The Twenty-Fifth in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
What the Bible says about love, and the way most Americans think about love, are often two different things. Our culture thinks of love as essentially an emotional feeling, most often associated with romance. Pop culture images of the hearts and cupids of Valentine’s Day are ingrained in us from an early age. For those of us who grew up in the sixties and seventies, love is tied to a utopian dream when people experience a powerful sense of brotherhood and unity. Sadly, these images are far from the biblical meaning of love–an emotion which issues forth in action, and which arises not from romantic or sentimental images, but from the Good News that the blood of Jesus, shed on a Roman cross, redeems sinners–people like us who are anything but worthy of the love God showers upon us in Christ’s work of redemption.
We have now come to chapter 13 in our series in 1 Corinthians, one of the most familiar passages in all the Bible. As one writer states about this chapter, “this is one of the most beloved passages in the New Testament, and for good reason. It is one of Paul’s finest moments: indeed, let the interpreter beware lest too much analysis detract from its sheer beauty and power.” Well said, and very true. This is a beloved passage for a reason. It is both beautiful and powerful.
Throughout our study of 1 Corinthians, we have seen that the church in Corinth was plagued by division and factions. This church was composed of new Christians, who were struggling to leave their pagan ways of thinking and doing behind. When they asked Paul about the role and purpose of speaking in tongues–something which apparently was a source of on-going division within the church–Paul answers their question in chapters 12-14. In the opening verses of chapter 12, Paul makes an important distinction between spiritual things (pneumotikon), and spiritual gifts (charismata), of which tongue-speaking was the least. According to Paul, you cannot properly understand spiritual gifts unless you first understand spiritual things. And you cannot understand spiritual things unless you confess that Jesus is Lord–Jesus is the only Savior from sin, the creator of all things, and whose death upon the cross takes away the wrath of God toward sinners. The cross is the picture of that love of which Paul now speaks.
To make his case that all Christians are members of the spiritual body of Christ (the church) and are given gifts of the Spirit for the common good, Paul uses the metaphor of the human body. Each one of us is a member of Christ’s body (the church) through faith in Jesus. Although not all members of Christ’s body serve the same function (just as eyes are not toes), each member of that body is essential to the health and well-being of the whole. This is why Paul ties various gifts of the Spirit to the offices of the church, before exhorting Christians to earnestly desire the higher gifts, so that the Corinthians will be stronger and better able to resist the temptations of their pagan past, as well as the sinful tendency to put our own interests ahead of others. At the end of chapter twelve Paul had written, “but earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
That more excellent way is the way of love. To read the rest of this sermon, Click Here