Monday, June 13, 2005

The More Excellent Way

1 Corinthians 13
The More Excellent Way


This passage is one of the loveliest passages in the Whole Bible. However, it is a passage that is regularly read out of context. Paul was concerned with the religious traps that the Corinthians had fallen into. In their zeal for spirituality the Corinthians had abandoned genuine Christian ethics, and the supremacy of love. To Paul love is primary in the lives of Christians. Love is primary because it has already been given concrete expression in the coming of Jesus Christ to die for the sins of the world. In Paul’s writing love is not an idea. Love is not really even a motivating factor for behavior. But rather to Paul love is behavior. To love is to act; anything short of action is not love at all. This is Paul’s point within the context of the letter to the Corinthians (see chpt 12 and spiritual gifts). Love is the way that our spiritual gifts are to function. To desire that the Spirit would work through you to build up the community is how love works in this context.

The Necessity of Love

To have love means to act lovingly, just as to have prophecy means to speak with a prophetic gift. To act lovingly is to actively seek the benefit of someone else. This was the case with Christ. In fact the definition of love is found in the character of God. Love is found in God’s activity on behalf of his enemies (Rom 5:6-8), which was visibly seen in the life and death of Christ. To “have love” therefore, means to be toward others the way God in Christ has been toward us. This is the necessity of love: God “has love” and so we need to “have love.” If we do not have love we are only a hollow sound. What Paul is saying to the Corinthians is to speak in tongues as they were doing, thinking that they were being spiritual but with no concern for building up the community, is not merely to speak unintelligible words; it makes one sound like the empty hollow noises of pagan worship. Paul is not arguing for love instead of spiritual gifts; rather Paul is arguing for the supremacy of love in the use of spiritual gifts. Paul applied the supremacy of love to the lives of the Corinthians and we can do the same thing. If I teach the best Sunday school lesson on love but have not love…

The Character of Love

Paul goes on to describe the love that he just insisted was necessary for the Christian life. We see that the foundation for Paul’s teaching on love is found in God’s character. Paul's first two descriptions of love are patience and kindness. Can we find any better example of patience and kindness than God’s actions toward us? God’s loving patience is demonstrated by his holding back wrath toward human rebellion. God’s loving kindness is found in the countless expressions of mercy toward men. These two positive expressions are followed by seven verbs that indicate how love does not behave. The first five, at the very least, are taken right out of the Corinthian file. In this description of what love is and is not Paul seems to have captured the life and ministry of Jesus. So much so that Jesus could be substituted for love.

The Permanence of Love

Paul’s concern in this passage is to redirect their thinking on the true nature of spirituality, and to place even their emphasis on tongues within the framework of the primacy of love. Paul wanted to redirect their eagerness for the spirits (14:12) toward edifying the community rather than directed toward spirituality as the end goal. The root of the Corinthians problem was pride. They thought that because they were exercising the gifts of the Spirit that they were already partakers of the ultimate state of spiritual existence. Paul is not condemning the gifts he is teaching them how to use the gifts. The gifts are for now to edify the body of Christ, however love will never come to and end. Love will never be invalid. At the coming of Christ the final purpose of God’s saving work will have been reached. At that point the gifts now necessary for building up the Church in the present age will disappear, because the complete will have come. When the sun rises all lights are extinguished. Our knowledge has not yet been made complete. It is accurate knowledge, but it is without completion. We are looking at the photo, and it is not yet the real thing. We are dependent upon faith and hope until that time when we will see the real thing. At that point love will remain.

"Love never fails"
"... among these love is the greatest."


Blogger Doug and Terrye said...

This would be a good study at church when you want a break from the usual study.

19/6/05 11:17 PM  
Blogger Doug and Terrye said...

Of course, you may have taught this already when I wasn't there.

19/6/05 11:21 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I did this for Sunday School on the 12th.

20/6/05 8:41 AM  

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