Sunday, October 25, 2015

Spiritual Gifts, Part 6: The More Excellent Way I Corinthians 13:8-13

Spiritual Gifts, Part 6: The More Excellent Way
I Corinthians 13:8-13
Introduction: The font of all knowledge in this 4G generation, Wikipedia, in its opening definition of “love” illustrates some of the breadth of the term:
Love is a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes that ranges from interpersonal affection ("I love my mother") to pleasure ("I loved that meal"). It can refer to an emotion of a strong attraction and personal attachment. It can also be a virtue representing human kindness, compassion, and affection—"the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another."  It may also describe compassionate and affectionate actions towards other humans, one's self or animals.
We’ve been looking at the “love chapter” in I Corinthians for a couple of weeks. Someone said, “A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver.” The Corinthians had gotten their eyes off of the Giver and were focused on loving the gift(s) rather than responding to the Giver’s love.  As we’ve seen in past weeks, if we love God, we will love His people and have compassion on the lost. Love God, love people. One of the most effective evangelists in history may have been D.L. Moody. He talked about the impact of loving our neighbors and said,
“The churches would soon be filled if people could find out people in them loved them when they came. This love draws sinners. We must win them to us first, then we can win them to Christ.”
If this is true, we can see how the lack of demonstrated love would stifle our mission and how making people feel loved might gain us a hearing as we seek to share Christ.  Gifts are good, in fact gifts are essential for carrying out our mission. We’ve seen that God sovereignly bestows gifts as He wills.  And in this passage we want to remember that they are temporary, an ad hoc provision for this moment in history. The one thing that we can pursue now, the one thing that is eternal, the one thing that reflects in some way the character of God, is love.  Refer for a minute to another “love chapter” in the Bible, I John 4,
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.  9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (I John 4:7-11).
Just in those five verses John used some form of the word “love” 11 or 12 times!  He wanted to make sure they got the point, and we need to hear it too. “Love” is the more excellent way that Paul has been expounding in I Corinthians 13. Without it, we are not ministering in the will of God. My son-in-law is a drummer, and pretty good at it I think. However when my one-year-old grandson Hunter starts banging on the drums, or clanging the symbol (as he loves to do) it is noise! (Ok, to me it is still music to my ears!). The point that Paul makes in this chapter is that love must motivate our ministry. It guides us to serve God by serving others. Gifts are temporary, love is eternal.
The Maine* Idea: God’s love is at the intersection of the present age and eternity. Gifts are essential for our mission, but the love that drives the mission is eternal. Love God. Love His people. Love the lost.
I. The permanent: Love is eternal (8a). “Love never fails...” We touched on this phrase in the last study as a summary of the preceding verses.
Love never ends...” (13:8a ESV).
       Most English translations begin v.8 with “Love never fails.” The verb is literally “to fall.” The brisk evening air has finished off most of the flowers in your gardens. The word translated “fail” in this verse is used of withered flowers “falling” to the ground, or a sick person falling down. It can also be used in a more metaphorical sense, of a divided kingdom, or a divided household, “falling” (Luke 11:17).  Also in Luke we see the teaching of Jesus in 16:17 emphasizing the enduring Word, "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail [fall].” Love never fails.
       Remember the contrast here in I Corinthians 13 is between spiritual gifts, which will “fail” or “end” at the time designated by God, and love, which is eternal, which “never fails.” Paul’s point is that we should pursue love over any spiritual gift because love is eternal. That is quite a statement. Love is eternal, it never ends. Henry van Dyke, a 19th century clergyman and writer (and a distant relative of our own JVD!) said,
"Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity."
       We can see some impressive things that seem unshakable. The twin towers of the world trade center seemed like that when they were built. What a tremendous achievement of engineering!  In a day they crumbled to the ground. Paul says, “Love never falls (fails).”
       To say “love never ends” doesn’t mean that “love wins” in the sense that it overrides God’s justice. The same God who is love is also just. In love, He satisfied His justice by sending the Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Neither does the phrase “love never ends” give us a guarantee of “success” from a human perspective.
