June 23, 2010 David Balzer

1 Corinthians 13: Walking the Talk

There’s a new member of the congregation. I hope you’ve noticed him. He should be here. Somewhere.

He’s a crucial part of what goes on. The most IMPORTANT part. In fact, nothing we do makes much sense without him. It all just seems so meaningless and pointless.

It doesn’t matter if we’re preaching. Or singing. Or praying. Or just drinking coffee. Without this person, we might as well not bother.

We could give more money to charity. Or put more money in the collection box. Than EVERY BEFORE. But without this person, it’s meaningless.

We could do more evangelism. Tell more people the gospel. Do more door-knocking. Than any other church around. But without this person, it’s meaningless.

We could cook meals for more people than ever. Or do more Bible studies than ever. But without this person, we might as well not bother.

Have you seen him? I hope so. Do you recognise him? I hope so. His name is LOVE.

Loveless (1-3)

That’s Paul’s point in this part of his letter to the Corinthians. They thought they were pretty hot stuff. Better spiritual gifts than any church around. Most exciting church services for miles around. But they weren’t very LOVING towards each other. Love was nowhere to be seen.

And Paul’s point is that if none of it happens because they LOVE EACH OTHER / then it’s all pointless. LOVE-LESS church is EMPTY church.

Look at v1.

(1 Cor 13:1-2 NIV)  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.

He starts off by listing the gifts that were causing all the ruckus. Tongues and prophecy. These were the big ones. The spectacular ones. The ones the Corinthians loved to BRAG about.

It was tongues and prophecy that separated them from the rest. That showed what a special church they were.

But Paul said/ if they didn’t use these gifts out of LOVE for their brother or sister. If they weren’t motivated to ENCOURAGE them. They might as well be banging away on a cymbal or a gong. Meaningless.

Like the episode of the Simpsons where they’re trying to train their dog, Santa’s little helper. And they’re talking to the dog. Telling him what he needs to do. How he needs to behave. And then we get to hear what it all sounds like for the dog. “Blah blah blah blah blah!”

Meaningless.

And it’s the same for gifts that are used without LOVE. Doesn’t matter HOW special the gifts are. Even tongues and prophecy.

And Paul lists a more things that become meaningless. Verse 3. Giving away all you own. Or surrendering your body to the flames. That means dying as a martyr. They’re both pretty heavy things to do. The ultimate in self-sacrifice. But EVEN THESE things are worthless if you don’t do them for the right reason.

There are all SORTS of reasons, other than love, why people use their gifts.

Some people like to be the centre of attention. So they use their up-front gifts to be seen. To be respected. To be valued. Playing music, singing. Preaching. Leading. And that’s not serving out of love.

For others, the motivation comes from WITHIN. They NEED to do certain jobs to give them a sense of value. To feel worthwhile. And useful. And that’s not serving others out of love.

Some people strive so hard to be perfect. To dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. Because that’s what makes them valuable. They’re a failure if everything’s not perfect. And that’s not serving others out of love.

Others use their gifts out of GUILT. “God can’t possibly accept me as I am. I don’t deserve it. I’ll just work that little bit harder. And volunteer for one more committee. And then I’ll feel a bit more comfortable about making it into God’s good books”. And that’s not serving others out of love, either.

And Paul adds that even SELF-SACRIFICE can be self-seeking. Whether it be giving your money away. Or being a martyr.

Plenty of people give money, or help others, because they think they’ll get something out of it. Many people join service organisations like Lions or Rotary because they can make good business contacts.

And being a martyr. Even if it’s not LITERALLY dying. Plenty of us are good at PLAYING the martyr. “No it’s alright. I don’t mind washing up. AGAIN. For the 12th time this week! Really, I don’t!”

A martyr-mentality can just be selfish attention seeking. And THAT’S not serving others out of love.

And Paul’s big point here. Is a mathematical equation. Six minus one equals zero. Six different Christian activities. All wonderful –top-notch –things to do. But if you take away LOVE. You’re left with nothing. Six minus one equals zero.

Do YOU do the things you do with LOVE?

