Monday, 9 November 2015

Gospel Nuggets - Christ, Our Perfect Example Of Love (1 Cor 13)

Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching our flock.

You can hear it here. Sermon notes are below.



Christ, Our Perfect Example of Love (1 Corinthians 13)

1 Cor 13 (NKJV)
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

If you’re like me, then you’ve probably heard a hundred sermons on this chapter, and are probably thinking ‘Oh no, not another sermon on 1 Cor 13!’
A show of hands - if the marriage celebrant at your wedding quoted 1 Corinthians chapter 13 as the main crux of your ceremony.
Yep, I thought so.
OK, keep your hands up if you’ve tried to apply this chapter as a general rule of how to treat / behave / respond to your spouse.
Leave your hand up if you’ve succeeded perfectly at this.
Gotcha. I didn’t think so... I’m so good at this game...

We are so predictable sometimes, aren’t we? We hang on to those little rituals, sometimes even without giving a lot of thought to why we do them –
·       for baby dedications, to the parents, it’s Prov 22:6 “Train up a child…”
·       for weddings, to the married couple,  it’s 1 Cor 13 “Love is…”
·       and for funerals, to those left behind, it’s Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd…”
…or as I like to say, one each for hatch, match, and dispatch.

And, it’s not only Christians who use them. I have been to a number of baby dedications / christenings, weddings, and funerals - where the last thing on anyone’s mind is trying to please God, yet they still roll out these passages. It’s like a token gesture to convince the world that they are morally pure, when behind closed doors they behave more like demons.
And in those moments I stop to question – do these passages mean what we say they mean, in that they actually are a set of rules to live by? A list of goals to aspire to, to tick off? If so, then how should a non-Christian apply these rules, given that they have no regard whatsoever for the rule-giver? Is that what Paul, the author of both books of Corinthians, meant when he penned chapter 13?

Well, to answer that, we need to pan out a little, to get a bit of perspective. Lets apply the first 3 rules of Biblical Hermeneutics: context, context, and context. Because taken at face value, it seems like a romantic interlude between conversations about body parts and spiritual gifts. And in between is an indulgent little poem almost,  that when you read it, it feels like it has love hearts emanating from the page, with a beautiful serenade of violins playing in the background, cute little cupids flying around, and a generous helping of melted cheese on top. That's why we use it at weddings, right?
Ok, time to snap our fingers, get with it. Splash some cold water on our faces, stop our daydreams, and focus.

One of the main threads of Pauls first letter to the Corinthians, (and there are quite a few),  was to establish a foundation for church unity. And unity could only come about when
  • ·       firstly, sin is exposed and then dealt with, and
  • ·       secondly, everyone's role is understood. –
  • ·       and thirdly that all roles played a vital part in the health of the body, regardless of how great or small we perceive them to be.

I started penning these thoughts a couple of weeks ago, and I was just going to throw them on my blog. And David only asked me to teach today, last Sunday. But if you remember, as an illustration to his Hebrews sermon, he held up a bag of Lego bricks in one hand, and a robot in another, and what was the point of difference with the robot? Yes, that it was assembled. That we can't go it on our own in the Christian faith, that the body works better when it is assembled, with each playing their part to keep the whole body functioning.
Well, Paul takes this a step further in chapter 12:20-26 when he says…

Everybody loves the hands, because the hands can do good works for people, but imagine if the whole body were hands. We couldn't eat.
Everybody loves the feet because the beautiful feet bring the gospel of peace to the world. But imagine if the whole body was made up of feet. Can you imagine how smelly the church would be?

Hands up who wants to be the small intestine of the body? Any takers?
“the part of the intestine that lies between the stomach and colon, consists of duodenum, jejunum, and ileum, secretes digestive enzymes, and is the chief site of the absorption of digested nutrients—called also small bowel”.

And according to Paul, these are the parts, or the people, that need to be revered or honoured the most. Look at verses 22-26... You see, God gives more honour to the least, those that represent those  LOWLY tasks of the body, such as the small intestine.

Loving that which we perceive as unlovable, or at least ‘beneath’ us,  is extremely hard. It takes perseverance. It takes unmeasurable amounts of mercy, all the time.
And Paul gives us the key in verse 27 when he writes ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually’. We don't belong to a men's club, or a golf club, a yacht club or the Cossie club for that matter. No, as sons and daughters of God, we are part of Christ. And that makes us unique. No longer do we need to rely on our own strength to love, because we are clothed in Christ’s perfect love. And that perfect love more than adequately covers our shortcomings.