       Remember Paul was compelled to travel to Jerusalem in Acts 21 because of his love for his countrymen.  What did it get him? Arrested! Two years imprisoned in Caesarea and two more in Rome!  That doesn’t sound very “successful” does it?  Consider the fact that God is love, and Jesus is God. From a human perspective, many people would not view His earthly life as a success. He owned no real estate. He died at a young age, deserted by his closest followers. His own people, who he loved, rejected Him and handed him over for judgement and execution. He died an excruciating death; bloody, naked, and alone. From a human perspective it doesn’t look very successful! But we know that isn’t the end of the story. The passion of Christ was motivated by love and demonstrated love. “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is what Jesus did! And, by the way, He didn’t stay dead, the tomb is empty, HE LIVES! 
       The commitment to the marriage relationship should be such that the Lord used His love for the church to illustrate it: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” It’s love that never fails. A couple approaching the check out counter at the grocery store were heard by the cashier to be discussing plans for their 50th wedding anniversary. Finally the cashier chimed in, “I can’t imagine being married to the same man for 50 years!”  The older woman leaned over and said, “Well Honey, don’t get married until you can!” Love never fails.
       God’s love is at the intersection of the present age and eternity. Spiritual gifts are essential for our mission, but the love that drives the mission is eternal. Love God. Love His people. Love the lost.
II. The provisional: Gifts are for a season (8b-11).
...As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away9 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. 
            “They will pass away... they will cease...” Whatever else we can say about these phrases, we have to agree that Paul is contrasting the temporary nature of these gifts, or maybe gifts in general, with the permanence of love.  Think about it for a moment: Why were spiritual gifts given? To what end?  God is supernaturally enabling the church to carry out its missionThe gifts are unique to the church age, and some of those gifts were unique to the foundational period of the church. Remember Ephesians 2:20 says the church was built on the foundation of the “apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the cornerstone.”  A foundation is only laid once. We don’t have “apostles and prophets” in the church today, at least not in the New Testament sense of being the authorized spokesmen of Christ and the channels of His revelation to the church.
       Chapters 12 and 14 of I Corinthians also make it clear that a particular gift, “speaking in tongues,” was a problem in Corinth, and it seems this gift was venerated and even abused. Yet it is striking that the only other places in the Bible that tongues is even mentioned are in three short passages in the book of Acts! In Acts 2 it is clearly a sign that the New Age had arrived in Christ. Peter explains what is happening on the day of Pentecost by quoting from the prophet Joel and saying, “this is that.” The last days, the age of the Messiah, had arrived. In Acts 10 and Acts 19, the only other two passages where speaking in “tongues” is specifically mentioned, new groups are being incorporated into the church, as the waves of Pentecost radiate outward from Jerusalem.  This demonstrated the unity of the one apostolic church. Why are tongues mentioned nowhere else? It seems this and other “sign gifts” had a purpose in the foundational period of the church, to validate the message of the apostles, and as a sign that a people group was accepted by God, but then ceased by the end of the apostolic age (e.g. Acts 2,10,19 and perhaps 8 [though there speaking in tongues is not mentioned somehow those present could see that the Samaritan believers received the Spirit]).
       There are two different verbs and two different verbal forms used here. I don’t want to push the grammar too far, as I doubt Paul was being overly precise in saying that “prophecy” and “knowledge” will be done away (future passive), and that “tongues” will “cease of itself” (future middle). It seems more likely that is merely a stylistic variation in this beautiful, almost poetic, passage. Paul’s point is that whether they simply “fade away” because they were provisional and slowly were no longer necessary (as apparently was the case with tongues) or whether God will intentionally act in ending particular gifts at some point in the future (maybe the case with prophecy and knowledge here) the point is that they are temporary, for a season, whereas love abides forever.  Think about it, there will be no need for teachers in heaven either, as we will “know fully even as we are fully known.”  We obviously won’t need evangelists, the mission will be over, the elect will be saved. You get the idea?
       “When the teleion (“perfect”) comes...” There is a lot of discussion about what the “perfect” is, and when it comes. Is it the “Bible,” God’s full revelation? Is it the coming of Jesus,  the Perfect One, either at the rapture or at the second coming?  It seems to me, in the light of the context, Paul is talking not about a specific event, but rather more generally about the eternal state, the New Heaven and the New Earth in which righteousness dwells—forever! When God’s plan comes to a culmination, the mission for which the gifts were given will be complete. “Perfect” can also be translated “complete, or mature.” When the perfect comes, the partial, the provisional, that which is temporary, will pass away. God’s plan comes to maturity, to completeness.
