The Overarching, Unifying Factor in the Community of Faith - Part 3
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
July 01, 2018
By our nature, we tend to romanticize things, particularly when it comes to history. Romanticize means making something out to be better than what it actually was.
We romanticize eras such as the 50s when America was about poodle skirts and milkshakes, but we gloss over the looming fears of nuclear war and the now unthinkable Jim Crow laws of the Deep South.
It cracks me up how even Millennials romanticize things. My daughters tell me all the time how they wish they’d grown up in the 80s. Things were so much easier back then, they say. The Cold War was going on and mullets, stone washed jeans, parachute pants, and leggings were the style. Lord help me, I wore parachute pants (at least no mullet - Rob?).
We Christians do the same. We romanticize the early church and its leaders. We subconsciously think things were near to perfect back then and that heroes of the faith like Paul and Peter were all but sinless. At least that’s what I catch myself doing.
But as we’ve seen, that just ain’t so. The early church did experience a unique sense of purpose and mission after the Holy Spirt came down (Acts 2), but the truth is, every era, every moment in history, secular or sacred, is marred by the world’s fallenness.
Conflict in the church started early on and continues to this day. The presence of conflict is a given, but something was different back then. They managed to stay unified and focused to spite their troubles.
We discovered the overarching factor that kept them that way was love.
The apostle Peter, no stranger to failure or conflict, wrote…
1 Peter 4:8 (ESV) — 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
The kind of love Peter referred to was very specific. It was a kind of love too big to define. A kind of love completely foreign to him and the other apostles until they encountered it first hand.
They learned about love from Jesus who demonstrated it in the highest possible form by giving his own life. Paul wrote…
Romans 5:6–8 (ESV) — 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Last week we realized in light of that, we must refuse to not love each other!
Today, I want to round out this series by fleshing out what loving people like that looks like.
Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth is written in the midst of terrible conflict between brothers and sisters in Christ. One NT scholar explains…
"The young church was in a mess. They were [riddled] with personality cults. They were socially divided, rich against poor. They were spiritually divided, jealous of one another’s gifts. They tolerated immorality. Their worship was chaotic; their grasp on the gospel was shaky. Oh, they had an energy, a drive; they were going somewhere, even if they weren’t sure in which direction. I’d rather have a live church with problems than a dead church…, though let me quickly add that I’d rather not have all the problems of Corinth at once, thank you very much."
Paul goes through the problems one by one, almost as though they form a kind of shopping list. Great discussions, each one hammered out on the anvil of scripture and serious Christian thinking.
In the middle of addressing all these areas of conflict Paul writes…
1 Corinthians 12:31b (ESV) — 31 … And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Paul says, "What you’re doing and the way you’re handling things isn’t right. I want to show you something better. The most excellent, the highest way to live in the community of faith possible."
Paul explains that still more excellent way with some of the most beautiful words ever written in what we commonly know as the Love Chapter. One fellow says this chapter has been called the “greatest, strongest, deepest thing Paul ever wrote” … it is “in a class by itself in Pauline literature. Chapter 13 is poetic in its style and carries all the marks of a lyrical composition … a ‘hymn of love,’ … It has been perceptively noted that here the apostle is “hardly writing as an apostle. He is scarcely teaching or preaching at this point. He sings…”
Look at verses 1-3…
1 Corinthians 13:1–3 (ESV) — 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, 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. 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.
Or in a plainer translation…
1 Corinthians 13:1–3 (CEV) — 1 What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others. 3 What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others.
Tim Keller, in preaching on this text, brings up the infamous cult leader, David Koresh, who led his followers to a gruesome death some years ago.
"In his teachings, this is what he says, 'Are you really a Christian? The apostles of old used to heal the sick and raise the dead. They were Spirit-filled men. What about you? Do you do these things? Do you do these things today? How can these stupid churches talk about the Spirit when they don’t even do what the apostles did 2,000 years ago? So they sin against the Holy Spirit, they commit the unpardonable sin, because they claim to be led by the Spirit when they’re led by the Devil.'
"It’s pretty interesting. 'How do you know you’re a Christian?' he says. 'How do you know you have the Spirit of God? You can heal the sick and raise the dead.' This is exactly what Paul says in the first three verses is the most lethal possible mistake. It’s exactly the opposite. He says, 'My friends, you can do miracles. You can move mountains. You can have prophecies, but if you don’t have love … It’s possible to have all that and have not love, which means not to have God at all.'”
