By Simon ManchesterSunday 6 Mar 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
We are listening to the challenge of the Word of God through 1 Corinthians 11, 12, 13 & 14 – a chapter each week to a church that has become quite self absorbed – that is the Corinthian church.
I met a man at a wedding through the week who had been at Theological College with me and when I asked him where he was going to church, he said he wasn’t going anywhere because he’d given up on the church.
He said it was just:
- too self absorbed
- too self focused
- too self interested
- too self congratulatory and he’s given up on the church.
Now it was an awkward conversation for me but actually the Bible gives him no permission if he is following Jesus, to give up on the followers of Jesus. You just really have to keep loving, praying, be involved and this is the sort of thing we need to tell our teenagers. Those of you who have got children coming through the teenage years, there will come a time where they will say ‘we don’t want to go’ and it’s not a bad thing to be able to say among other things ‘well you know the local church is not going to be helped by you being away but it will be helped if you are there to contribute, to pray to love and to care so you’ll really do a good contribution by coming’.
I’m not sure whether they will follow the logic but it’s worth a go. And we certainly tried it with ours.
Now I want to remind you therefore that we are looking at this subject of the local church in the world and I reminded you that the local church is in the world primarily as a display says Paul in Ephesians 3 to the wider heavens to show the goodness and the greatness of God. That’s what the local church is doing. It is actually communicating in a big cosmic way that there is a merciful and gracious God who saves the unworthy, who keeps the unworthy, who carried the unworthy and continues to love them steadfastly.
And that’s why we need a change of thinking. We’ve got to stop being kind of ‘shoppers’ who just – not a great shop anyway – but we have to be changing our thinking from being shoppers who drop in occasionally and we’ve got to think of ourselves as kind of staff. We are more like the staff. You may say well if I was paid I would come – but I want you to know the Word of God tells you that you are a real part and that the Word of God should govern your thinking more than a pay packet.
So we have to think to ourselves, you know we are just like the staff of the church, we’ve got to be there not just drop in and out.
The other thing of course about the church of God, the genius of the church of God is that it’s good for the world. And those of you who will remember the old Oran Park Raceway may know that it’s now being developed into a kind of a suburb and the developers have insisted that in the middle of this new suburb there would be a space for a considerable church. They have worked out that having a church central to the suburb is going to be constructive for the suburb – a constructive influence of the local church.
Now sadly the church in Corinth had become very self interested and it was not honouring God and it was not caring for other people. And the whole issue in 1 Corinthians 12, 13 & 14 can come down to one question – see if you can follow the question – it’s quite a mouthful but if you get it, you get.
The question is this: Paul is saying ‘would you rather be able to have the gift of the Holy Spirit of speaking in tongues which is a gift from God and it could possibly be selfishly enjoyed or would you rather have the gift of prophesy, i.e. the gift of God with the ability to say something to other people which would build up their faith and their Christian life’?
That’s the fork in the road that the Corinthians have to work out. Which of those two paths do I want to go down? It’s a very lively church, it’s a very gifted church and it’s a very able church and the Corinthians have to ask themselves the question “am I going to live my Christian life so that somehow I swing the benefits to me or am I going to live the Christian life so that I swing the benefits to someone else?”
Will I go for the tongues, i.e. something that is uplifting to me or will I go for the prophesy, i.e. something that is costly but blesses other people?
That’s why if you were here last week we looked at chapter 12 and we saw that the gifts of God are for the common fellowship. Every believer has been gifted by God perhaps in a number of ways and the Apostle says at the end of chapter 12, if you look at the last two verses – don’t get fixated on one gift – you know – does everybody speak in tongues (verse 30) and the obvious answer is “No”.
But (verse 31) desire the greater gifts. And when he says ‘greater’ he doesn’t mean greater for me, greater in personal excitement, he means greater in constructive contribution and greater in building the fellowship.
Now at that point if you are weary and you are sad and you are empty and you are discouraged you say – well why would I do this, why would I do this? You know do you really expect me to come and forget myself? Do you think I am some kind of martyr? Do you really think I am going to step out and do something for other people when I am so needy and I am so empty? And that’s why we come to chapter 13 – the Great Chapter of Love that God has loved us and enables us to love.
It’s perhaps the most famous chapter in the Scriptures – 1 Corinthians 13 – I don’t know but it get’s read at Weddings a lot and I can sort of picture Richard James with his couples, although this may be a myth but I can sort of picture him saying “will you have a Bible reading?” The bride says at that point “well where’s chapter about Love being really nice?” We have heard that and we would like to have this in our wedding.
