DATE : 24 /07 /2011
DIVISION OF CHAPTER 13:
(i) The priority of Love ( 1 – 3)
(ii) The properties of Love ( 4 – 7)
(iii) The permanence of Love (8 – 13)
1 Corinthians 12 – 14 forms a unit of thought in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here he addresses the matter of spiritual gifts in the church .
From Chapter 12 we established the following principles:
(i) Spiritual gifts must be Spirit empowered and Christ -centered ( 12:1-3)
(ii) They are of a great variety and they must be used for spiritual good (12:4-7)
(iii) We have no reason to believe that all the spiritual gifts that are available are necessarily mentioned here . The list of 20 or so gifts is illustrative rather than definitive. We also have no reason to believe that all the gifts mentioned here need to be in operation today. Certain gifts e.g. apostles , prophets , tongues, miracles by laying on of hands etc are foundational gifts. They were foundational to the early church , and they served as signs of authentication of the gospel ministry of the early church , because the New Testament , the final and authoritative Word of Jesus was not yet recorded for future generations. This does not mean that the Sovereign Holy Spirit cannot do miracles of healing or causing people to speak in tongues wherever He wishes . But it is not normative in a society where the written Word is available . ( 12:8-10)
(iv) The Holy Spirit is the Sovereign Dispenser of gifts . We do not pick and choose them as we will (12: 11)
(v) Spiritual gifts are important to the healthy life of the church. Just as all the members of a physical body are important to each other , so everyone with their spiritual gifts is important in the church . No one can say :” You don’t need me … I don’t need you …” . Each one is a vital part of the body ( 12:12 - 30)
The context of all Paul’s teaching is this terrible division in the church . This is all due to a wrong focus . Their whole approach begins with focus on self rather than focus on God in Christ and on one another .This is the human default view from which we all need to be delivered . This kind of attitude is exemplified in Chapter 11:21, where the most visible expression of unity – that of eating together, received this rebuke : “ Each one goes ahead with his own meal…” . In our immediate context however, Paul addresses the view that had arisen in the church that the spiritual gifts , which the Holy Spirit gives to the church are used for self centered purposes, when they were in fact designed for the edification of the whole church . This has brought us to the end of chapter 12 , where the apostle Paul is about to make a masterstroke , thus settling any disputes on the gifts once and for all . I am now introducing you to the famous Love chapter of the Bible.
PERSPECTIVE: SOME BACKGROUND TO 1 CORINTHIANS 13
What follows now in terms of Paul’s argument is absolutely vital. Chapter 13 forms part of Paul’s exposition of the spiritual gifts. In fact, this chapter is ‘ in the middle ‘ of his discourse on spiritual gifts. He is about to make further comments on the use of some of the foundational gifts of prophecy and tongues in Ch 14 ,but he stops his flow of thought and introduces this vital subject on the more excellent way - Love !
Now that is profound ! Graham Scroggie says that "on each side of this chapter, the tumult of argument and remonstrance still rages. But within the chapter all is calm..."
THE PRIORITY OF LOVE :
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1. What Paul does here, is to give the Corinthian church an interpretative principle for the use of spiritual gifts in the church . He gives them a set of spectacles through which they must look if they hope to be successful in the application of the spiritual gifts in the church. We learn a significant lesson here on how Paul handles conflict by addressing the matter of attitudes and motives in our actions . Remember , that he is dealing with a church full of self centered individualists .
What does he do ? He introduces a vital biblical perspective which is guaranteed to destroy all self centeredness : “Love” ! This word “ love” must not be confused with the modern self centered, feeling based notion of love . We are talking about a godly love . The Greek Word for this love is “ agape” . It is an ‘other centered’ love . The objective or focus of this love is not ‘self ‘ – but others . This love begins with “love for God” , and it continues with “love for our neighbours” . It is summarized by Christ as the greatest commandments ( Mk 12:30,31) . It is this set of spectacles which we must wear in the employment of our spiritual gifts .
The source of love is rooted in God’s own deep and profound love . God’s greatest and grandest attribute is His love . GOD IS LOVE! ( 1 Jn 4:8) . This is who He is . The most profound demonstration of the Love of God is the gift of His only Son – the Lord Jesus ( John 3:16) . By this love gift for us , God destroys all arguments as to why unholy sinners should be kept out of His holy place– heaven. This love covers all our sins and makes us fit for heaven . But more than that , we are told in Romans 5:5 that this love is also poured ( a lavish overflowing) into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us . This love not only flows to us , but from us . This is why the apostle John says : “ Beloved , let us love one another, for love is from God , and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” ( 1 Jn 4:7)
So , the exercise of love , based on God’s own love ( a communicable attribute of God ) becomes our priority and motive for all that we do and say. Our own church mission statement ( 1990) affirms this priority . Eastside Baptist Church exists to :
- To love God (Worship)
- To love one another (Fellowship)
- To love a lost World ( Missions & Evangelism)
Central to our mission statement is that word “Love” .Those are the spectacles we wish to put on when we would consider how we should exercise our spiritual gifts .
