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Introduction to Leadership through Love (Part 7 of 7): But the greatest of these is love.

Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:8)

It is at this point that most people stop in this passage during weddings. It is one of the most quoted three word statements in the Bible. It is a beautiful “Hallmark card” sentence. And it is more complicated than it sounds. Some translations of the Bible say “Love never ends” and that may be closer to the intent. The Greek word translated “fails” is pipto which is pronounced just like you would think it would be. Hey honey, when you go to the store, can you pick me up some Pipto Bismol? Pipto means “to fall” but can be used in different ways like “fall down prostrate” as with the wise men, to be “cast down or collapse from a prominent position” like the house on shaky foundation, or even die. Paul uses the word 7 times and 6 of them were translated “dies” while this one is translated “fails”. My modern day translation would be “Love never crashes and burns.”

Recall, Paul is writing this letter to correct and rebuke the church of Corinth about divisions and misuses of spiritual gifts. He just used the previous paragraph to state how their motives and therefore their utilization of the gifts was missing the mark. You can almost hear him saying “c’mon man, grow up!” as he heads into this paragraph.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:8-12)

First Corinthians 13 is often called “the love chapter” and that is appropriate. When you read the chapter in context of being a challenge and correction, you could also call it “the maturity chapter.” Paul is instructing the church to mature. To put this in the context of today’s church, church growth without church maturity is temporary. How many times have we seen astronomical growth in churches only to collapse when the founder leaves or when the founder is forced to leave due to a moral failure. The growth was built on something other than the purity and maturity of selfless, self-sacrificial love building up the church to last well beyond themselves.

When I was younger and before I went into vocational ministry, I was working in corporate America and was fortunate enough to lead a brand that grew like kudzu (for my non-Southern friends, look it up but don’t bring it to Ohio). It was the type of growth that garnered international recognition. Harvard Business Case Studies were written about it. Our success was written into business books. In the middle of this success, someone who I would have considered a friend and mentor came to me and said I was doing things all wrong. He said that I had made the brand all about me and building my career. I looked at the success of the business and I dismissed what he said. A few months later, I left that brand team and the business started collapsing. To be clear, I’m not saying the business started collapsing because I was no longer there. I’m saying it started collapsing because we had failed to do the things necessary to provide a sound foundation for it when it was growing astronomically. A few years later, the brand was sold at a loss. Those case studies had to be rewritten with a different ending. As I look back on that time, I do have a great sense of pride for what we accomplished. I also have regret for the missed opportunity for the sustained success it could have had. And, importantly, I now realize my friend was right. I was more worried about building myself up than I was about building my team up. It was all about me. Using people or circumstances for your own benefit is never love.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

At this point, Paul stops lecturing and starts exhorting and encouraging. He gives an almost two chapter rebuke and then a one sentence exhortation before moving into teaching how to execute proper gatherings in Chapter 14. Ah Paul, I like you. I too often have to tell people when I’m encouraging them because it is hard for them to recognize it. Paul is summarizing the last two chapters. As you mature, you realize that our myopic tiny views and perspectives of the Kingdom pale in comparison to the Kingdom of God available to us through Jesus. I like to think of this sentence in two ways that I believe complement each other:

  • These three remain (sometimes translated abide). There is a permanency with faith, hope, and love. They are everlasting. They will never leave us just as Jesus told us he would never leave us or forsake us.

  • As long as we anchor everything we do in faith, hope, and especially love, our lives and our ministries will be more fruitful. Everything. Many years ago, we at the church were in the middle of refinancing our mortgage with our bank. One of the underwriters seemingly was putting up roadblock after roadblock. I eventually lost my temper with him and honestly was pretty mean and rude. A couple of weeks later, I went to a performance at a Christian school that my daughter was singing in. As I walk into the door, the first person I see was this underwriter. His daughter was in the same production. Turns out, we had more in common than I ever realized and I was angry with him for frankly doing his job of protecting his employer against undue risk. I wrote him an apology letter the next Monday yet the damage in the relationship was done. Every encounter we have, wherever we are, we represent Jesus and need to show the love of Jesus. I failed that day.

The word remain or abide comes from the Greek word meno (pronounced like the tiny fish minnow). It is used 118 in scripture, most of the time when mentioning a place to stay. Read Jesus’ words from John 15. I have underlined 11 times Jesus uses the word meno to describe how we are to abide in him in the first 7 verses of this passage.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:4-12)

Notice, Jesus ends this lesson with a command: love each other. When we abide in Jesue, truly remain connected with him, faith, hope, and love will naturally flow through us. Abiding with Jesus means displaying love as Jesus did. First John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” When we lay down our lives, our dreams, our ideas, our vision, our careers, our time, our expertise such that others are built up, that is love. Self-sacrificial actions that give the team and teammates faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

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