Love is … (4-7)

And just in case you’re not sure what love LOOKS LIKE. Or how you DEFINE it. That’s what Paul does next. And it’s nothing like what it says in the pop songs. Or on Neighbours. Or in the magazines. y magazines OR blokey magazines.

True love has nothing to do with soppy sentimentality. Or even about ual attractiveness. Love isn’t about what you FEEL, at all. It’s about what you CHOOSE. It’s an active, determined decision to do what’s best for another person. Even if it means you miss out.

That’s what love is.

And as Paul describes it. He PERSONIFIES love. That means he gives love the characteristics of a PERSON. He doesn’t say “Love makes you patient and kind”. He says “Love IS patient. Love IS kind.” Just like you or I might say “Glenda is patient.” Or “Ross is kind”.

Paul’s saying “This is the type of person you should strive to become. Love. He’s the person you want in your church. Make sure he’s there. Every week. Whenever you do anything together.”

Let’s spend a bit of time looking at his list. Seeing how well we do. Measuring ourselves up against Mr Love.

And something that’s obvious pretty quickly is that this list isn’t just one that Paul’s pulled out of the air. Most of the characteristics are the very things the Corinthians HAVEN’T been doing.

Like patience. Love is patient. Back in Ch 11, the rich weren’t WAITING for the poor. They were so impatient, they got stuck in before everyone had even arrived. And they were DRUNK by the time the meeting started. How impatient is THAT?

And it’s perhaps also a word to the poor who were BEING snubbed. To be patient is to be long-suffering. Or long- burning is what it literally means . Like a great big hardwood log. It means you have a regular, even, consistent temper. You don’t flare up like pine kindling. Or dry grass. Paul’s message to the poor is “Keep being patient with those who snub you, or are . Let God change them. Count to ten. Or hundred if you need to.”

To be long-suffering doesn’t mean being everyone’s door-mat. Letting them walk all over you, because you’re too afriad to stand up for yourself. Rather, it’s a conscious decision to wait for God’s intervention.

And love doesn’t ENVY. Back in Ch 3 v 3 Paul calls the Corinthians worldly and im because they’re JEALOUS of each other. “I’m in Paul’s group” says one person “Well, I’m in Apollos’ – so there!” says another.

Love doesn’t envy. That’s a lesson those of us in SMALL churches need to learn. Don’t envy those in bigger churches. Or those that seem more successful.

Don’t be jealous over some churches who seem to have MORE SPIRITUAL GIFTS than you. More spectacular meetings. Bigger budgets. Better sounds systems. A real church building. More conversions.

It’s a real temptation when a group of ministers get together. When someone tells us how their night service has DOUBLED in size. And fifteen new Christians are now going strong. And they’ve just put on a full-time youth worker. Or women’s worker. And they have to build extensions for the church.

It’s a temptation to be JEALOUS. To rationalise their success. “It’s probably all just transfer growth – sheep-stealing!”. Or “How are they affording THAT!” Or “I bet they can’t keep THAT going!”

Love doesn’t envy.

And the flip-side (of not envying) is that love DOESN’T BOAST and ISN’T PROUD when things are going WELL.

PRIDE is the ATTITUDE that PRODUCES boasting. And it was a BIG problem with the Corinthians.

Back in Ch 4, v6. Paul tells them to learn not to take PRIDE in one man over another.

(1 Cor 4:7 NIV)  For who makes you different from anyone else? (God) What do you have that you did not receive? (ie from God) And if you DID receive it, why do you BOAST as though you did not?

How ridiculuous to BOAST in something that’s been given to you as a GIFT! Like the spoilt rich kid who boasts about his new executive job. When it’s in his dad’s company. And he’s done absolutely NOTHING to deserve it.

Love doesn’t do that. It’s not proud, and it doesn’t boast.

Are there groups of Christians in the wider church who WE look down our noses at? We’re right and they’re not. We’ve got the right perspective on things, and they don’t. We emphasise the Bible, rather than social welfare, or current issues, or spiritual gifts, or emotional worship.