2. Spiritual gifts practiced without this love are empty and meaningless . They are like a skeleton without flesh . They are like a tree without fruit . They are like noisy gongs or clanging cymbals - much noise but no music !
Paul makes a vital point here . He is saying that Christian love must govern and direct all that we speak (tongues/ prophecy), all that we think (understanding mysteries /having knowledge) and all that we do (faith /sacrificial giving) . The absence of love makes the best gift ‘nothing‘ . It makes the best tree fruitless . One may be a very gifted individual or church , but if what you do is not bathed in the spirit of love , the Word of God says “you are empty … you are nothing “ .
Love makes the spiritual gift truly come alive . It is like the soul to the body . It gives real personality to our being . Please note that love is not actually considered a spiritual gift in itself . Love is more properly listed as a fruit in the Scriptures ( e.g. Galatians 5:22) : “the fruit of the Spirit is love , joy , peace , patience…. “ . It is a fruit. This picture actually helps us to understand the point better .
The tree is the church . The branches of the tree are like the spiritual gifts, all rooted in the tree . Love is one of the chief fruit of the tree . It is certainly the choicest and sweetest of fruit . The fruit is what makes the tree useful and valuable What makes the Christian a valuable person ? Not simply their giftedness , but their fruitfulness ! Think of it again . A tree and its branches without fruit is useless. That is why Jesus cursed the barren fig tree ( Matt 21:18-19- which incidentally is a picture of barren Israel ) . Fruitfulness is what we were designed and saved for . Remember ? Your spiritual gifts should be a blessing for the church . Spiritual gifts expressed in selfless love for the common good of the church is what we are looking for .
This is so important to understand . I do not have to remind you, that we live in a day and age, when the ‘spirituality’ of church life is mostly measured by performance . It is mostly measured by what natural and spiritual gifts men and women bring into the body . Performance is everything . The inner motive is often not considered - as long as everything looks good on the outside ! So too , people mostly judge a church by outward impressions . In a market driven environment we constantly fall for this temptation . That is why so much energy and focus is used in this area . We know that modern people ( as is true for people of all ages) are attracted to personalities and silver-tongued orators ; they are attracted to beautiful music and aesthetics ; they are attracted by miracle ministries (healing, tongues, prophecy) . People think that these are signs of a vital spirituality/Christianity. The heart of man has really not changed much in this regard . Our text however teaches us that the sign of a truly gifted church is that love prevails in all that we do ! This also means that we speak the truth in love ; we do our deeds in love . Unfortunately many people claim to speak in tongues, but cannot speak the truth in English. Many claim to do all sorts of miracles and casting out of demons, but they cannot cast sin out of their own lives.
We are not wanting to downplay the gifts. We simply want to see them expressed with a true biblical motive . That is what the apostle Paul teaches us to do. We simply want to put the gifts into correct perspective, and handle them with EXTREME care, because Satan uses these to DECEIVE God's people. Surely this is an area in which Satan has caused considerable havoc . He has made much gain in the division of the church by getting people to focus on the expression of gifts , devoid of love !
Has it ever occurred to you that Satan can imitate gifts , but cannot manufacture the Fruit of the Spirit, especially Christ-like Love? It just isn’t in his nature!
The use of miraculous gifts doesn’t even prove that we are Christian . Non – Christian religions speak in tongues. Non Christians can perform miracles of healing, and do remarkable miracles ( e.g. fire walking) . Extra-ordinary gifts do not prove that we are saved (see Matthew 7:22). Wicked people like Saul and Judas participated in power manifestations. Judas was sent by Jesus to preach and work miracles (see Matt 10:1). Many may have these gifts and yet go to hell. Judas Iscariot had them and went to hell. Christ tells us, that many of those who claimed to have them will on the judgement day depart to hell. Jesus told His disciples, upon promising them these extra-ordinary gifts for the task at hand, not to rejoice that the devils were submitting to them, but because their names were written in the book of life in heaven (Luke 10:17).
We must put the emphasis, where the Scripture puts it. We must include this vital teaching concerning the priority of love in the exercise of our gifts . We can have all the gifts in the world. That proves nothing about us . Are we wrapping our spiritual gifts in love ? How are we doing in the realm of love?
We need to examine ourselves much with regard to this issue – the priority of love. Much blessing may yet be absent, because we yet fail to take seriously the priority of agape love. In John 13:35, Jesus makes this weighty observation: "All men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another."
I submit then , that the Spirit of God is saying to our church this morning “ if you do not have love, you have nothing, and that if you have love, whatever else we may lacking presently , we have what matters most.”
Next time we shall , God willing consider the properties of that love .