And Richard hits his forehead and says “come on, there’s got to be another passage somewhere” and tries to steer them around it because this chapter was not really written for weddings. Paul didn’t even write it to be sweet. This chapter is the lobbying of a small hand grenade into the church; it’s designed to blow them up!
And that reminds me to remind you to read your Bibles asking the question,
- What did the passage say to the readers who heard it the first time?
- What did it say to the original readers?
- Why is chapter 13 smack bang in the middle of chapters 12 and 14? (Which is all about – will I think of me or will I think about somebody else?)
Well it’s obvious because LOVE – the love of God thinks of the other person.
Now I don’t think 1 Corinthians 13 made the Apostle Paul popular at all. I don’t think anybody read the chapter or heard it when it first arrived and said “what a sweetie – he should have a job writing poems for Hallmark Cards – you know he’s a natural”!
I don’t think anybody thought like that. I think people heard 1 Corinthians 13 and were deeply ashamed and some were very angry – how dare he talk like this.
Because the Corinthians knew that they were nothing like 1 Corinthians 13.
- They were boastful
- They were envious
- They were impatient
- They were self absorbed (Read 1 Corinthians 1-11 and you’ll see)
And so Paul is going to teach them you see that there is something that’s even more important than gifts and that is the way you live. So gifts are a little bit like owning a hammer and a bag of nails. It’s not so much that you’ve got the hammer and the nails; the question is what are you going to do with it?
You can repair somebody’s house.
You can crucify Jesus
What will you do with the gift? The gifts that God gives us are like e-mail. What will you do with the e-mail?
You can write something constructive.
You can write something profoundly destructive.
The question is – not what you’ve got – the question is really (and this is our title) Why do you do what you do?
So don’t tell me, says Paul, what you do – don’t tell me what you can do – don’t tell me what you enjoy doing – tell me why you do what you do because what drives God in heaven is not just that he powerful or clever (and he is very powerful and he is very clever) but what drives him is love and concern for the other person.
And God has put his love into the hearts of his people so that he enables us with a new love in our hearts as we’ve just been singing to love and serve other people. Now of course it doesn’t make us perfect but it does make us new and that’s the sort of love that we can ask God to drive us because he’s put it in our heart.
Now I want to look at the chapter with you very quickly under 3 headings – these are very brief headings.
God’s love is Essential (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). If I speak in the tongues of men but don’t have love, if I’ve got the gift of prophesy but don’t have love, if I give all that I have to the poor but I don’t have love it’s essential. I want you to notice that the illustrations that Paul uses in verses 1-3 are unbelievably talented, amazing activities.
Just imagine that you’ve come to church today and you are literally going to hear an angel sing or somebody preach who has the voice of an angel or imagine you’ve come to church today and a man is going to stand up or a woman is going to stand up and they are going to take questions and they are going to categorically answer all the things that no one else has every been able to answer.
Or imagine somebody stands up and says “I am a billionaire and today I am giving everything away” and then they go further and say “and I am giving myself to be burned”. Well you wouldn’t walk away from church and say ‘that was an ordinary day’ would you? You would say ‘that’s a very very impressive day’ and the Apostle Paul says – well I want you to know that if what was driving the singing, the speaking, the cleverness, the generosity, if what was driving it was not the LOVE of God and therefore it’s not actually aimed in the direction of the glory of God and the good of other people but it’s got some other sinister direction, it’s nothing, it’s useless.
Very strong, isn’t it? It’s a shock. We of course would fall for the exhibition. We’d say “O it’s sensational- don’t care what anybody says” and Paul says if it’s not driven by LOVE, in the end it comes down to nothing.
So the question is:
- Why do people do this?
- What’s behind the public praying?
- What’s behind the public speaking?
- What’s behind the cleverness?
- What’s behind the skill?
- What’s behind the brilliance?
- What’s behind the generosity?
- What’s behind the super-commitment?
It needs to be the LOVE of God.
Now as I was preparing and thinking through this chapter, I am so sinful that I was thinking of other people who I thought could well do with hearing this. I need to hear this desperately. You need to hear this as well. We should be simply asking God to have mercy on us because there is enough of our old nature causing us to be profoundly self interested and we need to ask that God would work a brand new work in us so that we have his love driving our hearts and causing us to honour Christ and help other people.
And the wonderful thing, friends, is that behind the universe – if you want to know who is running the universe – if you want to know what the heart of the God who runs the universe is like – it’s the heart which is not self interested. It’s the heart which chooses the unworthy, saves the unworthy, changes them, carries them, blesses them and brings them home. That’s the heart of the God behind the universe – we are told.
And of course we see great evidence of it in that he gives up his one and only Son to take the place of sinners and pay that they might be forgiven and set free.