       When I was a child...” I thought of this verse as I was visiting my daughter and her family last week. Hunter just had his first birthday, and his favorite activity in their play room is to just start pulling out one toy after another.  Grand Pa’s job was to follow behind him and “put away childish things”!  I could barely keep up! Paul said  “When I became a man, I put away childish things...” Paul isn’t talking about putting toys away! The language here is of maturity, of growing up. This emphasizes the “eschatological” interpretation of what Paul is saying here. Just as a child “grows up” over time, and changes come, things that were normal and necessary in childhood are set aside as we mature. In the foundational period of the church certain gifts were needed for a time, and then they “faded away” as the apostolic teaching was recorded in written form (the New Testament). When the church reaches its “mature” state in eternity, gifts in general will no longer be needed—we shall “know fully, even as we are fully known”!
      Erich Fromm, a German 20th century psychologist and philosopher didn’t say a lot that I would want to quote but I liked this:
"Immature love says: 'I love you because I need you.' Mature love says 'I need you because I love you.'"
That is biblical love, agape love, mature love.  It’s love that never fails. The “Maine* idea” is that God’s love is one thing that abides at the intersection of the present age and eternity. Gifts are essential for our mission, but they are provisional. The love that drives the mission is eternal. Love God. Love His people. Love the lost.
III. The Purpose of Gifts and the Promise of God (12-13). Gifts were intended for the equipping of the saints and for the carrying out of our mission, that won’t be necessary in eternity—We will know Him as He is—Faith will be sight! Hope will be realized!
“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.  13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love...
For now... but then...” At Bertie’s funeral, before leaving for NJ, I quoted from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle, where at the end of the story Aslan tells the children that “ are all dead, as you used to call it in the Shadowlands.”  The idea being that our world and Narnia were only reflections of Aslan’s kingdom. Paul in these verses is contrasting our life in the Shadowlands, our limited knowledge and understanding, with what we will one day see.  We were created for eternity.
       “...then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known...” Many of the spiritual gifts are given to help us know God and to understand His will for our lives. It seems that Paul is saying that in the eschaton, the necessity for the gifts will change since we will know Him without the dimming effects of sin on our minds and hearts. We will know Him as fully and as completely as a creature can know the Creator.
       “...So now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”  Faith believes that we are His, and we are made for eternity, hope looks forward to it with confidence, but love is greater. Why? Because love carries through from the present to eternity.  Love never fails.
What is God saying to me in this passage?  God’s love is at the intersection of the present age and eternity. Gifts are essential for our mission, but the love that drives the mission is eternal. Love God.  Love His people.  Love the lost.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Paul is not downplaying the importance of spiritual gifts. He returns to the subject in the next chapter. But he wants us to have perspective. Knowing and loving the Giver of gifts, treasuring Him as supremely valuable, has to be our heart’s desire, our first priority. We embrace His mission in the world because we love Him and want Him to be glorified.  As former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple put it,
"The Church is the only society that exists solely for the benefit of its non-members."  
Love for God motivates our mission, concern for others, recognizing their deepest need, goes right along with that. As Jesus put it "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Gifts are to be used as we carry out our mission in the world. We seek to build each other up, to equip one another to reach the world with the Gospel.  The love that drives our mission is eternal.
       As we embrace the principle that drives our mission, as we love the God who we have not seen, that love is going to overflow in our relationships, first with God’s people—and also in the compassion that we feel for those around us, those in our sphere of influence who are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a Shepherd."  Love God. Love one another. Love the lost. If we are going to really love them, we have to take a risk, we have to tell them the truth, we have to point them to Jesus. Have you identified your 8/15, that is, the eight to fifteen people in your sphere of influence? Who are those in that group who have either fallen away from church, or who don’t know Jesus? If you haven’t already, begin now to pray for them. Seek to reach out to them. Give them a tract or a Bible portion. Invite them to church, or to a small group... 
       We’ll be talking more about spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 14 next week. In the meantime, we need to continue to seek the Giver of gifts above all else. Love the Giver, treasure Him as supremely valuable. And then express your love for Him by “unwrapping the gift” He has given you, and using it for His glory. Think about that.  AMEN.

