“Love: The Highest Calling”
Love is one of those things that’s easier to preach about than it is to live by. In 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 the Apostle Paul addressed the tendency of Corinthian believers to gather together for worship to God and instead compete with each other for attention and become divisive. His teaching in response is to get to the heart of spiritual gifts themselves and then point them toward the greatest gift: love. His message is certainly one we still need to hear today.
Paul begins by telling them that we are all members of the Body of Christ. As such, we don’t all have the same gifts or callings. “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”(12:18, NRSV) The church’s problem was that they all wanted to be like one part of the Body, the eyes, for instance, instead of appreciating each one’s unique place and role. In their divisiveness they forgot about Christ himself.
4 principles of the Body of Christ
(Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water, pg. 127)
1. Taking Responsibility (1 Cor. 12:14-16) When you feel you have nothing to offer the community.
2. Accepting Limitation (1 Cor. 12:17-20) When you feel you have everything to offer the community. Divinely imposed limitation to defeat our egoism.
3. Esteeming Others (1 Cor. 12:21-24a) When you feel you can live independent of the community.
4. Maintaining Unity Within Diversity (1 Cor. 12:24b-26) For all who bring division into the community, on purpose or inadvertently.
The Qualities of Love (1 Cor. 13)
1. All other spiritual gifts have their worth in Love. You can’t preach without love. Can’t sing without love. Can’t serve without love. Can’t help without love. Can’t BE without love.
2. It is the opposite of all that causes division.
3. Fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Self Control.
4. Never fails, is eternal. No time limits. Perfect Patience. I find that when I feel overwhelmed I put the pedal to the metal in an effort to get done faster and get out of there. That doesn’t work. Love means learning about the problems but realizing that I can’t solve them all myself. It will take time. Love takes time.
5. Love is not a peacock. It builds us up together, it doesn’t single us out and dress us up and then call for votes on our abilities like on the reality show “American Idol”. (1 Cor. 8:1)
6. Love always points us back to the cross of Christ. Jesus is our model of love. We have love and are love in his Body because of His love on the cross.
10 practical ways to show love
1. Listen without interrupting Prov. 18:2 “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing personal opinion.”
2. Speak without accusing James 1:19 “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;”
3. Give without sparing Prov. 21:26 “All day long the wicked covet, but the righteous give and do not hold back.”
4. Pray without Ceasing Col. 1:9 “For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”
5. Answer without arguing Prov. 17:1 “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.”
6. Share without pretending Eph. 4:15 “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”
7. Enjoy without complaining. Phil. 2:14 “Do all things without murmuring and arguing”
8. Trust without wavering 1 Cor. 13:7 “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
9. Forgive without punishing Col. 3:13 “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
10. Promise without forgetting Prov. 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
There is no way to love unintentionally or unmindfully. There is no “cruise control” with love. Our default position generally takes us back into egoism and trying to do everything ourselves and control everyone else. This is true even if you’re the quietest, least outgoing, seemingly meekest person in existence. Love does not leave us all alone. It causes us to reach out, involve ourselves, take responsibility, and aspire ever more to be like Jesus. Love leads us to becoming hated by the world that doesn’t know Jesus, and even by fellow Christians who don’t really want to love like Christ.
William J. Seymour said, “The Pentecostal power, when you sum it all up, is just more of God’s love. If it does not bring more of God’s love it is simply a counterfeit. Pentecost means to live right in the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, which is the standard.”
(The following story comes from the fourth chapter of Richard J. Foster’s book Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith, Harper One, 2001.) Seymour was the African American minister whom God used at the Asuza Street Revival in southern California at the beginning of the 20th Century. This revival shook America and the world as white and black Christians received fresh spiritual giftings when they repented of their sins and worshiped Christ together.
Seymour’s mentor, Charles Parham was not ready for what he saw when Seymour invited him to come preach at Asuza Street. Parham had ties with the Klan and instead of repenting of his own white racist supremacy, he split the gather and took 300 white members with him to another location. Seymour lived with the pain and brokenness of this reaction until he died in 1922. But this story serves as an example for us. When you want to be like Jesus and love like Jesus, don’t expect everyone in the Church to love you back or agree. We can’t stay together without love, and as we move more into the love of Christ the change it makes causes hostility. Why? Because it’s far easier to preach love than to be drawn into the sufferings of Christ, but this is what it means to know love.
Let’s pray aloud together:
Forgive me for being critical, for judging when I do not have all the facts, for judging when I am not perfect, for judging when the thing I judge is my problem too. Remove from me the evil that makes me critical: my own desires to be like the person I criticize, the wrong in me which I condemn in others, the feeling of inferiority that keeps me from accepting myself, the blindness that keeps me from seeing myself as you see me, the smallness that permits other people to irritate me.
Give me love enough to love those who are not like me, to love those who are not sure of themselves, to love those who are misunderstood, to love those whom I cannot understand, to love those who cannot control their tongues.
Help me to grow in patience—to wait while you do your work, in grace—to know that a thing does not have to be perfect before it can be used, in forgiveness—to forgive myself so that I can forgive others. May I so love that there will be no need for me to be critical. Make me realize that criticism rarely accomplishes anything except to set up barriers.
For Christ’s sake, who came not to condemn the world, but to save us all. Amen.
Yours in Him,
Rev. Chris Rice