I’m always trying to find the best routes to where I want to go. I don’t like taking too much time to get somewhere when I need or want to get there. Now if I am not in a hurry, I’m fine with taking the scenic route, that’s actually one of the reasons why I love riding a motorcycle. But when I need to be somewhere, I want the quickest possible route.
So out of my driveway, I usually turn right, because even though it seems to be more stops and gos, it’s about 30 seconds faster. It’s also why, when coming from from highway 95 to the church, I pass the first turn off on Moon Mountain and take the second turn which is North Desert. It’ll save you about 20 seconds, if you follow the speed limit.
And it’s this idea of going the best way that brings us back to our summer study in 1st Corinthians chapter 13, where we’re going to be looking at the entire chapter today. And the purpose of our summer study series, is to look at whole chunks of Scripture so as to get a larger view of what is being addressed in the books we study.
And so, as we’ve been studying Paul’s first letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth, we have understood that his purpose writing this letter, is that the Church would be unified.
And as Paul calls the Corinthians to be unified, in the first half of the letter he deals with issues that are causing disunity through the personal relationships that the Christians have with each other
Then in chapter 11, Paul switches from those issues that cause disunity in our personal relationships, to the issues that cause disunity when we meet together for our community time of worship.
And so far, Paul has dealt with head coverings and the Lord’s Supper, with both having at their core a problem with submitting to God’s intended order. Then Paul moves into the bulk of the second half of his letter, which deals with the spiritual gifts. When dealing with the gifts Paul starts off with the understanding that it is the Holy Spirit who is the one that distributes the gifts at his discretion. This is vitally important, because if we reject this biblical reality, then the ones that become the gate keepers of who gets what gift, or what gifts are okay and which are not, falls not on the third person of the Trinity, by on us as flawed humans.
And so, when we understand that the Holy Spirit is the distributor of the gifts, then we can better understand that the gifts are for the benefit and the unity of the Church, and are given to believers, based on what the Holy Spirit decides we need, so as to accomplish that goal.
And so with this fresh in our minds, let us open together to 1st Corinthians, and let’s begin reading in the last verse of chapter 12.
31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
At the end of Paul’s writing on how the gifts are to be unifying the body, and how we each are given gifts to accomplish this, Paul tells us that there is a more excellent way that he desires to show us. That word excellent, means a surpassing way, a way that should be a greater desire for us. This implies that the gifts are a great way to bring about unity, but there is a surpassing or more excellent way to do it. Because, as we’ll see today, it is a way that accomplishes the purpose of the gifts, that can happen now and will be carried beyond where the gifts are meant to go.
Let’s keep reading in chapter 13 verse 1.
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Paul’s excellent or surpassing way is simply love. As some of you might know, in Greek there are multiple words for love. But in the passage we just read, Paul only uses the Greek word agape. In the biblical context of the word, it carries with it the meaning of moral rightness and graciousness towards human’s from God, it’s a divine love. In other words, agape is God’s pure love for humanity that comes from his righteous character. It’s this type of love that Paul is saying is the most excellent or surpassing way to unify us. This word is also used in Jesus’ teachings on the two greatest commandments found Mark 12:29-30. Jesus tells us we need to agape love God, and agape love our neighbors.
The most excellent or surpassing way in which you and I being called to is the Agape Way.
Now in these opening words to his most excellent or surpassing way to unity, Paul puts into perspective of what it would be like to have all the gifts without the agape love.
He says things like, without agape love, we would be like gongs, and clanging cymbals, in other words just annoying noise. But then as Paul continues, he begins to use this word, nothing. He says in verse 2, “but do not love, I am nothing.” In verse 3 he says, “but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
The word for nothing is the Greek word, outhen (oo-dice’) which has the idea of closing the door on something, so that nothing can get through. Paul is saying that without agape love, we allow nothing in. Without this agape love, the door to the workings of the Spirit are closed. When this is applied to the gifts, Paul is saying that without love the gifts are not allowed to work as they were intended, and they would be useless, because they are purposes-less in the life of the Church. And so, what happens when something or someone has lost it’s purpose? It doesn’t do anything, but takes up space, or cause problems for others. Without agape love, the gifts would do us no good and are not accomplishing unity. And so it begs the question, why should the Spirit give the gifts out to a people that won’t seek agape love?
But from here, Paul goes into some detail as to what agape love is and what it is not. He says agape love is patient, and kind. Agape love is not envious, boastful, or puffed up, that means arrogant. Agape love, does not participate in acts that are unbecoming of a believer, in other words, rude or things that would tear others down. Agape love does not seek things of its own to horde, and it is not easily provoked to anger (on a side note, that doesn’t mean agape love does not get angry, but rather it’s first response is not anger). Agape love does not keep records of wrongs, and that word for wrongs is meant to encompass all manner of bad and evil in the widest sense of those words. Agape love does not delight on things that are unrighteous, that means it doesn’t base it’s belief or actions on things that are not of God.
But agape love rejoices with all manner of truth, that includes spoken truth, truth in ideas, truth found in reality, truth found in a person’s sincerity, moral truth, but especially in divine truth. Agape love bears or upholds others, it believes or trusts based on facts, it hopes or expects and trusts in others, it endures or stands behind and with people. And this agape love does all of this in all things, the Greek word here is panta (pas), meaning all the whole of something, every kind of it, it’s totality. Agape love wants all good things of God to happen, and none of the sinful things.
Then in verse 8, Paul again puts the gifts into perspective for us. Paul lets us know that the gifts will eventually cease, or become unneeded some day. For some Christians, this where they get the idea that certain gifts are not for today, or that certain gifts are above others, because Paul only mentions three of them. But is that what Paul’s getting at, or is he giving us an understanding that the gifts, represented by the three here, will all one day be gone? I think that is what Paul is getting at. There will be a day when all gifts, prophecy, tongues, knowledge, helping, leadership, pastoral-ship, apostleship and all the rest, will be gone.
Why? Because the gifts are for the benefit and the uniting of the Church, but as Paul states in verse 11, “11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
The time that Paul is speaking of, is eternity with God. As long as we’re on this side of eternity, we are like children who need certain things, but in eternity we will be fully mature and we can put away those things. As long as we are here in this sin fallen world, we can never see in perfect sight as the way that God created us to see. We can never know ourselves or the people around us, because the stain of sin corrupts everything.
So, when God brings us into eternity, the gifts are no longer needed, because we will be perfectly united in Christ.
Then, as Paul transitions to yet another aspect of his talk on gifts, he writes these two words in verse 1 of chapter 14, “Purse love”. Paul is calling every believer to chase love in the same way a hunter chases it’s prey, relentlessly. That is what each of us should purse, the agape love that unites us to each other. That rejoices when another moves forward in their walk with Christ and comes alongside when one stumbles. To purse agape love, is to stand against the things that are not of God and uplifting the things that are. By mourning with those who hurt, and celebrating with those who have found victory.
It is easy to want the cool gifts of the Christian life, because those gifts can make us feel a sense of spiritual happenings, and maybe even get people to praise us. But God wants us to understand that the greatest thing we can purse in our spiritual walks with him, is to love him and love each other.
So, in our pursuit of agape love, my challenge for you today is to look around this room and pick a couple of people sitting closest to you., you may or may not know them. And while we’re singing our next song, and I want you to take several pieces of paper, and write one encouraging agape love filled sentence to each person around you. Then when we end here today and sing our final song, I want to challenge you to take that note to that person and show them some agape love.
God has called us to purse love above all things. The gifts are great, and we should desire them, but the love we have and show with each other is better. Amen.