The Church of Christ

April 7, 2024 ()

Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 12 & 13 |


The Church of Christ | 1 Corinthians 12-13
Brad O’Dell | April 7, 2024

Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 12. We’re going to be in 1 Corinthians 12-13.

We’ve been in a little mini series surrounding Holy Week, beginning on Palm Sunday, when we were in 1 Corinthians 1; and then we looked at a message on Good Friday of the cross of Christ; and then of course on Easter Sunday we were looking at the resurrection of Christ. Now, coming out of that, we’re going to have a single Sunday on the church of Christ, looking at 1 Corinthians 12-13. It really flows naturally from what we’ve dwelt on over the Easter week, that when Jesus laid down his life for his people and was raised to new life, it was for a people who are called by his name that would be gathering in community and carrying forward the message of Jesus and really embodying his presence in their midst as they go forward in his name. So this morning we’re looking at the church of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12-13.

We’re going to cover quite a bit of text, so what I’m going to do is read a section of Scripture, we’ll look at a heading there, open that up a bit, and then we’ll read the next chunk of Scripture.

When we come to 1 Corinthians 12-13—well, in this series we’ve not been trying to exegete all the little tiny portions of Scripture and try to explain it all; we’re really trying to get the big themes. This is a time of year where we try to let the big themes land home again and make sure that those are under our feet and that we’ve grasped those and that we’re remembering those, instead of trying to open up all the particular little things that we might be able to chase down in some of these passage. You’re going to see that this morning as I go through 1 Corinthians 12-13 on the spiritual gifts. There’s a lot that’s controversial, a lot of debate, a lot that is different and that people have good debates about in the church, and most of those controversial points I’m going to avoid. I’m not going to cover them this morning, because I don’t think that’s the primary thrust of the passage, and I want us to take away the primary thrust of this passage of Scripture.

So, my outline is going to be this:

1. The Spirit and His Gifts
2. The Body and Its Members
3. Love and Its Vital Importance

I think those capture the main ideas of what we’re going to be covering in these Scriptures.

1. The Spirit and His Gifts

Read with me 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. We’re going to be looking at the Spirit and his gifts. It says this:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

Now, like I said, I’m going to be focusing on the major themes here. I think as we read a passage of Scripture like this, there’s a lot that jumps out to us that’s very interesting. Miracles? Tongues? Interpretation of tongues? Discerning between spirits? “What are you going to say on that, pastor? I’m really interested!”

I’m not really going to speak to a lot of that here this morning, because I really don’t think it’s Paul’s purpose in this passage of Scripture. I think we can learn about the spiritual gifts and start to use this as a passage that helps us understand those ways, but his main point in this is not to actually explain what’s going on with these particular miraculous gifts that were happening in that day and age in the church of Corinth, and he’s not trying to say, “Here’s how you should use those, and here’s what’s in balance and here’s what’s out of balance, and here’s what the particular expression should look like. Here’s what it’s going to look like in the church moving forward, and two thousand years down the road at Redeemer Church, here’s what it should look like.” He’s not really teaching in that way; that’s not really his point at all.

What he’s doing is he’s assuming what was already well-known between him and the Corinthian church. “Here’s what’s happening in your midst. My concern is how you are using those gifts and what it’s doing in your community with one another and how you’re approaching them in your love and care for one another in the church.” That’s what he’s trying to get at; he’s trying to kind of help them and even correct a lot of division in the church along some of these lines of trying to say, “This shouldn’t be a point of division.” I think those are the major points we can get.

First I want to look at this—let me show you what the main emphases of this passage are. We get this through Paul’s repetition in the passage, in a lot of ways. I highlighted a lot of the things he repeats or a lot of the things he emphasizes in his language. You’ll see it in the slide here, where I’ve highlighted it in colors. Look at these repetitions of these two things, the idea of the one same Spirit and then also this idea that each individual, each person is someone who’s in view. So we have these two realities.