*”The Maine Idea” is my attempt to reflect our focus on a single “big idea” in the text that is applicable to our current situation as 21st century believers in Jesus (in our case, living on the coast of Maine!).

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Spiritual Gifts, Part 5: Love, the Will, and the Spirit I Corinthians 13:4-8a

Spiritual Gifts, Part 5: Love, the Will, and the Spirit
I Corinthians 13:4-8a
Introduction: Definitions are never easy, but defining a concept like “love” is especially challenging. So we'll go to the experts. Some four to eight year olds were asked what love means and here were a few of their answers...
 “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.” Rebecca- age 8
“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy – age 4
“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Karl – age 5
“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy – age 6
“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” Terri – age 4
 “Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss” Emily – age 8
“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” Bobby – age 7
“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate,” Nikka – age 6
“Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.” Noelle – age 7
“My mommy loves me more than anybody . You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.” Clare – age 6
“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” Elaine-age 5
 “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” Mary Ann – age 4
“I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” Lauren – age 4
“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” Karen – age 7
 “You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” Jessica – age 8
 “Love is when you are missing some of your teeth but you are not afraid to smile because you know your friends will still love you, even though some of you is missing.”  Emily, age 6
Great right?  It’s good to have people that love you, even though you are not perfect, even though “some of you is missing”!  There is One who loves you more than you can imagine.  How about this: “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus did that for us on Calvary. We were born in sin, broken because of the fall, something was missing, and He willingly bore our sin on the Cross. That kind of love calls for a response! John wrote, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another...” (I John 4:11).  “Ought” implies a choice, a decision on our part, something we should do.  After Jesus ascended into heaven He sent the Spirit to indwell us and to empower us to live differently. As we walk in the Spirit we will see our life characterized by certain “fruit,” the “fruit of the Spirit.” At the head of the list we read, “The fruit of the Spirit is love...” (Gal 5:22). In the first three verses if I Corinthians 13 Paul talked about how essential love is in the life and mission of the church. Without it, we’re just making noise. Now in these verses he describes love by telling us what it is, and what it isn’t, 15 descriptors, positive and negative, so we know love when we see it. What does it look like?
The Big Idea: Love is both a choice of the will and a fruit of the Spirit that should guide us in the use of our spiritual gifts.  It involves our head, our hands, and our heart. It is also evidence to the world that God is real and at work in us. 
I. The Head: it starts with a choice to think less of self and more about God and others (It is an attitude the leads to action).  Love is a commitment to a relationship that is visible in our attitude and our actions (4a).  We see that right from the start.
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...”
     -    Love is patient – The word here is translated in some older versions “long tempered.” From that perspective, the opposite would be “short tempered.”   “Patience” also comes in the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness...” Several parallels between those passages. Including these two, patience and kindness.  It reminds us that love is a fruit, and also a choice, it involves the head, the hands, and the heart. You might think, “I am patient, I don’t lose my temper very often, and when I do, it doesn’t last very long.”  Either does a hand grenade but it can do a lot of damage! Love is patient. As you think about each of these attributes of love, think about Jesus.
       The same word is used of God delaying judgement, giving all humans an opportunity to repent and believe, Peter said in 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” He would be just to bring instant judgment on all unbelievers. But He is patient, giving time for all who will believe to come. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentence. If God so loved us, we ought to, we are obliged to, love one another.
     -    Love is kind – Sometimes it is a simple act of kindness in a moment of need that demonstrates love.
Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”
Kindness, like love, is a decision to put others before ourselves. To consider their needs as more important than our own.  Jesus showed kindness by allowing children to come to him, by meeting sinners where they were. He ate with Zaccheus, he healed Bartimeus, he forgave the woman caught in adultery. He touched lepers and healed them and He fed the hungry multitude. Jesus showed kindness, so should we.  Love is patient, love is kind. These characteristics overlap, and all of them point to our actions as well as our attitudes.
     -   Love does not envy or boast... A humble spirit seems essential to this kind of love. Andrew Murray described humility like this,
“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble… The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all.”  
Love is so focused outwardly, on God and on others, that it must be evident to those around us.  Remember the context is talking about our spiritual gifts, which God has given us for the good of others. Love is both a choice of the will and a fruit of the Spirit that should guide us.  It involves our head, our hands, and our heart. It is also evidence to the world that God is real and that He is at work in us. 
II. The Hands: Love is outwardly focused (4b-5). It is a choice not only to think differently, but also to live differently. Our attitude will be reflected in our actions.
       It is not arrogant or rude... Some translations say, “It does not act unbecomingly...”  That made me think of the frequent admonitions we see in Paul’s letters to “Walk worthy of the calling with which we have been called...” (see for example Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 3:1ff.).
       Remember the story of the young deserter who was brought to Alexander the Great for judgment? With his head bowed and his face etched with fear the soldier was brought before the general. Somehow Alexander, who was normally ruthless, felt pity on him.  “What is you name, son?” he asked. The young man looked up, with some hope in his eyes, and said, “Alexander, sir.” Suddenly the general’s face changed to a scowl and he asked again, “WHAT IS YOUR NAME?” The boy blurted out, “That is my name sir, Alexander.”  The general then said, “Either change your conduct, or change your name!”  We bear the name Christian (Christ follower). Sometimes Christians can be rude, or even obnoxious in dealing with people in the world (does that surprise you?).  It ought not to be so! We are God’s children, right? Let’s reflect Jesus in our thinking and in our living. God is love.  What would Jesus do? Love is not arrogant or rude!
       It does not insist on its own way... I remember an acquaintance who said when he and his wife were married they agreed that he would make all the big decisions, and she would make all the small decisions. He said it was working out fine, but he was a little surprised that after twenty years there hadn’t been any big decisions for him to make! That is one way to avoid conflict! But I think the more loving way is talk and to listen and to discern together how God is leading.
       The ultimate in selflessness was revealed in Gethsemane. We read in Luke 22:40-42,   
40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  41 And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed,  42 saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."
