A Still More Excellent Way – September 15, 2019
Psalm 130, I Corinthians 12:27-13:13
September 15, 20129
Last week we installed our new Church officers. And as part of that service, we looked at I Corinthians 12. That’s where we heard Paul telling us about the Church being “one body, many members.” He was telling the Corinthians – and us – that we all have value in the kingdom of God. He was echoing the words of Jesus when he said of his kingdom that “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last, and those who would be great must be servants.”
All of that is a great vision of the Kingdom of God! And there’s a great practicality to that. Paul was a practical guy in a lot of ways. He said the aim of that vision was that there would be “no discord in the body…” and that all could “rejoice together.”
Today we picked up where we left off last week, and we read to the end of this chapter where Paul tell us that God has had indeed given us all different gifts, that there are many different kinds of roles and offices in the church. But all of those things function together as “one body.”
Then at the end, at the end of all that great advice, at the end of all that wonderful guidance, after helping us to see the order and the harmony in the church, after telling us we all have value, at that point he ends with these words. (And I meant to read these words last week at the end, but I forgot.) He says, “Yes, look for and use the gifts God has given you. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
Paul is telling us what Bill and Ted told us back in 1989. They said, “Be excellent to each other!” (I’m sorry, but I think I would have burst into flames if I didn’t quote that today!) Do you remember that? Well, that “More Excellent Way” the told them about is this great chapter on Love!
Over the years, some scholars have tried to say that this chapter is out of place. They suggested that, in the copying and recopying of this letter, which all the letters went through, somebody got this chapter out of place. They say that because this whole letter is one of practical advice. It’s all about Paul helping them order the church, solve their problems, and manage their controversies. And then, in the middle of that “practical stuff,” is this one chapter about love. They say it seems out of place.
Well, I say “Nonsense!” This is not out of place! This wonderful chapter is just as much a part of all that Paul has been saying. In fact, I picture him pausing here, maybe putting down his pen, thinking a little bit about all the advice he’s been giving them, and then writing these words. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I can be the most spiritual person, most knowledgeable, most generous and giving, even the most sacrificial person. But without love – with out choosing love – all of that is nothing!
Paul took a moment to realize and clarify that, without love, all that good advice he was giving them was not worth the parchment it was written on! We can be so spiritual, so knowledgeable, so giving, yet if we don’t choose the ways of love he speaks about, none of that matters! We’re back to how we treat each other, aren’t we? We’re talking about how we encourage and upbuild each other. That’s what makes this thing called the church to be what God wants it to be. Without love, none of it matters. We can get knowledge and even spirituality from books and videos. And learning is great! Don’t get me wrong! Being spiritual and sacrificial is great! But being a Christian is about loving like Jesus!
That’s what we’ve been emphasizing lately. And it’s something we need to think about all the time. Because it’s too easy to forget. It’s too easy for a moment of stress, a time when we’re tired, or in a hurry, or any number of other things to make us lose it. Sure it’s easy to be loving and encouraging when we are feeling loving and encouraging. But when something bad catches us by surprise, when we’re having a bad day anyway, those are the times that will get us.
When it comes down to it, this really is practical advice, too. It’s not all about love being an emotional desire or attachment. It’s a rare wedding where I don’t read this passage. Because weddings are all about love. But as I’ve often said, love is not an emotion. Love has emotions associated with it. But love is a way of choosing to treat one another! Otherwise, what Jesus said about loving enemies, would make no sense. That is, if he meant we should get warm fuzzy feelings about our enemies. No, it’s about how we treat them! As you think about that, listen to Paul’s description of Love
“Love is patient and kind.” Paul writes. Patience and kindness are definitely things we must choose! They are not the natural, human responses. And I think it’s getting worse! It seems that people are getting more impatient all the time! Years ago, we never had people honking their horn if you didn’t pull out from a light immediately! (And I’m not pulling out that fast, because I know there are likely to be 3 or 4 people going through the light the other way – in their impatience!) Love is being patient and kind.
“Love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way.” Love means we do not make ourselves the center of attention. It is not all about us. Years ago, I was a school bus driver, and I used to like to get all philosophical with the kids. (I had K through 5.) One day I got them all quiet, and I said, “Ok, I’m going to tell you the secret to having the happiest life possible. Are you ready? Here it is! The world, does not revolve, around you!” (Yeah, they gave me about the same look!) But that’s at the center of this one. Jealous, boastful, arrogant, and rude people think the world revolves around them. They should read Paul’s words, when he wrote, “ I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.”
“Love is not irritable or resentful.” That’s a short one, but it’s worth thinking about. Because it is when you think the world revolves around you, and it doesn’t, that you get irritable and resentful!
Then he says, “Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” A minister friend of mine once said it this way. “Love never says ‘I told you so!’” Love doesn’t look for the bad in people and criticize it. Love looks for the good in people and encourages it! And the first of those things – looking for the bad – is the natural, human thing that happens! That’s the thing we must fight! We must choose the second. We must choose to look for the good in people and encourage it!
Then we have this wonderful statement about the power of love. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Paul is saying that, in the end, love is everything. It is the still more excellent way, because Paul saw love as being above excellence! He saw it as that which causes the excellence in us.
And in the end, “Love is of God, for God is love. That’s what John wrote in his first letter. Love is right up there with “Faith” and “Hope.” And it is even above those things. Love is God’s motivation for creating us and for saving us. “For God so loved the world…” We’re not just God’s acquaintances, or God’s experiment, we’re God’s companions! As I say all the time, God wants the best for us.
So, think about the kind of believer you are. Are you spiritual? Do you do “all the right things” religiously? Do you know a lot about your faith and about God? Are you a giving person? Are you even “sacrificial?” Well, Paul would say, those things are wonderful. But without love…
Eternal God, help us to love as you love us. Help us indeed to look to and encourage the good in people. Give us the strength we need to choose to love. And may your love be evident in us, as we seek to be the light of the world that Jesus has called us to be. For this we pray in his name, Amen.