It’s peculiar, right? Why did Paul, when he was writing this, have to say after almost every single clause, “by the same Spirit,” “the one same Spirit”? He had to bring this up a lot. He obviously wanted to emphasize it, he wanted it to land home, because this was probably something that was quite a controversial thing or something that was a point of division in the Corinthian church. They were not seeing their commonality with one another, they were divided into factions. They were seeing a differentiation or even a battling of people in ways that was undue. So what he’s trying to emphasize is, “You share the same Spirit of God.”

He also, though, says, “Now, just because you share the same Spirit of God doesn’t mean you’re all the same. There is some individuality, there is some uniqueness. Each one of you is given a particular manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” So what I want to do is look at the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. It helps to keep those in sync.

(1) The gift of the Spirit—this is what they all shared in common. All partook of the same Spirit; all were made new in Christ and were redeemed by the Spirit and were united by the Spirit to Christ through faith, and they all shared that reality. That’s significant. He’s trying to say, “Don’t you understand? When you see one another and when you’re in community, you can look at someone and say that at the very core of who we are we are the same, and we share something very profound.”

In a much lighter way, I think of when we travel. Have you ever traveled to a foreign country, especially a country where they don’t speak English? After a while when you’re in that country, you’ve interacted, you have five words of their language that you know, like “please,” “I’m sorry”—that’s a big one; I said that a lot when I was in Rome. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to speak your language.” And they know how to speak English usually, but they don’t like it, and after a while you’ve been talking in these five-word phrases with everyone around you, and what happens? Eventually you’re at dinner one night and you hear someone across the restaurant, and they’re speaking English. And not only is this English, but it’s an American accent. And what happens? Something in you, like, lights up. And you’re like, “Oh my goodness, other Americans!”

And though you’re usually an introvert in life, you immediately become an extrovert. You walk across, saying, “Hey, I’m Brad. How’s it going? You guys from America? Me too. Where are you from? Oh man, that’s awesome. I’ve been there once—I mean I flew through there on my way somewhere. But, huh, how about that. Small world.” And all of a sudden you’re so excited about this fact that you’re both from America, and excited about places that you don’t really know much about—where each other lives, but you know the name of it. And that’s something, right? And you become very friendly. You’re inviting them over for dinner the next night, right? And you’re trying to be best friends in your short time. I don’t know if you’ve had that experience, but there’s something peculiar that when you are outside of a situation where there's this commonality that’s readily shared, when it happens, you’re really excited about it.

And I think Paul is trying to say this to the Corinthian believers. Like, “Don’t you understand (in a much more profound way than what I just talked about) that at your very core, at your very essence, there’s a commonality? There’s a sameness. There’s a shared reality that you are people who share the Spirit of the living God. You have been made new in Christ, and at the very core of your identity there’s a sameness.” That evens them out. There’s no pride there because we’re the same and there’s also no diminishing because we all share this reality together.

(2) But, of course, that doesn’t mean they’re the same in every way. We also see that there are gifts of the Spirit, and the way the Spirit works in and through us is not the exact same. And this shouldn’t surprise us when this comes up. It should be something that we are expecting and shouldn’t be thrown off by when it happens. We’ve all been given gifts by the Spirit. It’s been given to each one of us—given to us individually in this way.

Now, we have a few different words for these gifts. Look at 1 Corinthians 12:4,6 again. It says, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Then it says, “There are varieties of service, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of activities, but the same God.” I mean, what’s he saying? It seems like he’s just saying the same thing three times, over and over again. In a lot of ways he is but he brings in this trinitarian formulation of it to, I think, balance it out. But what we have are these words: gifts, service, activities.

What I think he’s intentionally trying to do, is he’s trying to broaden the sphere of what we are understanding by the Spirit’s work in our lives as we gather together in community. Right?

In Corinth, what they were really thinking is the actual work of the Spirit is some of these big, prominent, showy, maybe more obviously supernatural gifts. And what they were doing was devaluing some things that maybe were just more ordinary service, more ordinary spiritual activities that people were serving one another with, thinking, “Well, that’s just ordinary. That’s not a work of the Spirit.” But I think he’s intentionally trying to broaden that and saying, “Listen. There is no ordinary service in the body of Christ. Don’t you understand that as those who are made new in Christ and the Spirit is at work at the very core of your life shaping you into a new reality, all of your service in the Lord and all of your service to the people of the Lord is a miraculous, or is a supernatural, gifted, grace-work of the Spirit in your lives?”

