“And I will show you a still more excellent way…”
I Corinthians 12:31 (ESV)
I have to confess, in preparation for this morning’s men’s bible study I was convicted in my reading of I Corinthians 13:
4 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; 6 it 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 13:4–8 (ESV)
Usually this passage is read in weddings, and it is a wonderful text for the wedding service. If more couples would take these words to heart, we would find stronger and healthier marriages and families.
The reality is, though, that this passage has nothing to do with marriage. The letter to the Corinthian church was written to a broken and divided community. They were divided over which pastor they liked, they tolerated overt and heinous sin openly practiced by members of the church, they were filled up with pride in their accomplishments and fighting over the importance of their giftedness in the Holy Spirit. Most notably, the Corinthian church made a mockery of the Lord’s Supper by allowing the wealthy to gorge themselves on the meal, getting drunk on the wine of the table, while ignoring the needs of the poor and keeping them from the table. This was a broken and divided church.
Paul gave counsel and correction on the issues that plagued the Corinthian church, addressing the particular problems they faced. But in chapters 12-14, Paul addresses the heart of the matter. The problem of the Corinthian church wasn’t necessarily poor theology, the problem was a lack of love. The division and in-fighting of the church was a direct result of the lack of love the community shared. They were tremendously gifted, but all of those gifts, without love, were meaningless. Of all the gifts we could desire from the Holy Spirit, the greatest and most fundamental gift is that of love.
Every day it seems we hear of divisions and fighting within the church. Competition between denominations, controversies that arise in national churches, arguments that ensue within local congregations; the problems of the Corinthian church are with us today. I wonder, how many of these divisions are a result of our lack of love?
I know that I struggle with this daily. It is easier for me to respond in the way of the world. When somebody offends me, or questions my integrity, or says something to cut me down; my first inclination is to respond in kind. But I hear the Spirit teaching me: Love is patient, kind, humble; it does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. Love never ends.
Have you been upset by someone in the church, or some decision made by your church recently. Have you said to yourself, “I just won’t have anything to do with that person,” or “I’m just not going to participate in that event?” Are we divided as a church, as the body of Christ, over the songs we sing on Sunday morning or the decision made by a particular committee, rather than, in love, “not insisting on our own way, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and believing all things?” John MacArthur wrote in his study on this passage, “It is tragic that in many churches, as in the one in ancient Corinth, the love that is basic to Christian character does not characterize the membership or the ministry.”
I have been challenged by this passage today to be a more loving person. Have you? May we, regardless of where we may be, commit today, by the grace of God, to be a more loving church!