(A Series on I Corinthians)
Westgate Chapel 1/10/99 a.m. I Corinthians 13:1-3
PROPOSITION: That in view of all spiritual ministry and gifting, that love is the most excellent way.
- LOCATED at the base of a peninsular, 8 miles wide, connecting the foot of Greece to the mainland, is a New Testament city of Corinth.
- IN his first missionary trip to Corinth, the apostle Paul spent eighteen months of his life establishing and building a church there....the first church of Jesus Christ in that utterly pagan part of the world.
- WITH a population of over 600,000, Corinth had its first witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of God to transform lives.
- THIS was a tough place to establish a beachhead for the cause of Christ.
- CORINTH was a busy, flourishing, wealthy seaport and trade center....with increasing distance between the very rich and the very poor.
- THERE were 12 temples to the popular deities of Greek culture in Corinth.....the most famous being the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
- EVERY night 1,000 sacred male and female temple prostitutes would come down from the prominent site of the temple to ply their trade in the city.
- THE culture was so obsessed with sex that in that time the phrase “to corinthianize a city” was used all over the world to describe the spread of immorality.
- AND in the middle of this seething, filthy mess of a society God called people to Christ.....through the apostle PAUL who planted the church in Corinth, recorded in Acts 18.
- THEN, some four years later, while planting a church in Ephesus, Paul got some disturbing news about the condition of the church in Corinth in a letter.
- AND while the letter he writes them in return offers teaching on a wide range of subjects, there is one preeminent theme that is so significant to the apostle that he devotes an entire chapter....chapter 13.
- THERE was a problem in the church in Corinth that dwarfed all others by comparison.
- YOU see, it seems from reading the previous 12 chapters.....
* That when the believers in Corinth had the incredible privilege of learning from...
• Paul’s an understanding of grace and salvation by faith alone.
• And from Apollos, who had an incredible grasp of the Old Testament.
• And from Peter, who kept you spell-bound with the stories of Jesus, the cross and the resurrection....
* ...that instead of being grateful and learning from them all, the believers in Corinth got into fights over which teacher was better.
* ...that instead of being one family of God in that perverted filthy city, they actually divided into camps based on which teacher they followed....as if that made them more important (I Corinthians 1:12).
* When the opposition and pull of the world was almost overwhelming, and you would have thought they would have been solidly united just to survive....I Corinthians 1:10 says that there were divisions among them, bickering and quarreling among themselves.
* Instead of being humbled by their sinfulness and God’s grace and forgiveness for them....they were constantly boasting about their wisdom, or their knowledge or accomplishments (1:20, 4:18, 8:1)
* When someone in the church was blessed, or got a promotion, or received some acknowledgment for their ministry....instead of rejoicing with that person, the believers in Corinth got jealous and said unkind things about each other. Paul commented that this jealousy ended in many quarrels between the believers in Corinth.
* Even though the ground at the foot of the cross is level and the Bible says that God doesn’t play favorites....in Corinth there were different classes of believers. The church took pride in some over others....Some acted like kings, and others were just second class citizens, just like in the world (4:6).
* Oh, there were differences between many of the believers in the one church in Corinth...and I guess that is pretty normal when you get a group of people together like that.
* But what wasn’t normal was the way they settled some of their differences....taking each other to court before pagan judges and parading their disputes in front of the whole world (6:1).
* And when there were marriage problems in the church in Corinth....many of the believers ran right out to the divorce courts to find a way out (7).
ABUSE OF FREEDOMS
* And it is true that Christ sets you free from the law as a means of earning salvation, but some of the believers in Corinth carried their freedoms pretty far....and showed no concern for the weaker brother or sister (8:9).
* When there were some differences in the church about how to worship and what was considered appropriate behavior or dress...instead of treating each other with respect and love they got pretty contentious, convinced that their interpretation was the only way(11:16).
* When they got into communion services, it was every man for himself/herself. Get the food while you can, and don’t worry what’s left for the guy behind you in line (11:34).
* And when it came to the operation of the gifts of the Spirit....it was like a circus.
* Everybody was convinced that they had the prophecy of the day, and everybody else should shut up.
* They were interrupting each other.
* They decided that some of them were more valuable than others with lesser gifts.
* In fact, some were convinced that they didn’t need other members of the fellowship....that they could manage fine with them gone altogether.
* Worship services were a mess.
- IS it any wonder that in the last half of the last verse of I Corinthians 12, Paul writes,
“And now I will show you the most excellent way.” (1Corinthians 12:31b)
ii. superior to all speaking ministry
- WHAT is the “most excellent way?”
- IT is the way of love.
- AND the Greek word for love that Paul and other New Testament writers used, is the word agape which isn’t even found in classical Greek literature.
- THE Greeks knew sensual kind of love, they knew the instinctive kind of love a mother has for her baby, they knew the sentimental kind of love.
- BUT they didn’t know God’s love....agape.
* Agape is love lavished on someone regardless of their worth.
* Agape is comes from the nature of the lover and not the merit of the one receiving love.
* Agape is determined love, focused with intention on the highest good of the one being loved.
* Agape is not just a warm fuzzy feeling and affection that you have for someone.
* It is not just being fond of someone.
* It is not concern for someone’s welfare at a distance.
- HOW important is this kind of love in the church of Jesus?