That is why Paul says in verse 31 ‘but earnestly desire the best gifts (and by best he means the lowliest, not the greatest). And yet I show you a more excellent way’. And by excellent I believe the writer is referring to the excellence of Christ, not the attempted excellence of ourselves.
And with that thought in the back of our minds, let’s turn chapter 13. The ‘Love’ Chapter.
In the first three verses Paul underlines the importance of love. We read…

In the grand scheme of things, you can be the best of the best, the cream of the crop, know everything about everything, but without love it is pointless. Because without love, you're doing it for selfish motives, whether intentional or not.
And that is what it it's like without Christ as your saviour. You can be brilliant at everything, but at the end of the day it means nothing on judgement day, because as Isaiah says it will be filthy rags to God. We will plead ‘Lord, Lord, look at all the great things I did in your name, only for Him to say that He never even knew us.

  •     Love suffers long (is patient).

I like the way the Bible references patience as ‘long-suffering’. It gives a picture of the agony that one goes through when we are prepared to sacrifice our own time for the long-term treasure.
I always picture the way God works His sovereign plan out like a myriad of 3-dimensional spider webs. Each part is linked to the other, and affects the other, performing its’ task for its’ appointed time.
We on the other hand, we have our own agenda, don’t we? And we think God should conform to it. We want to break the strands of all the spider webs, and re-attach them together in the way we think God should be doing things. But because we cannot see the big picture, all we do is prove how inadequate we are.

Jesus knew God’s plan of salvation for mankind from the very beginning. 
He had every right to say “Father, why wait? Why can’t I just go down there now, suffer, and die for them?” But, no, instead He was obedient, and waited until the appointed time. And as we all know, God’s timing is always perfect. In the same way, He is awaiting to bring His beloved bride home with Him. I’m sure He would like nothing more than to snatch us away from this evil world right now. Matt 24:36 says that God is the only one who knows when He will return.

  • Love is kind

If you look up a definition of the word ‘kind’, or Greek ‘Chresteoumai’, means ‘Considerate or humane’.
We don't see that many acts of kindness these days, do we? Well, not like the old days that is. You know, kindness that is unconditional. As a general rule we normally only perform kindness or act kind when they suit us. When it's convenient. When it doesn't cost us time, or money, or sleep. When we  can see a reward for it.
 Just last week a little boy jumps over a fence to see one of his All Black heroes, and a security man dis his job and crash tackled him into the ground. Sonny Bill Williams felt sorry for him and ended up giving him his World Cup gold medal. Now, he didn't have to do that. I'm pretty sure he didn't know expect to get a replacement medal afterwards. But it was an act of kindness nonetheless.

But there is no more perfect picture of humanity than Christ’s love for His fellow man. The Gospels are crammed full of stories where Christ put the needs of others before His own. For instance, in Mark 8:1-3  we read:
“In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some have come from afar”.
And that of course leads into the miracle of feeding the 4,000. His compassion was always to help, to serve His fellow man. He fed them spiritually and He fed them physically.
There is an incident in Luke 5:12-13 where a Leper says to Jesus “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean. And Jesus stretches out His hand and says “I am willing; be cleansed”.
He not only COULD  heal him, He WANTED to heal him.

And we know the ultimate act of kindness He did for us when He took the wrath of God in our place. Nothing can compare with that. More on that later.

  •    Love does not envy.

 In Psalm 73 King David admitted to being envious of the boastful people, when he saw how prosperous they were, and it caused him to almost stumble. We cannot be envious, because envy eats away at us like a cancer. It  changes our perception of reality. When we realise that everything we have comes from God, we are satisfied and grateful for what we do have, and keep our eyes on the giver of all we have, not the gift.

Christ knew this when He was tempted in the wilderness by Satan. He was offered everything, but He knew that ultimately what he was offered was His Fathers, so He could easily turn it down. When we value things from a heavenly perspective, our envy disappears. My old Pastor used to say ‘Never mind, it will all burn in the end anyway’.

  •     Love does not parade itself.
  •    Love is not puffed up.

We read in the Gospels how the Pharisees loved to be seen praying, and doing righteous deeds  in public. It diverted the spotlight onto them, and they lapped up all the attention. That is why Jesus had no time for them.
He said in Matt 6:1-7...

Jesus, Himself made every effort to divert attention AWAY from Himself. In fact, He only focuses on Himself when He can reflect this back to His Father.
Jesus da man. Story of previous church, portrayed as hip and cool.
  •     Love does not behave rudely.

Rudeness really does not have an excuse, no matter how justified. You can have your say without being rude. What rudeness does is it  puts yourself above others, in that what you are really saying is that your circumstances outweigh others opinions and their time. That is sinful. But that's not to say you should always excuse others bad behaviour without saying something, but it should be done in love.

Jesus was a master at this. He balanced turning the other cheek with righteous indignation perfectly. The same mouth that berated the Pharisees for their self-righteousness, also spoke to the wind and the waves to cease and be still.