Can we say that? Not my will, not my way, but together let’s seek God’s way. Jesus followed the Father’s plan to Calvary.  If He so loved us, we ought to love one another. Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not seek its own way.
       [Love] is not irritable or resentful... When we are under pressure. When we are tired. When we haven’t had our morning coffee (that’s too convicting!).  Jonathan Edwards had a very difficult daughter that apparently exemplified being irritable, and even angry.
...Finally one young man came to him and said she would like to have her hand in marriage. Edwards said, “No.” He asked “Why not, we love each other!?” Edwards replied, “She is not worthy of you.”  The young man asked, “But is she not a Christian?”  Edwards said, “Yes, but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live!”
Not everyone is lovable! In fact none of us is always lovable. But God has chosen to love us, and He has called us to love one another, not only those who love us back. Love is not irritable or resentful...
     [Love] keeps no record of wrongs... When we forgive, we forget, right? Well, we can’t erase the past from our minds. But we can choose not to remind the offender of past wrongs every time a crisis happens! Remember the husband who complained about his wife getting “historical” every time they got in an argument?  We can’t “forget” in the sense of purging memories from our mind. But we can choose not to “remember,” not to bring up past offenses as ammunition in our disputes, not to dwell on past hurts, that can slowly build animosity, even bitterness, toward another person. As we make that choice it will change our attitude, and our actions.  Love is both a choice of the will and a fruit of the Spirit that should guide us in the use of our spiritual gifts.  It involves our head, our hands, and our heart. Perhaps most importantly it is an evidence to the world that God is real and at work in us.
III. The Heart: As God’s Spirit fills us, fruit will be evident: our affections will be changed and we’ll find Joy in serving Him by serving others (6-8a).
“ does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  8 Love never ends...” (1 Corinthians 13:6-8).
       What brings you joy? Paul says in v.6, love “...does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth...” Remember back in I Corinthians 5, the Corinthians were bragging about their tolerance of sin, immorality in their midst, and not only tolerating it, but bragging about it!  That isn’t love. If we love one another we have to care enough to watch out for each other and to hold each other accountable. There are absolutes of right and wrong. Truth does not change with the times. Public opinion does not determine what is right.  The tendency to compromise God’s standard in fact is nothing new. Isaiah warned, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isa 5:20). This is the language of cursing and blessing – God takes truth seriously. God is love, and “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but...
       “[Love] rejoices in the truth...” The contrast here is between unrighteousness, or sin, and truth, God’s truth. Jesus himself is the “truth” and His Word is truth.  Love rejoices in the truth.  Do you find joy in knowing Jesus? Do you find joy in His Word? John said, in 3 John 4   “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” For John, the great joy of his life was to see God glorified through the transformed lives of His people. I think that means our greatest joy should be seeing God glorified as we use the gifts He has given us to help others grow as His disciples as they obey the Word and walk in the Spirit. Our joy is seeing God glorified in His people.
        In this next series of declarations, I don’t think Paul is saying the love puts up with anything, no matter what.  The language here is poetic hyperbole, a deliberate overstatement for the sake of emphasis. Love...
       Bears all thingsLove never gets to the point, “I can’t take it anymore!”  As you have discerned by now, my poor mother had her hands full with seven children, especially me and my five younger brothers. But she never gave up on any of us. She loved us to the end.  Think of Jesus with the disciples. Patiently putting up with their dullness, their selfishness, their unbelief.  Remember Philip in John 14:8, “Show us the Father and it is enough for us!” He answered, “Have I been so long with you and yet you do not know me Philip?”  Perhaps even more poignant was the scene in Matthew 20:17-21.  Jesus speaks about what he was about to experience on that final trip to Jerusalem. Notice the question that follows, from the mother of the James and John...
17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them,  18 "See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death  19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day."  20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something.  21 And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom."
Jesus spoke directly about his impending passion, and still the focus of the disciples is on, what is in it for me, how can I get what I think I deserve! Jesus doesn’t lose His temper, He doesn’t throw his hands up in exasperation.  He gently teaches them.  Because God is love and Jesus is God. Love is patient and kind, it does not envy or boast, it does not insist on its own way. It “bears all things,” and it...
      Believes all things Paul isn’t saying “love” believes anything. Rather he is saying that love trusts, it gives the benefit of the doubt, it looks for the good in people and the possibilities in times of crisis. Certainly it means in every situation, even when we don’t see the way out, it trusts God.
       Hopes all things – I.e., Looks to the future with expectation.  This is not blind, “pie in the sky” wishful thinking. It is looking ahead with expectation that God is present and is going to act in the situation at hand for our good and for his glory. It has a confidence about the future because it is convinced that God is bigger than any problem we are dealing with.
       Endures all things – Remains steadfast under the weight of difficult times. As the first phrase in v. 8 says, “Love never fails.”  Does that encourage you when you think about God’s love?  Do you think you have ever tested his patience? I think I have!  Yet He is steadfast. He never gives up on us. He patiently corrects, he persistently teaches, and he is always present. That is love. It is what God is, and it is what he calls us to show, toward one another, and toward the world. You might think, “Well I love God, my problem is with people!” Well John had something to say about that in his first letter, we read in 1 John 4:20,   
If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
What is God saying to me in this passage? Love is both a choice of the will and a fruit of the Spirit that should guide us in the use of our spiritual gifts.  It involves our head, our hands, and our heart. Perhaps most importantly it is an evidence to the world that God is real and at work in us.
  What would God have me to do in response to his passage? Love?  Your eyelashes might not go up and down with little stars coming out of you, but is starts with a choice. We choose to love, because He first loved us.  Do you wonder if God loves you?  Remember what He did for you, “...He sent His one and only Son into the world, that we [YOU!] might live through Him.” As we seek to know Him, love will be increasingly manifested in our lives.
How do we know God? By availing ourselves of the means of grace He has given us, first and foremost, through the Word.  
        We need to be reading the Bible, prayerfully, every day. The Word is truth, it is profitable for doctrine, for correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness, it is pure milk that nourishes us, it is God’s love letter to us. That means reading the Bible daily. We also need to avail ourselves also of opportunities to study and learn together. The sermon outline is in the bulletin for you to follow, and write down notes or questions. Be a Berean, go home and search the scripture to make sure what is preached is faithful to the word. You need to be in Sunday School, it’s a great context to learn, and to encourage others. The elders believe that we should all be a part of a small group if at all possible. The early church devoted itself to the “apostles’ teaching,” and we should be devoted to the Bible. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.”