- Maybe your temptation as you seek to live your Christian life is that your public activity is actually full of self interest.
- Maybe your temptation is that you are privately privately disinterested in other people.
- Maybe the gifts that God has given you are driven by pride or power or greed.
- Maybe the gifts that God has given you are unavailable because you have put ‘out of bounds’ across them.
Now if the LOVE of God comes to you, not just in word but in power, and transforms your heart and begins to make you a new person, it will be seen. It’s essential – that the first thing.
Secondly, God’s love is Revolutionary (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
You’ll see in these famous verses of 4 to 7 and whenever I am taking a Wedding and I hear the person stand up and read verses 4-7, I’m always cut to the heart.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
Here I am standing at the back waiting to speak at the Wedding and somebody is reading this reading – and I am thinking what a dumb reading for a Wedding.
These people don’t know what it’s even about and then the person says “is not rude, is not self seeking, keeps no record of wrongs, rejoice with the truth” And it always cuts me to the heart, these verses do.
But they are not a definition of love. They are describing what love looks like. And I want to say to those of you, especially if you are new in love with somebody that the LOVE of God is not just a feeling but nobody can see but it is an activity that can be seen. Real LOVE of God can be seen because it’s active. God didn’t just love the world and think it or feel it. He loved the world and he gave his Son.
When a believer has the LOVE of God in their hearts, it’s not just thought or felt – it is translated into action. So once we begin to watch love in action, it looks like this. It’s patient – you are watching a parent deal with a very testing child. The parent is having to exercise great patience. You are watching a Christian deal with somebody who has let them down quite badly; they are having to exercise great patience. You are watching God hold back his judgement from a very rebellious world, he’s exercising great patience – you can see it taking place.
And also you can see the LOVE which is kind. You think of the spouse with the other spouse – they are thinking for them, they are thinking about them, they are thinking ahead.
You think of the Christian who goes to the restaurant and is served by a waiter or a waitress. The mark of the real loving Christian is not that they are just really nice to their CEO but they are really nice to the waiter or the waitress – you can see it – they are kind. And you can see it in God in the kindness of God giving his Son to the cross.
But as you watch the Corinthian church which is in a time-machine and go back and look at the Corinthian church, they are not like this at all.
- In chapter 3 verse 3, they are jealous
- In chapter 4 verse 6, they are proud
- In chapter 5 verse 2, they are proud
- In chapter 8 verse 1, they are proud
- In chapter 9 verse 3, they are judgemental
- In chapter 11 verse 21, they are selfish.
Those who have got the tongues are boastful; those who have not got the gift of tongues are envious.
And all the sentences in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 are really a rebuke. It’s almost like reading out a beautiful page on courage to a Platoon that has just deserted its post. Or it’s like reading a beautiful page on what generosity means to somebody who has just spent their last penny on themselves.
The purpose of this section (and we can be confident that Paul is writing it with great love for the Corinthians – he loves them) he says in 2 Corinthians 6:11 “I’ve opened my heart wide to you”, I am speaking to you from a very big and loving heart – the aim of the chapter is not that they will all feel terrible and not know what to do but they might meekly bow their heads and ask God to really make them filled with the LOVE which he has put into their hearts.
And that’s why if you want to know what God is like and how he deals with you, it’s not a bad thing to go back and ready 1 Corinthians 13 and remind yourself that the God whom you may have failed and the God whom you may have doubts about and the God who may bewilder you because things have happened which you think shouldn’t have happened – that God is patient and kind, keeps no record of wrongs, protects you, perseveres with you.
You don’t need to create love for people – God has poured his LOVE into the hearts of every believer and he will help you. So it’s Essential and it’s Revolutionary. I don’t need to tell you that if we came to a gathering on a Sunday and I was practising this kind of LOVE and you were practising this kind of LOVE, it would be a very special place. And as you watch the world turn its back increasingly on Christ and get darker and darker and more and more loveless, the church is going to be a very, very unusual place where people are patient and kind and forgiving and persevering. What a privilege.
Lastly God’s Love is Forever (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). “Love never fails, prophesies will cease, they gift of tongues – they will be stilled”. So says the Apostle Paul there is only one thing which is going to keep going and you mustn’t get obsesses with things that are temporary and miss what is eternal. Even prophesy which is very valuable will cease because there will come a day where we don’t need to say things to help a person believe. And even the gift of tongues will pass away because there will come a day where people who can speak in tongues will not need to. There will be face to face praising God.