Let that sink in. You can exercise the greatest of spiritual gifts within the community of faith (even martyrdom!) and still be nothing without love. This alone should stop us in our tracks.
Let me take a rabbit trail on this for just a minute. This is so relevant in light of what we see happening among Christians trying to minister the light of truth in a dark culture.
“I’m right!” We proclaim. Yes, you are, but being right without love is wrong. We cancel out the truth with our lack of love.
JD Greear, the new president of the SBC, said, and I’m paraphrasing, “We have to love our… [neighbors] more than we love our position[s on issues].”
One fellow said…
"If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; [courage] without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; [faithfulness] without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love."
Now let’s get back on the path at hand. The Corinthians put on a good show, but that’s all it was because it was void of love.
This, Paul, says, it what love looks like in the community of faith…
1 Corinthians 13:4–6 (ESV) — 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.
Love is patient - refers to patience with people. That means putting up with a lot. It means giving others the benefit of the doubt until you have no other choice.
Love is kind – not only desiring the other’s welfare but acting to help them achieve it.
Love does not envy - envy is wanting what others have. Envy is also wishing others didn’t have what they have. Love doesn’t do that.
Love does not boast and is not arrogant - If envy is wanting what others have; boasting is trying to make others jealous of what we have. Arrogance is thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.
Love is not rude - it does not act inappropriately towards another in ANY situation.
Love does not insist on its own way – love puts others first.
Love is not irritable or resentful – it is not easily angered and does not take into account a wrong suffered. It means literally that love keeps no record books on wrongs done (no grudges allowed!).
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth – love doesn’t gloat over others’ failures and wants the best for them enough to step in and help lead them out of sin when necessary.
As we look at this list of what love in the community of faith is and isn’t, we are struck by the fact that on every point the Corinthians fell short.
After then Paul sings with gusto, choir and all…
1 Corinthians 13:7 (ESV) — 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:7 (The Message) — 7 Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.
He closes out his hymn on love with…
1 Corinthians 13:8, 13 (ESV) — 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away…13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Love is not just for this age or this day but for all eternity. Love carries over into the new heavens and earth. The gifts and ministries of the church will pass away because they won’t be needed anymore, but our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ will continue on into eternity. That’s why love is so important.
Though it certainly applies, 1 Corinthians 13 was never intended to be read at weddings. It was given in the context of relationships between Christians in the community of faith.
As I close out this message and this little series about the overarching unifying factor of love in the early church, let me clarify a few things:
I am not saying we must have total conformity. Some churches think unity is conformity. Everyone does not have to agree on everything.
Back in the day, I wrote folks off because they didn’t conform; they didn’t agree with me on everything. I created a bunch of little generals whose job it was to maintain conformity.
Unity in love allows for disagreements (Paul and Barnabas for example). It allows for an agreeing to disagree (It’s not really love otherwise). But that disagreement must be saturated with love.
On the other hand, in love we must set boundaries. Some might interpret this as anything goes! Love doesn’t allow for that either.
A 17th Century theologian summed it up perfectly when he said, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.”
Conclusion: Do we have any bakers in here? Do you make cakes? My Granny Shockley did (all from scratch, even the eggs came from a chicken coop out back; she was known for her coconut and caramel cakes).
When you bake it’s important to follow the recipe. What if you added all the right ingredients and baked it at just the right temperature for just the right time and it came out looking like a pancake? What did you forget? BAKING POWDER!
“Without baking powder, no cake. Without the practice of Christian love, Christianity fails.” The community of faith certainly fails. What Jesus said makes sense now…
John 13:35 (ESV) — 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The love that Paul and Peter and John wrote about and taught and lived was not arbitrary; it was not made up. It was exemplified in and demonstrated by Jesus. He practiced what he preached.
Someone has said that 1 Corinthians 13 is a painting of Him.
That same Jesus wants to be in relationship with you! He wants to love you with a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love: kind, patient, humble, not keeping a record of wrongs!
That’s why Jesus said…
John 8:36 (ESV) — 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Jesus has set us free from the bondage of sin.
This Wednesday we celebrate Independence Day as a nation. I am so thankful we enjoy the freedoms we have, a freedom so many do not know.
Christians, above all others, we understand freedom…
Galatians 5:1 (ESV) — 1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
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