        As we read the Word prayerfully, we will know Him better, and to know Him is to love Him. Remember our vision statement, “We envision a community of Christ followers, rooted in the Word, treasuring God as supremely valuable, proclaiming the riches of His grace to the world.” Love God. Love people. God has gifted each of us for the good of the body, and for the reaching of the lost, to the glory of God. Have you identified your 8/15? The eight to fifteen people in your sphere of influence? Could it be that some of them don’t know the Lord, or some have fallen away from church attendance? Have you begun to pray for them? The most loving thing we can do, is point them to Jesus, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Love God. Love one another. Love the lost. Think about that,  AMEN.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pastors Report Preview for October 2015

Pastor’s Report – October 2015
       This quarterly meeting falls between two exciting outreaches to children and their families: our annual Word of Life FASCAR event, and Trunk or Treat, a fall Halloween alternative that has become a successful outreach to children in our community.  This year we are looking forward to having Kevin and Jen Lambertson here representing Child Evangelism Fellowship. They will be presenting the gospel as they paint the faces of children.  We anticipate handing out hundreds of Gospel tracts, Bibles, and New Testaments to our visitors. Be in prayer that many lives will be touched by the gospel! Help is always needed so contact Meredith Fowlie if you can lend a hand.
       These events highlight our desire as a church to become more outwardly focused as we seek to live out our vision statement of becoming “...a community of Christ followers, rooted in the Word, treasuring God as supremely valuable, and proclaiming the riches of His grace to the world.” Do you share that vision?  Virtually every word of that statement is critically important. We are a “community” of believers in Jesus. That emphasizes our common faith, and also our “one another” responsibilities within the body. As we’ve been looking at I Corinthians we are reminded of the fact that we each have gifts to use for the building up of the body and the carrying out of our mission.  We are also to be “rooted in the Word,” that means we believe the Bible, in its entirety, is the Word of God to us, and we take Him at His Word. His Word is truth. If we agree with the Word being foundational to our vision, we need to be in the Word daily for “man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” We need to avail ourselves of opportunities to study and learn together. Finally, but by no means least, is our mission to proclaim the riches of His grace to the world.  
       Our Sunday School series, “Gospel Shaped Outreach” has highlighted that aspect of our vision. God has us in the world on assignment, to bring the Gospel to our friends and neighbors.  We’ve also been talking lately about a principle called “8/15.” That is, on average, most people have between 8 and 15 people in their immediate “sphere of influence.”  These are people we know well and interact with on a regular basis. On average 95 percent of the people who visit a church and ultimately come to faith have been invited by such a close acquaintance. Relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or classmates—there are some in that circle that either don’t know the Lord or who have fallen away from church attendance. We need to embrace the idea that we are God’s missionaries to our 8/15. We need to identify them, pray for them, and seek to invite them to church or to a small group. We need to be a witness to them, ready to give a reason for the hope God has given us.
       I continue to enjoy preaching through I Corinthians.  Our small group on Thursday evenings has been a blessing to Mary Ann and me as we worship, pray, learn together, and enjoy fellowship. We are blessed to join with a small but dedicated group for prayer on Wednesday nights. Our devotional series is currently working through the “Songs of Ascent” and I call the series “Songs for the Journey” as we live as “pilgrims in a fallen world.”  Early Tuesday morning a few men come together for coffee and prayer at the parsonage. Counselling for individuals and couples is a privilege and an ongoing ministry. I have enjoyed joining with our youth ministry team on Sunday evening as we seek to help our teens “get connected” with the church family.  As always it is essential to be evaluating where we are as a church and how we are doing with the responsibilities and opportunities God has laid before us. Your prayers are appreciated as the leadership continues to evaluate and lead us forward together.
Your co-workers,

Pastor Steve and Mary Ann

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Spiritual Gifts Part 4: Spiritual Gifts and the Love of God I Corinthians 13:1-3

Spiritual Gifts and the Love of God
I Corinthians 13:1-3
Introduction:  We’ve been talking for the last three weeks about spiritual gifts, about how God has “S.H.A.P.E.”d each of us, like a Potter molding the clay, and placed us in the Body, on purpose, for a purpose: to encourage the other members and to do our part in the mission He has entrusted to us. How do we evaluate how we are doing in using our own spiritual gifts in the church?  Others will evaluate us on their own terms, since they don’t know our heart. Remember back in I Corinthians 4:2-4 Paul said,
2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.  3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.  4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.
Ultimately we want to please God, and our passage today shows us the kind of “serving” that God desires.  The Corinthians had gifts, they had knowledge, and they had great teachers. Still, in many ways, they had not matured in their faith. They were proud of their “knowledge,” their gifts, and even their teachers, and had an inflated view of their own spirituality. They were enamored with certain, flashy gifts ­­­­­that they deemed “greater,” but they were lacking in a fundamental attitude: love.  They were more in love with the gifts of the Giver, than with the Giver of the gifts. Warren Wiersbe said, “The main evidence of maturity in the Christian life is a growing love for God and for God’s people, as well as a love for lost souls.”  Love is more than a motivating attitude, love is an attitude that shows itself in action. Think about how the Bible describes love (I’ll pick just a few verses from one book):
John 3:16  16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 13:1  Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. [He would wash their feet that night, and would soon lay down His life for them].
John 13:34-35  34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." [Love must be something the world can see!].
John 14:15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
John 14:21-24   21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."  22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?"  23 Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.
John 21:15-17   15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs."  16 He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep."  17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
You get the idea. Love is something that is seen in actions. It is not just an attitude, it is an attitude that acts. It is not just a feeling, it is expressed in what we do, not simply in what we say.  I remember when Mary Ann phrased this idea (borrowing from James), “Love without works is dead!”