And the reason that these things will disappear, (verse 10) is because perfection will come, meaning Christ will come and all the things which have been like childhood will give way to maturity and when Paul says in (verse 11) “When I was a child, I talked like a child” I think this is a very strong word to the Corinthians for behaving like children but also probably him saying to them that when you speak in tongues and there’s nobody there to explain or interpret, it’s just gibberish like a child speaks, just selfish gibberish.
But you see (verse 12) we don’t have everything now – the Corinthians needed to learn that – we don’t have everything now – all the best is on its way – we need to wait.
The famous verse 13 at the end where he says “Faith, hope and love remain; the greatest of these is love”.
Why does he say that love is better than faith and hope?
- Faith is wonderful
- Hope is wonderful
Why is love greater than faith and hope? Well there are a number of theories but I’ll give you two.
- Paul is saying that in the end, faith will disappear when Christ comes because it will turn into sight and hope will disappear because it will be fulfilled but love will keep going.
- Secondly, probably and more significantly he is saying that actually there is only one of these three which God himself exercises. God does not exercise faith – he does not exercise hope – but he does exercise LOVE and therefore the greatest is LOVE – be like God. That’s possibly why he is saying this.
Now I want to finish with some fast questions and answers.
The first question is:
- Can I ask you again who is the chapter written to? You just travel from the text to Corinth and see why it has been written. It has been written to a church that has been very self indulgent. And then we can travel to Sydney and we can say this is a warning for us all the time that we need to ask ourselves the question “Does the LOVE of God live in me and motivate me or am I just like any other unbeliever?
Second question is:
- What is this chapter say to a person who is here this morning but is not yet a Christian? Can you see from the first few verses that it is impossible for us to impress God? We could have the talent of an angel, we could have the genius of someone beyond Einstein, we could have the generosity of Bill Gates x 10 and it doesn’t impress God. It’s not because he’s not loving but because it’s just not the way to build a bridge to God. You can be talented and brilliant and generous and committed and work on a pirate ship and your talent and your cleverness and your commitment will just promote the work of the pirate ship. What is needed is for a person to leave that ship and to end up in the ship of the Lord Jesus. And the only way to do that is to humbly kneel down and to ask for his mercy and his grace and then to rise up as somebody who lives under his leadership and blessing.
What does this chapter say to a Wedding couple? Well I wonder if a Wedding couple was listening to this reading in their Wedding. I wonder whether they might say “boy you know that’s nothing like me – I’m not a patient person, I’m not a kind person, I’m easily angered, I do keep records of wrongs, I’m not like that”. And they might even say “I’m not sure if my fiancée is like that either”. So we really do need God’s help don’t we? We need his forgiveness, and we need him to give us a new heart and that comes through the Lord Jesus.
What does this chapter say to the thinking Christian who says ‘here is God’s Word telling me that I should seek the greater gifts but I thought God gave the gifts, I thought God appointed the gifts and you just got what you got, and now Paul says to seek the greater gifts. Well how do these two fit together?” And I suspect the answer is that God has given an abundance of opportunities and probably even a range of gifts to most people, especially if you remember the gifts like helping and mercy and encouraging and God has given us a range of gifts which give us the freedom to be able to actually chose something which is more constructive and more loving to the other person.
And my final question: What does this chapter say to the humble Christian who says ‘you know I sometimes wonder whether I really love anybody but myself. I sometimes wonder whether I love God at all. I sometimes wonder whether I love anybody else at all. I am an expert at loving myself’. What does this chapter say to those people because that’s a healthy position?’ You are looking at yourself and you are realizing you own heart and this chapter says that there is a God who greatly loves you, has proved it and is able to change and transform your heart so that you have genuine love for him, a genuine love for people and that is an excellent prayer.
So this chapter 13 is not one that we will just close this morning and we’ll say “well that’s it, we’ve looked at something, I cannot remember what it was” – this is a chapter which continually asks us not what do we do but why do we do it and it will cause us to keep lifting our voice to God and saying to Him – would you please help me from the heart to do things for your honour and for the good of others and God, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month is pleased to provide and use us in revolutionary ways.
Well let’s ask him to do that – let’s pray:
Our Heavenly Father we first of all thank you that you have shown yourself to be a very loving God. We would pray that you would forgive us for times where we forget or fall into unbelief. We also thank you that your Word exposes us for being far short of your standard. We thank you for the Lord Jesus who has made it possible for us to be forgiven and reborn and renewed.
We thank you for your Holy Spirit who has brought the fruit of the Spirit into our hearts. We pray that you would hear our prayer this morning for mercy and for grace to help us so that we might know and show the very love which you have and have given to your people. We ask that you would lead us and use us and provide for us and work through us and re-make us and be honoured in all of it. And we ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.