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Love - The Creed of Christianity

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Introduction

As we continue our study of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit from 1 Corinthains 12 through 14, Paul offers us in the middle of that discourse what I would like to call - our Christian creed. As is the case with all of Paul’s discourses, he constantly grounds his case upon firm foundations.
For example, Paul grounds the existence of spiritual gifts on the divine activity of the trinity in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
1 Corinthians 12:4–6 ESV
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
He grounds the distribution and empowerement of those gifts in men, on the will of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:11
1 Corinthians 12:11 ESV
11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
He grounds the purpose of these gifts as being the commong good of the saints in 1 Corinthians 12:7
1 Corinthians 12:7 NASB95
7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
And we ourselves, before embarking on this study, acknowledged certain grounds or foundation from the end of Matthew chapter 12. I’m pulling these points from the sermon notes from those weeks.
Any and all pursuit of God’s gifts for us must be a consequence of a deeper pursuit. Our foremost desire must not be the gifts of the Giver, but for the Giver of gifts.
The person of Jesus Christ is the ultimate sign that we must seek.
* Triune Activity
We live in a miraculous world. From the birds in the air, to the beasts of the field, to the constellations in the sky, to the life in the womb, we behold the work of the divine. The realm we call the natural world is just a world of miracles that we’ve gotten used to.
* One and same Spirit
Christians are the educators on the subject of this spiritual world because only the Christian understands this world.
* For the common good
And in a way, each of three foundational principles we laid going into this study coincides with what Paul himself lays in 1 Corinthians 12.
And finally, the fourth foundational principle also coincides. This is what we learnt back then - Any and all desire for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit must be a consequence of a deeper desire - to love and serve the Church.
If the rest laid the foundation or grounds for the existence, purpose, empowerement and distribution of the Gifts (note: all of which are the activities of the divine), then Love, brothers and sisters, is the ground for our pursuit and practice of these Gifts.
*Book Recommentation - Practicing the Power of the Spirit (Sam Storms)

The more excellent way

Now, as we saw last week, Paul, in expressing the more excellent way offers the Christian clear priorities about how we are to care for one another, and how we are to use the God-given tools for exercising such care.
Love is the more excellent way, not just another gift or another service. It is the more excellent way, and in a sense it is another way. When Paul presents us a more excellent way, our immediate question must be ‘more excellent as opposed to what’?
And we saw exactly what he meant, in our study last week, that all of the service, the care, the activities, the workings of the church amount to nothing with that which is more excellent. I believe Paul introduces it, in a sense, as another way, to show us that churches can and do exist without it, and they amount to nothing.
But, Paul does not separate love in such a way so as to entirely separate it from the necessary activities of the church, even the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s not like we can abandon the way of chapter 12, and receive the way of chapter 13. Rather, this is the next ground that Paul lays - chapter 13 is the grounds for chapter 12.
1 Corinthians 14:1 ESV
1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
Love is the ground for our pursuit and practice of the charisma - the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
And we also learnt last week that God is love. 1 John 4:7-8
1 John 4:7–8 ESV
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Love is not just another tool in our spiritual toolbox, it is an inherent character trait of the Christian. The Gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy are tools, but love is inherent personality. And I don’t mean that like the world means it when they say that all mankind have a deep good inside all of them. No, we don’t. The Bible teaches us in the book of Romans that we are inherently evil and God hating in our flesh. When I say love is inherent personality, I have in mind what John tells us here.
God is love, and the one who does not love does not know God. Knowing God then, makes one love. How? Because love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God. When we say that we are born-again in Christ, that means something has deeply changed within us. Lost is the old self, and gain is the new life where our sins are washed away, and Christ’s righteousness in blood is poured over us. Don’t you see? Love is inherent in one born of God.