The Big Idea: We’re all called to be ministers, but any ministry, if it is not motivated by love, is meaningless. This is the foundation of the Christian life: Love God, and love one another!

I. “Giftedness” without love is just noise (1).  We can be great communicators, eloquent, entertaining, we can be gifted, but if we are not motivated by love, it is just noise.     
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 
This week I received a devotional directed at pastors that asked the question, “Why do you preach?” In answering that question, the author said only two motivations really matter:  1) We love God.   2) We love others. 

Love God, love people. Whether we are talking about preaching or any other ministering of the gifts God has given us, that has to be our heart attitude: love God, love people. Remember John tells us in his first letter that “God is love,” and that we love, only because He first loved us.  In almost every chapter of that letter John calls the reader to love God and love each other, love is the compelling evidence that we are children of God (I Jn 2:5,15; 3:1,10,11,14,16,17,18,23; 4:7,8,9,10,11,12, etc.). When Paul speaks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, he says first of all, “The fruit of the Spirit is love...”  The Corinthians had seemingly lost their first love, they had drifted away from the fundamental love relationship with God, that is the necessary foundation and source of our love for one another.

            Paul begins, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels...”  Paul turns the lens on himself as he teaches the Corinthians, he switches to the first person, "I". He is showing love, by being gentle and pastoral. Since Paul wrote in Greek we need to “interpret” what he was saying here. First of all, it is clear that “tongues” in this context is simply the word for “languages” as we see in Acts 2:4-11,
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language [dialect]7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? [i.e., “dialect] 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,  11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians- we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God."   
The words “tongue” (glossa) and “language” (dialektos) are used interchangeably here for the native languages of the pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the feast. The “tongues” were a miraculous enablement of the disciples to speak the Word of God in languages they did not otherwise know.  Beyond the book of Acts, I Corinthians 12-14 is the only other context in which “tongues” is mentioned, and Corinthians seems to imply, that with interpretation, this was a gift that God used in the early church to bring revelation to the body. In the church at Corinth, it is pretty clear as you read these chapters (12-14) that the abuse of this gift was a problem. For the sake of emphasis Paul adds “...tongues of angels...” saying that even a heavenly language, if it was not accompanied by love, is just noise. I don’t think that the point is that some spoke a “heavenly language,” rather, Paul is using some oriental hyperbole to make his point: even a heavenly language, without love, is just noise!  A “noisy gong” is a loud, irritating sound.  A “clanging symbol” may point to the symbols that were used in some of the pagan rituals in Corinth. If that is Paul’s intent he is saying using our gifts without love for God and for others is as detestable as pagan worship. Many had lifted the gift of tongues in particular as the sign of spirituality and it seems that Paul is making the point that in the process, they had grown lukewarm in their love for the Giver of the gifts.   

       You might think, how is this possible? How can someone know God and love God and then get off track?  I’ve shared enough of my story with you to make it clear that I have firsthand experience with this. Coming to faith in Christ at 23 years of age I was excited and in love with God. I started well but probably took on too much too soon, and I dove into reading and rigorous study of the Word. I was involved in ministry and doing good things, but somewhere along the way something was missing. The joy wasn’t there and what should have been opportunities seemed like burdens. Finally I was able to talk to a friend who helped me see the truth: I was busy doing good things, but my heart had grown cold, I had drifted from my first love. By God’s grace, with the help of that brother, I got back on track. I’ve learned to “guard my heart,” because everything else depends on it (Proverbs 4:23).  Do you remember your first love? I mean first in importance, that is, your love for God? If the answer is yes, that is good, because I have been around long enough to know that we are all susceptible to drifting.  Remember, we’re all called to be ministers, but any ministry, if it is not motivated by love, is meaningless. This is the foundation: Love God, and love one another!  I. Giftedness without love is just noise, and...

II. Knowledge without love is meaningless (2). Right doctrine without a right heart is empty.  We can speak the truth, know the truth, and even believe the truth, but without love, we are nothing!  We must speak the truth in love.
2 And if I have prophetic powers [i.e., the gift of prophecy], and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 
The Corinthians were enamored with “knowledge” [gnosis] as we sometimes are. 