- JESUS said in John 13:34, on the eve of launching the church that would bear His name until the end of time...
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
- IT is the foundation stone of the church....the more excellent way.
- IN I John 3:11, the apostle John reiterates Jesus’ initial command, when he writes,
“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
- A FEW verses later John brings love to the level of a command,
“And this is his (Jesus) command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” (I John 3:23)
- IT is a command to be obeyed with feeling!
- I Peter 1:22 says,
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”
- PAUL’S way of dealing with the subject of love for one another, in these first three verses in I Corinthians 13, is by looking at the superiority of this agape love in three areas of ministry....speaking, power, and mercy ministries.
- AND the first area of ministry Paul compares love to is “speaking ministry” in verse 1.
- LOVE is more important than all speaking ministry.
- VERSE 1 (p1137),
“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.” (1Corinthians 13:1)
- SPEAKING is one of our primary means of communication....although you will be interested to know that the words only make up 7% of the communication process.
* Tone carries 38% of the meaning.
* Body language 55% of the meaning.
- THERE is a lot of speaking going on in the church of Jesus....from the pulpit, from teaching podiums, in small groups.....that would be the tongues of men part of verse 1.
- THEN you would add all the words spoken over radio, Christian TV, and in all of the books published....tongues of men.
- “AND of angels.....” I believe that is reference to the gift of tongues anointed by the Holy Spirit for worship, prayer, and occasionally an exhortation for the church when it is interpreted.
- IT is the heavenly language that angels understand.....doesn’t make sense to the human ear, but it is music to God’s ear.
- PAUL says he is thankful that he speaks in tongues more than any of the Corinthians (14:18).
- WORDS inform, words inspire, words educate, words move, words bring about change, words are powerful....and when they are empowered by the anointing of the Holy Spirit demons tremble.
* Winston Churchill used words to galvanize the British Empire against the threat of Nazi invasion.
* Hitler used words to incite Germany to world war.
* Who will ever forget, “I have a dream!” as Martin Luther King helped us to see an America where white and black could live as equals.
* J.F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you....”
* Billy Graham speaks under God’s anointing and thousands stream forward to receive Christ.
- POWERFUL world of words.....and we all use them.
- WE are impressed with words.
- BUT if the words are not backed up with agape love....it is all noise.
- GONGS and cymbals....made of metal and noisy.
- LOOK at the word, “resounding” gong.
- THAT word literally comes from the word, echo.....re-sounding.
* Lots of repeat.
* Overlap of sound.
* Loss of distinction.
- AND clanging cymbal! Words without love.
- LOVE is superior to words.
iii. superior to all power ministry
- NEXT Paul writes about power ministry.
- VERSE 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.” (1Corinthians 13:2)
- PROPHECY is the ability to speak under anointing what is on the heart of God for that moment. It is a demonstration of the power of God.
- FATHOMING mysteries and knowledge is the power of God working through you or me to reveal God’s plans and purposes. Powerful stuff!
- FAITH to move mountains is God’s miracle-working power.
- THIS is spectacular manifestation. Lofty stuff. Very impressive to be used in this way.
- IT should absolutely humble the one being used.
- BUT sometimes it does the opposite.
- IF we are not careful these power gifts can elevate the one being used in this way. That is what had happened in Corinth.
- IT gave them a sense of self-importance.
- SO you can imagine the shock when Paul writes that if they had all of those power gifts in operation in their lives but lacked love....they were NOTHING.
- HOW much is nothing? “0” Zip. Zilch. Nada.
- LOVE is superior to the power ministry.
iv. superior to all mercy ministry
- THEN lastly, Paul moves to mercy ministry.
- VERSE 3,
“If I give all I possess to the poor....”
- THE Greek language in this verse describes a grand gesture where all of the donor’s possessions are given to many needy people.
- SO, in this example a lot of people are helped.
- 20/20 would be right over.
- YOU might even be a candidate for the Nobel Peace prize.
- THIS magnificent generosity and self-denial would bring a lot of public applause.
- LET’S move on with Paul to the rest of the verse,
“...and surrender my body to the flames...”
- THIS is the highest price that can be paid for a cause.
- TO die a martyr, for those brave enough to intentionally entertain the possibility, would ensure you a place in the history books of the world.
- WHAT a sacrifice in both examples Paul uses!
- BUT in spite of those two examples of ultimate sacrifice if I....
“....have not love, I gain nothing.” (1Corinthians 13:3)
- NO reward! No prize!
- WHAT a message for the believers in Corinth!
- WHAT a message for us!
- WHAT a message for me!
- SPEAKING ministry....without love is nothing.
- POWER ministry....without love is nothing.
- MERCY ministry...without love is nothing.
- WHY all this fuss about love?
- BECAUSE love is the essence of who God is.
- EVERY attribute of God is outside of Himself except love.
* Omnipotence....power operating outside of Himself in His universe.
* Omnipresence...presence operating outside of Himself in His universe.
* Omniscience....God’s knowing of all things in His universe.
- BUT love....that is the essence of God’s being.
- THAT is why, when Jesus launched His church He said,
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
- THAT is why Paul carried this principle message to a church that was struggling to be a witness in a dark and hate-filled world.
- HOW about you?
- WILL you be one of His lovers in the church of Jesus Christ?
- IT is the more excellent way.