Love isn’t proud. And it doesn’t boast.

Paul goes on. Love isn’t . That’s “dishonourable”, or “unseemly”, or “inconsiderate”. Love doesn’t say things without thinking. Things that hurt. And drag down. Things that are better left unsaid.

Or actions. It doesn’t butt-in, or presume. Love has manners.

Paul goes on. Love isn’t self-seeking. It’s more worried about the needs of OTHERS than self. And that’s NOT what the Corinthians were doing.

In Ch 10, Paul rebukes them for eating meat sacrificed to idols without CONSIDERING THE FEELINGS OF OTHERS. They were more interested in filling their stomachs/ than in the feelings and consciences of their brothers.

Verse 24.

(1 Cor 10:24 NIV)  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

Love seeks the good of others. Even if you might miss out. Let someone ELSE have seconds/ instead of you.

In fact, love is prepared to give up EVEN WHAT IT’S ENTITLED TO. For the sake of others. That means giving up FIRSTS if someone needs it more than you. Love isn’t self-seeking.

And it’s not easily-angered. Not touchy, with a short fuse. Most of us control our tempers pretty well at church. But what about at home? With the kids. Or the way you speak to your husband or wife? Or when you whack your thumb with the hammer? Love isn’t easily-angered.

Most of THOSE things aren’t really significant. And we forget about them a few minutes later. But what about if we ARE wronged? Paul says that if love IS wronged, it doesn’t keep a record.

We’re pretty good at keeping those sorts of records, aren’t we? We mightn’t be much good at keeping TAX records. But when it comes to a hurtful word, or a thoughtless action, we don’t forget a thing. It’s nice to be self-righteous. To remember another’s faults. Because it means that we’re not too bad, by comparison.

And even if the person says “Sorry”, it’s still hard to forget. And it’s hard not to keep bringing it up.

Love doesn’t DELIGHT in evil, but REJOICES IN GOOD. The measure of love is if you can be genuinely happy for someone who gets first place, while you come second. Love rejoices in good.

You’ve seen those beauty contests? When the first place getter is announced, she screams and waves her arms. I don’t know if it’s a morbid fascination, but I always look at the people on either side of her.

And they’ve got these forced, fake grins. “Get that woman away from me! If she comes anywhere near me – I’ll scratch her eyes out. Oh my goodness! She’s coming over here. She wants to hug me?! Yeah, I’ll hug her all right! I’ll break her ribs!”

All the time, still wearing the great, big cheesy grin.

Love rejoices in good news for others. Even when it might break your heart.

Like someone whose been trying to fall pregnant. And mums all around her are having beautiful babies. And she is GENUINELY happy for them. Love rejoices in good news for others. Even when it might break your heart.

And the flip side is that love doesn’t REJOICE IN EVIL. And that’s a temptation too. Do you enjoy the gossip of another’s downfall? You can’t WAIT to get on the phone to share that awful piece of news. Or prayer point! Someone’s life is falling apart. But to you, it’s just another juicy bit of information to keep you amused.

When someone falls flat. A business fails. Or an outreach ministry doesn’t bring results. Or noone turns up to a training day someone organises. Do we feel smug and superior? Because WE would have done things MUCH BETTER than THAT!

Instead, love WEEPS with those who weep. Back in Ch 12 Paul said that in the Christian body, if one part suffers, every part suffers. If one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

And then in v7 of Ch 13, Paul sums up. Love isn’t some flash in the pan, here one day gone the next. There’s a permanence, a resilience, a stick-ability about love. It’s there for the long haul.

(1 Cor 13:7 NIV)  It ALWAYS protects, ALWAYS trusts, ALWAYS hopes, always PERSEVERES.

Another translation puts it like this.

(1 Cor 13:7 NASB) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love bears, or supports, or puts up with everything. It always believes the best. It always hopes that the best will happen for a person. Even when it looks like they’re determined to make bad choices. And it endures everything. Continuing to love, when the person has, long ago, stopped BEING love-LY.