Exegesis

Paul, along with John, then begins to personify love as that person that Christians ought to imitate. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
1 Corinthians 13:4–7 ESV
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
What we have here is a picture, not just of how love transcends all the gifts but even Christian virtue. Paul’s intention is explicit and clear. In Galatians 5:22, love is listed alongside patience, but here patience is described as a virtue of love. Kindness is a virtue of love.
Being born of God, to have a godly character, means that we conform to this kind of a person. Now, I want to briefly go over each of these virtues because Paul is drawing in love as the grounds for our practice of the gifts.
Patience. v7 says love bears all things and endures all things.
All of us are well aware that the road of patience is a tough one because it is a costly one. The willingness to bear all things and to endure all things for the sake of another requires something much stronger than the resilience of our own will.
Our patience is rooted in our love, and our love is born of God’s love for us. Our patience then is a product of our realisation of God’s patience toward us. Therefore, in the face of wrongdoing, misplaced convictions, habits, flaws in character, and all the trouble that come from loving somebody, we are born to be patient.
Now, if that is a fundamental virtue, a character trait of ours, then how will we pursue, practice and deal with one another in the exercise of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Corinthians were at each other’s throat in disagreement over what and how of the gifts, and we are not to be like them.
Kind. v7 says love hopes all things and believes all things.
Now this may be hard for some of you to agree, and for some of you to become, but a Christian is an optimist. In Matthew 28, Jesus told us that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and that he authorises us then to go and conquer the world, not with weapons of human warfare, but love.
Kindness, especially the kind that hopes all things and believes all things, which is to say that we hope for the best in and for one another, and our default is to believe and trust in one another; such a kindness is deep seated in love.
Cynicism or skepticism is the opposite of this kindness, and they breed and multiply far more rapidly in churches, especially in the practice and pursuit of spiritual gifts. But this is not to say that ‘caution’ is bad because we are also told that love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.
Does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth
Love is bound up in truth, not lies. Therefore, the lovey dovey notion of love as projected by the world is not the love of God. The love of God has never excused the sin of man. The love of God satisfied its dues upon himself. Your sins are never excused, they are paid for and forgiven by Christ.
Therefore, patience and kindness, does not overrule caution or discipline. In fact, they carry it out with precision. They don’t open up the charisma to misuse, but neither do they chain it down to avoid abuse. Instead, they open it up for use, and reprimand and discipline the abuse.
Does not envy or boast
The spiritual gifts are a great temptation for envy and boast. As i mentioned before, we are prone to see them as badges and commendation instead of tools at our disposal.
Love refuses to envy, but delights in the praise of another. Love abandons boasting for it seeks the other more than the self.
Not arrogant or rude
Again, an opposite of patient and kind. When Paul addresses these things, you must understand that he is doing so to an audience where such emotions are ripe. The Corinthians were being arrogant and rude to one another, and that is simply not the Christian way.
Arrogance and a rude disposition are the children of proud heart.
Not irritable or resentful
Again, an opposite of patient and kind. I assure you that love may not be irritable but a lot of Christians are irritating.
Resentfulness may indicate those who are prone to devise evil against another. As RSB points out, love does not focus on the wrongs that others do to them.
[Godly parenting]
Does not insist on its own way
All of these virtues or traits are deeply opposed to the nature of our human flesh. Our flesh will wage a war against our Spirit in every way in this regard, pushing us to be opposite in every way to the demands of love.
And our fight back cannot be won by principle or doctrine. It has to be won by knowing God. If God is love, and love is what we fight for as those born of God, then that fight is not primarily fought in the corporate gathering, but on our knees every morning. To love like this is to have God vicariously involved in every aspect of our lives.

Love never ends

Paul then gives us another reason why this more excellent way is indeed more excellent.
1 Corinthians 13:8–12 ESV
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
The more excellent way is eternal, and the gifts are temporal. Love never ends. We will never stop loving one another.
Many cessationists suggest that this passage teaches the cessation of the gifts, and they’re right. These gifts will cease. But those who suggest that this passage is proof that gifts have already ceased is a bad argument. There are many cessationists who would agree with me on that.
When Paul here suggests that the partial will pass away when the perfect comes, he is not merely talking about cessation but completion. We prophecy in part, but when the perfect comes, there is no longer need for prophecy for the revelation of the perfect is the prophecy in full. It is the final fulfilment and completion of prophecy.
But if we cease prophecy now, then the perfect has come and all prophecy is complete. We do not see that. In fact, that would also mean that we now know in full and no longer in part because our knowledge is also called partial here. That also is not true.
For now we see in a mirror dimly but then we will see face to face. The final revelation of Christ when we shall fully know as we have been fully known, that is when these gifts will have completely fulfilled their purpose and will cease to be necessary in our day to day functioning.

Conclusion

1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV
13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
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