  •    Love does not seek its’ own.

Love has an object. It is impossible to be totally isolated on a deserted island and declare that you love, with no intention of interaction with the object of that love. It doesn't make sense.

John 3:16 says that God so loved the world. We could stop there and say ‘OK’. But we wouldn't. We would say ‘how much did He love us?’, to which the answer would be ‘He loved us so much that He gave His only Son’. God is not a robot that says ‘I love you’, but He follows it up by proving it.

  • Love is not provoked
  • Love thinks no evil.

We like to put our faith in our fellow man. We don't like to think that the person sitting next to us on the train, or the one waiting in front of us in the line at the bank has bad motives, or evil intentions. We have to put our faith in some things. We have to trust people sometimes. To not do so would to live in total paranoia.

Christ does not think evil of His brothers and sisters. Because His righteousness has already covered our sinful shortcomings. When God looks at us, all He can see is the beautiful reflection of His perfect Son radiating back.

  • Love does not rejoice in iniquity.

For those that are children of God, we know we can rest assured that Christ is not in heaven  keeping count of  all those sins we commit. Psalms 103:12 says He has removed them as far as the east is from the west.

We on the other hand, we like to  keep a tally of everyone else's sin but our own, for no other reason than to gossip or hold over them.

  • Love rejoices in the truth.

The Psalmist in chapter  10:3-7 paints a dark picture of how the thoughts and deeds of a wicked person cause him to spiral to new depths of his wickedness…
All this happens because he has denied the truth that God exists.

Jesus on the other hand emanates truthfulness. He even said He IS the truth, as well as the way and the life. And for those of the sheepfold that belong to Him, He prays that God will sanctify them in His truth. So instead of spiralling out of control in sin, the believer instead moves the opposite direction, to be more like Christ.
  •      Love bears all things.

Luke 22 from verse :41 shows us the stress Jesus felt as the moment of His death on the cross was getting nearer...

(Moscow stress story).                      

  • Love believes all things.                   
  • Love hopes all things.

What does it mean when we say we believe and hope all things? Well, it isn't to say that anything you hear you will believe to be true. Rather it is in the sense that you believe that when others say something, you expect it to be true, and you hope and expect them to carry out their plans.

As for Christ, well is it blasphemous to suggest that He believes and hopes in us? Well, He doesn't really have to. Because if you don't follow through, He will not hold it against us, because all our sins – past, present and future - have already been paid for. So our slate is always clean.


  • Love endures all things.

Christ endured it all for us. He endured the plotting of the Pharisees. He endured the public lashings that tore the skin off his back. He endured the jeering and the spitting as He carried His cross to Calvary’s  hill. He endured the nails being hammered through His hands and His feet. He endured the loneliness of being separated from His Father for the first time in eternity when He turned His back on His only Son.

And if that wasn't enough, He endured the cup of wrath and fury of His Father, as He sacrificed Himself for mankind. And He drank it to the very last drop.
Why did He endure it all? To satisfy the wrath of God that was meant for you and me.

Hebrews 12:1-3 says it better…

Then Paul concludes this beautiful chapter by saying in verses 8-13…

Hebrews 11 says that without faith it is impossible to please God, and we can say that without love it is impossible to please God also. That is why Paul wrote this chapter the way he did.

Because it's impossible to separate the meaning of love without referencing the very Author of Love.

And that's why this cannot be a list of do’s and don’t’s. We will ultimately fail at it, because we have turned love into a law. And when we do that, just like the 10 Commandments, we side-step the beautiful Gospel.

If the worship team could come up now.

I'm going to do something a bit different here. In a second I'm going to get you all to stand, and close your eyes. Then I'm going to read 1 Cor 13 again. Except, this time I'm going to substitute the word ‘love’ with the word ‘Christ’, so we can see what a beautiful picture this section of scripture is. Not for it to give us warm fuzzies. Not because it gives us something to aspire to. But because we see the beautiful saviour reflected in its words. 
Then I'll pray, and the worship team will lead us.

So if you could all stand up if you are able…

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not Christ, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not Christ, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not Christ, it profits me nothing.
Christ suffers long 
Christ is kind; 
Christ does not envy; 
Christ does not parade Himself
Christ is not puffed up; 
5 Christ does not behave rudely, 
Christ does not seek His own, 
Christ is not provoked, 
Christ thinks no evil; 
Christ does not rejoice in iniquity, 
but Christ rejoices in the truth;
7 Christ bears all things, 
Christ believes all things, 
Christ hopes all things, 
Christ endures all things.
Christ never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is Perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, Christ, these three; but the greatest of these is Christ.”

Let's pray...

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