Love lasts (8-13)

And it’s THIS PERSPECTIVE on love that Paul wants to remind the Corinthians of. Love LASTS.

They’re so focussed on Knowledge and prophecy and tongues. That they’ve forgotten about the ONLY THING which WON’T end. The only things with NO EXPIRY DATE. Look at v8.

(1 Cor 13:8-10 NIV)  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. {9} For we know in part and we prophesy in part, {10} but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

Paul’s point/ is that when Jesus comes back/ there won’t be any NEED for tongues, or prophecy, or knowledge. Because heaven is PERFECTION.

Church, on the other hand, – no matter HOW good – is just part-time, , bits and pieces, stop-gap. You only get PART of the picture of God, and heaven. A dim outline. Like looking in one of those metal mirrors they have in the football stadium toilets.

It’s like a rock and roll concert. You walk into the hall. There’s the huge stage. With the enormous black speakers. And the drum kit that looks like a cage for a dangerous animal. And the lights. And you can’t WAIT for the concert to begin.

And while you’re waiting, they put on a CD. It might even be of the band that’s about to play. And it sounds good enough. And it gives you SOME idea about what’s coming. But it’s only to stop the crowd rioting until it’s time for the REAL ACTION to begin.

And when the band plays that first, giant, power chord. And the lights explode into your eyes. And the drummer smashes the skins like a madman.

There’s no mistaking the CD/ for THE REAL THING! The CD is just a shadow. A faint, vague reminder.

And Paul says that’s what it’s like with the gifts in church NOW. Compared to heaven. Verse 12.

(1 Cor 13:12 NIV)  Now we see but a poor 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 that’s a sobering thought for those of us who think we have a reasonable understanding of God.)

And it was a sobering thought for the CORINTHIANS too. Their church was just a CD compared to the concert that was coming. And once you’ve heard the concert, you’ll throw the CD in the bin.

They thought it was the GIFTS that made church like heaven. But that’s not true at all. Because there won’t BE ANY gifts in heaven. Because there won’t be any NEED for gifts. If God gives us gifts NOW to show us what HE’s like. To give us a better knowledge of HIM. Then heaven won’t NEED THEM. Because we’ll know God, and the way things work. Just like God knows now.

So what IS it that makes church like heaven? If it’s not gifts. … It’s LOVE. Only love continues into heaven. It’s only love for each other that reflects God’s love for us. It’s only grateful, thankful love towards God that will be the appropriate response for his awesome wonder and goodness.

It’s LOVE between brothers and sisters NOW that gives us the ACHE for heaven. The longing to experience PERFECT relationships.

And it’s LOVE between BROTHERS that the WORLD notices. And attracts them to Jesus.

(John 13:34-35 NIV)  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. {35} By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

And Paul finishes with v13. It’s well-known. But probably one of the hardest to understand. While gifts will pass away, v13,

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

Faith and hope seem to be thrown in out of the blue. And while I’ve got a few ideas what Paul might be getting at, I think they get us off the track.

Paul’s main point is that LOVE – that conscious, determined, never-say-die, perservering decision to put the other person first – is what makes all our gifts any use. And without love, we’re wasting our time. It’s LOVE that makes church like heaven.

May we be a church/ that when someone asks “Oh, what is Western Blacktown Presbyterian church like?” People can answer/ without a shadow of a doubt “I’m not sure what they’re up to lately. But I know one thing – THEY SURE LOVE EACH OTHER!”

And that’s the greatest reflection of what heaven’s going to be like.

“One day all the charismatics who know the Lord/ and all the non-charismatics who know the Lord/ will have nothing to fight over; for the so-called charismatic gifts will have forever passed. At that point, both of these groups of believers will look back and thoughtfully contemplate the fact that what connects them/ with the world they have left behind/ is not the gift of tongues, nor animosity towards the gift of tongues, but the love they sometimes managed to display toward each other despite the gift of tongues. The greatest evidence that heaven has invaded our sphere, that the Spirit has been poured out upon us, that we are citizens of a kingdom not yet finalised, is Christian love” (Carson “Showing the Spirit”, 76)

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