks for the idea re: initials…

    My next wedding couple have chosen a passage from the Song of Songs….


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