Sunday Preaching: Big, Bigger, Biggest Love: Learn to Love Again

1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, 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. 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.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

John 15:8-17 (NIV)

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. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

It’s Valentine’s Day, one of 3 major consumerized “holidays” in the Philippines and possibly the western world. 1 would be Christmas, next is Chinese New Year which is an Eastern thing but has also been consumerized by the west and the last is of course Valentine’s day. Then there’s also mother’s day and Holloween.

When the world today by its neo-liberal ideology and prosperity theology has trivialized and marketized our culture and even faith, I hope we can stop today as we worship and rediscover love.

I want to preach today my opinion on love by first trying to make sense of how the love became individualized by our Market-Ideology.

Love today as with many Christian denominations and groups have been individualized. Personal Lord, Personal Savior, Personal relationship with God. Love likewise becomes very personal and individualized. Not that there is anything wrong per se with what I have just mentioned, after all, at the first base of everything is the person personally and individually making sense of God, self, others and of love. The problem is with too much individualization of anything including, God, self and love, that it becomes all about you and the need to consume and to satisfy; a personal consumption of anything outside ourselves in order to satisfy. Also, there is nothing wrong with consuming nor satisfying unless of course it becomes gluttonous, greedy and self-centered which is the natural tendency of too much individualization. When God, self, others and love are treated in the framework of profit masquerading it as a blessing, of Self-worth measured according to what you acquire and consume, when “others” are measured by the same. Also when love becomes a consumption and objectification of another; when love’s worth is based has been made solely about material expressions (expensive flowers, expensive chocolates, teddy bears, fancy restaurants, hotels and etc. even when you cannot afford them). This is the highly individualized and trivialized form of love as marketed by the culture of business we have today.

One of our readings today is not alien to any of us. It might be the most famous after John 3:16 and the Lord’s Prayer. This reading has always been understood by so many people to be Romantic Love and the ideal of romantic love. Certainly we can extrapolate romantic love from it as read in the English. The exhortation that love is patient and kind, not boastful nor insist its own way… is one (among many) befitting guideline about love according to Paul, a 1st century Jewish man. However, before we insist on the modern understanding of individualized Romantic love, let us understand its original intention by its author. The verses that we read is from which book or letter? It is the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Corinthians does not refer to a couple nor to a family but it refers to the Christian Community in 1st Century Corinth approximately between year 57 to year 60 CE. The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian Church about many things that is about community life. And here he gives an exhortation regarding Love. We have 3 words for love in greek. Eros, Phileos and Agape or Agapas. In English however, we only have love to refer to love. Just a single term for it. If you want to distinguish what kind of love in English, you have to put next to the word love another word such as Divine, Friendly or Romantic. The Greek soul understood, at least in this case, that love cannot be expressed in a single term, hence they have 3 exclusive terms to describe or refer to love.

Therefore, originally, this text of Paul that is so famous about love, refers to a love that is communal and sacred as Paul used the word Agape in this verses. It is not about romance or sexual in context. However, let us try to take it towards that kind of situation of indeed romance and sexual.

Let us park that for now and let us go to our primal doctrine in Christianity. Majority of people who call themselves Christians are Trinitarians. Of course there are Non-Trinitarian Christians and that is absolutely okay. For Trinitarians like us, We believe in One God that is in three persons; the Creator, the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit. The one we know as God, is often described as Love itself, is in three persons. The profound truth of this is that, again, love’s very core and nature is alive and ever moving within God who is in itself a community of 3. Love is alive and experienced with and for the other, therefore within the One God, there is the otherness of the Creator in relation to the Son, the Son as an other to the Creator. And the Spirit as an other that proceeds from the Creator through or with the Son within the eternal ever dynamic existence of One God. This God of three persons, of Love Deified or a deity whose very essence is Love, did not end there. Another nature of love is that it ever flows, extends and expresses itself. Out of love, Love created the existence of the universe. Love ever expanding. Then Love created humanity in its image and likeness; love that ever creates and propagates. Then in the fullness of time, love became embodied in Jesus Christ. God was not contented to be Trinitarian unto itself, it then wanted to love through the physical world. Love wanted to touch and be touched, to heal, to cry and to laugh, to eat and to drink, to feel the cold night and the heat of the afternoon sun, to sleep and then to wake, to see, to hear and to smell, to feel the ground and to wonder at the stars of the night sky. Love made flesh. Love became human, fully bodied. Love out of love’s sake willingly suffered and died, but as love can never die, it rose from the grave and lives on. Love ever extends itself, expresses itself, gives itself, and expands itself and eternally lives. Remember we are created after this Love, in its image and likeness. And as Christians, we have been made new after the example of the love made flesh, Jesus of Nazareth.

Human love has 3 modes or vehicles or objects; love of God, love of self and love of others. Jesus said that the Law and the Prophets are summarized in this 2 laws that signify love of God, love of self and love of others. And many theologians argues that love of God can only be expressed through the love of another and the love of another is possible when you love yourself (reasonably; not the self centered selfish way)

Therefore, whether you are single, wanting to remain single, you are a single looking for a partner, or you have a partner or you are partners, our lesson of love from Paul and from the very basic Doctrine of Trinitarian Christianity, is that our love for self or for a partner cannot simply be individualized, secluded and in and of and for itself because that is not how love is and was. That is not how we have been created to be. Romantic partners and families must extend, express and expand its love towards many others. Many of our relationships have to expand to people and communities who need compassion and care. Love does not begin and end in finding a partner. Our Loving relationships cannot be oblivious to the suffering world. Love is certainly not just having to be in a romantic relationship or idealizing it. Nor does it mean that being single means being lonely and a loser. Never ever think that as a single person. If you have that kind of mentality, then you have trivialized and cheapen love. Also being single and deciding to stay that way, loving singlehood, does not mean that one is no longer capable of love towards many people, if at all it allows you to be more capable of Agape.

The Christian community in Corinth that Paul wrote too, was composed of couples, families and single young men and women. As families, Couples and Friends, As singles looking for romance and singles happy as they are, these people’s love for one another brought about their community. The love in their relationships moved beyond its personal bounderies and reached out to many others, bonded and united under the love of Christ that they have experienced. As a Community they struggled together to live together by being sustained by such a love expressed in the example of Jesus and here as exhorted by Paul. Like many relationships that has tension and moments of conflict, Paul exhorts the community to remind them what love is and what love meant and how that same individual and personal loves created a common bond that made the Church of Corinth possible.

As we are now in the season of Lent and today love glorified in the imperializing neo-liberal culture, many the trivial ways may seem, let us forego our mentalities that individualize and close love towards just our romantic relationships, just our close friends, just within our families and even individualized to our own boxed selves. Let us have a resolve to ask ourselves on how can our life and the relationships that we have and continue to nurture be an inspiration and provide nurturing to others? How does our relationships, our singleness, our friendships and the love that exist in all of them create communities of support and care? How can Love expand through us and through our relationships?

As I close let us try to learn to love again: love that is bigger than ourselves. Bigger than our relationship. Love that enlarges through us and our relationships. Therefore, I  close in echoing the words of Christ through the author of the gospel of John:

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Preaching by Joseph Tiu-San Jose


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