Last week, we covered most of chapter 12, where Paul addressed was how the church is like a body, or a team, with many parts working together to achieve a common purpose. Each part has a gift to use -- a grace gift given by the Holy Spirit that enable each believer to play his or her part on the team as a part of the body.
Every part is valuable and necessary for the church to function at full capacity.
The church at Corinth was gifted. But then something happened that threatened an implosion.
- What can go wrong with a church that is so gifted?
- How does such a gifted team implode? How does this happen to a family, a business, or a church?
- How can each one of us can be part of the solution?
In this post, we are going to take a journey through 1 Corinthians 12:28-13:8.
We'll make 4 stops along the way.
- A reality to face
- A question to ask
- A description to emulate
- A love to receive
Stop 1: A Reality to Face (12:28-31)
12:28 In the church, God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But you are desiring/coveting the greater gifts. But now I will show you the most excellent way.
There is a translation issue in v. 31 concerning the Greek word for “desire/strive/pursue/covet.”
In the original Greek, the verb may be either an imperative or indicative. If it is imperative, Paul is commanding the Corinthians to pursue the greater gifts (those that edify the entire church). If indicative, he is rebuking them for coveting the greater gifts (Greater = Gk,megas - outwardly impressive, more “spiritual,” not better).
I lean toward option #2, which makes v. 31 a natural hinge that reveals the reality we need to face.
There are two levels to this need.
- The surface level → Self-promotion/desire for personal recognition and praise/selfish ambition
- The deeper level → a lack of love
Stop 2: A Question to Ask (13:1-3)
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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 have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Did you guess the question to ask? Yeah, the question is "Am I loving well or not?"
In fact, love is a touchstone for everything we do. A touchstone is a fine grained stone like slate upon which a soft metal may be rubbed, leaving a mark of the metal (such as gold). The color reveals the purity or lack of purity of the metal. For instance, is the gold 14 or 24 karat? The line left on the touchstone will reveal the answer.
We may consider a number of examples.
- What does a child need to know about sharing toys? Not that they are just supposed to share, but that sharing is a way to love their friend.
- What should we say when they grab someone else’s toy? Not, “Say you are sorry,” but “I was selfish and unloving.”
It is the same way when we grow up.
- Take date night for example. Date night is not a rule to keep or obligation to fulfill but an opportunity to love by devoting focused time to listen.
- What about our jobs? Am I seeking to promote myself or bless the team. Am I using others or loving them by helping them succeed.
Why do I do anything? To find out the motive under anything, try this challenge. Do something anonymously without drawing attention to it -- without getting credit. I am the worst at this. Every time time I mow the grass or do the dishes, I make such a big deal about it, making sure everyone knows and praises my effort.
Stop 3: A Description to Emulate (13:4-8)
13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts [Gk idiom meaning “to give the benefit of the doubt”], always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
What do we learn about love as a verb in this short description?
- Love is not primarily an emotion; an action.
- Love is not something we primarily feel but something we do.
- Love is not passive, but active.
- Love is selfless, sacrificial, and tenacious!
I also discover how unloving I am.
For example, try this exercise. Put your name in the place of love in the list.
4 [my name] is patient, [my name] is kind. [my name] does not envy, [he] does not boast, [my name] is not proud. 5 [my name] is not rude, [my name] is not self-seeking, [my name] is not easily angered, [my name] keeps no record of wrongs. 6 [my name] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 [my name] always protects, always gives “the benefit of the doubt”, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 [my name] never fails.
This is painfully convicting, isn't it? Why? Because it is not true about me. I don’t fit that description.
New Testament scholar David Prior writes about the significance of the word, agape, saying:
“It is well known that the Greek word for love in the New Testament, agapē, was not previously in common use. It was taken into the Greek of the New Testament specifically because the love of God, seen in Jesus of Nazareth, required a new word.”
What I discover on this journey is that I need someone to love me with true agape love.
Stop 4: A Love to Receive
PBS’ The Great American Read is an eight-part series that explores America’s 100 best novels. The series notes that one theme emerges often in these 100 best-loved novels is the quest for love--a love that is pure and that will endure. One commentator on the program reflected on this, saying,
“We want love to last. We want to know that you can’t just throw [it] away. As human beings… we want [love] to be so important that you would stick with it forever.”
The Bible tells just such a story.
Because 1 Corinthians 13 describes Jesus!
Jesus is the one who is patient and kind; not self-seeking, and keeps no record of wrongs. His love never fails. His love is tenacious! He is the one who will never let go.
To understand agape love, we look to the cross of Jesus.
- Selfless -- he thought about us
- Sacrificial -- he gave himself for us
- Substitutionary -- in our place condemned / he became the object of the law's wrath so that we may be the object of the Father's mercy
David Prior reminds us that God’s love in Christ is “lavished on [us] without a thought of whether [we] are worthy to receive it or not. It [is a love that] proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than from [the] merit in the beloved.”
- Can you imagine being loved like that? Receive that love now!
- Being loved like that is what it takes to love like that.
- What if this kind of love were to become a reality in your marriage? With your kids? In our church… the tone of how I engaged with people on Facebook… what if the love of Jesus filled us to overflowing and ran all into our community?
I think we’d have to have 3 or 4 services or more!
Whatever it takes to magnify the love of God in Christ… let’s do it.
So, let's be loved well that we might love well.