       1) Speaking the truth, without love, doesn’t make me something!  “If I have prophetic powers... but have not love, I am nothing...” Paul says if that is what I am doing, “I am nothing.” We have some examples in the Bible of prophets speaking without love.
        Balaam, who was hired by Balak, the king of Moab to curse Israel, but even his own donkey seemed to have more spiritual discernment!  Jonah tried running from God rather than warning the Ninivites. When he finally went and warned them of God’s impending judgment they repented.  Instead of rejoicing he was mad about it since God relented from destroying them!  Being a prophet did not guarantee that you were operating out of love!  We can speak the truth and we should, but our motivation should be that we love God, and we want others to love him too. We know we are called to love one another, and we know that God “so loved the world,” shouldn’t we love them as well? Speak the truth, clearly, passionately, in love.

       2) “...if I understand all mysteries and all knowledge...”  Knowing the truth, without love, doesn’t make me something either. Did you know that the Devil could get an “A” in theology class?  He knows God is real. Demons, confronted by Jesus, cried out, “What have we to do with you, Jesus, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?”  They knew the truth about Jesus. Some of them seemed to grasp who Jesus was before his own disciples!  They even knew that judgement was coming.  Their theology was right. But they did not love the One who is the truth. James said, “You believe that God is one? You do well. The demons also believe, and tremble!” We can sometimes be impressed by education, by the letters after someone’s name, the paper framed on their wall, but I’ve known men of great learning, with great knowledge about the Bible, but who did not know God personally. Knowing about God, and knowing Him, are not the same thing.

       3) “...and have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing...”  Paul seems to be using hyperbole here, a deliberate exaggeration to make a point.  Jesus had told the disciples that if they had faith like a tiny grain of mustard seed, they could say to a mountain “be gone!” and it would be cast in to the sea.  That was hyperbole to emphasize the truth that believing God as we pray could accomplish the impossible. Here Paul seems to say that the only faith that matters, the faith that pleases God, comes from a heart that loves God and love people.  We can speak the truth, know the truth, and even believe the truth, but it only pleases God if it comes out of love. A great preacher from the past said, “People won’t remember everything you say, they’ll remember if you love them or not.” We should love, because HE first loved us!  We’re all called to be ministers, but any ministry, if it is not motivated by love, is meaningless. This is the foundation: Love God, and love one another! I) Giftedness without love is just noise, II) knowledge without love, is meaningless, and finally...

III. Even sacrificial service without love is worthless (3).  
3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Service, even sacrificial service, impressive ministry, giving of ourselves and our resources, can be “empty” and meaningless.  Remember the warning Jesus gave,
21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'  23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness...'” (Matthew 7:21-23).
That is tough language! Giving is good, it is important for our motivation to be right. The example of Barnabas at the end of Acts 4 is positive. He is generous, acting in love for God and love for his brothers, the pilgrim Jews in Jerusalem who were in need. He sold a parcel of land and laid the money at the apostles’ feet. A generous donation! Acts 5 begins with a contrasting story, “BUT a man named Ananias, and his wife Sapphira...”  Long story short, they too gave, a large sum.  But their hearts were not right.  They wanted the praise of humans. They wanted to be loved, perhaps, but there was no love of God or of people behind their actions. God was not pleased! Our life and our ministry, every one of us, must flow out of our genuine love for God and our love for our neighbors.  

What is God saying to me in this passage? We’re all called to be ministers, but any ministry, if it is not motivated by love, is meaningless. This is the foundation: Love God, and love one another!

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? In contrast to the attitude of self-centered pride that was such a problem in Corinth, Paul has been teaching about the body. He makes it clear that our heart as well as our head has to be a part of our Christian life if we are to grow in our faith and be all that God desire us to be. Love God, love one another, love the lost. Love is a choice, a commitment to a relationship. That means we choose to spend time with each other.  First of all with God. Time in the Word, time in prayer and worship.  Remember Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me...” Do you take time everyday to hear the Master’s voice? Secondly, our commitment to fellowship with other believers. “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together as is the manner of some...” The early church spent time together, in corporate worship, and in each other’s homes.  Small groups provide a great setting for the “one another’s” of the New Testament to find expression in our lives. Have you found a group to be a part of yet? Speak with me, or one of the elders, and we will help you get connected. Finally, we invest in our 8-15 relationships, those 8-15 people, on average, in our sphere of influence who we are closest to, that we see and rub shoulders with on a regular basis, in our family, our work place, our neighborhood, our school.  Statistically, we know that 95% of those who visit church, and eventually come to faith in Christ, have been invited by someone who knew them. That is sobering!  What is the key to reaching our community? It all starts with reaching our friends and family.  I heard a devotional this week in which the pastor said, “If I had the cure for cancer and didn’t share it with those who were dying, it would be criminal!  If I found the cure for A.I.D.S., and kept it to myself I should be arrested!  We have the cure, the only hope, for fallen sinful humans.  Start by literally writing down the names of those around you, your 8-15 people in your most immediate sphere of influence. Not all of them come to church! Not all of them know Jesus. Start praying for them daily.  Look for opportunities to invite them to a small group or to a church service. Pray for an opportunity to share your story, your testimony of God’s grace at work in your life. The Gospel of Christ has been entrusted to us. We must share it!

            Communion Sunday is an opportunity to look back to the supreme demonstration of love on Calvary.  “In this is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And,  “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.”  We love, because He first loved us!  Think about that.     AMEN.