Whether you’re doing drywall, or whether you’re speaking on stage, whether you’re going to pray with someone at their house, or whether you are giving up your life in martyrdom—all of it is a work of God’s grace in the Spirit and we’re not supposed to diminish any of it.

I also think this—and it’s important—what we see here is a list of spiritual gifts. I think any time we come to Scripture and there are spiritual gift passages, it’s important for us to remember that I don’t think any of these are intended to give a comprehensive list of the ways in which the Spirit works in the body of Christ. What seems to be really obvious is that when the New Testament writers are selecting these gifts, they are kind of speaking into what is mostly in view with the people they’re writing to. And so you actually get some different lists, some different expressions of the gifts. Sometimes it’s even tough to distinguish what the gifts are and how they are different from one another. They seem to be about the same thing.

I think the idea is that we’re not supposed to see a comprehensive list of gifts, like, “Boy, I have a spiritual gift. Which one is it? Do I heal people? Or do I interpret prophecy?” Right? Or, “Do I prophesy or do I interpret tongues?” Right? I don’t think we’re supposed to do that. I think we’re supposed to see this broadening and say, “Okay, the Lord has gifted me to minister to the body in some unique way.”

What is the purpose of these gifts? We see it in 1 Corinthians 12:7. It’s for the common good, or for people’s upbuilding, or for their growth, or for their encouragement—all language that’s used elsewhere in Scripture.

So what do we see? We just see this: we are all united at the deepest part of who we are, but we’re also all uniquely equipped and gifted by the Spirit in ways where we can regularly serve one another such that we build one another up. And this has some differentiation, some uniqueness to it as the body of Christ serves one another.

Now, I think this is going to be helpful. I think anytime we come to the gifts passages, some of us sit around and say, “I don’t know what my spiritual gift is. I’m gifted by the Lord. What does that even look like? I don’t know what my spiritual gifts are. I can look at this, and I don’t know if I have any of those things. I can go to the other passages, and maybe I kind of have some of that. Or maybe Brad just said it’s supposed to be more diverse than that, but I don’t know. What are my gifts?” And sometimes I think we can kind of overthink this a little bit. I found a quote that helps us demystify it a little bit and make it a little more practical. I got this from Richard Gaffin. I found it helpful. He says this,

“The way to determine our spiritual gifts is not to ask, ‘What is my thing spiritually—my spiritual specialty that sets me apart from other believers and gives me an distinguishing niche in the church?’ Rather, the New Testament on the whole takes a much more functional or situational approach. The question to ask is, ‘What, in the situation in which God has placed me, are the particular opportunities I see for serving other believers in word and in deed? What are the specific needs confronting me that need to be ministered to?’ Posing and effectively responding to this question will go a long way, not only toward discovering, but also using our spiritual gifts.”

Right? Don’t a lot of us sit back for a long time? We’re trying to look deep inside ourselves to see, you know, “What’s my special power? What’s my special thing? What’s my unique thing? Well, that’s kind of similar to that guy’s thing. Mine must be something else.” And what we do is we sit around and we don’t use any of our gifts because we’re still trying to figure out what our gifts are.

Instead, I think the better idea is to say, “Okay, I’m going to get into the life of the church as I’m able. I’m going to get into community. I’m going to start looking—‘What are the needs of the church?’” All of the gifts are for service to one another. It’s for the common good, right? And so I’m going to see what’s in front of me. What are some needs that need to be filled? What are some places I can come alongside others? What are some ways I can just show people that I love them? And I’m just trying to see what’s available and then I’m stepping into those roles. And maybe it’s not the thing that I’m most passionate about, but it’s something I can fill, I have the capacity to meet that need.

And as you do that more and more what usually happens is you find there is something a little more particular that you see—God really opening up these opportunities more, or I see that I’m particularly skilled in this, or people keep coming to me saying, “You’re really good at this. I really appreciate it when you do this.” And you’re thinking, “Boy, I didn’t even know that about myself.” This is what happens. Maybe a bit of a niche starts to carve out for you in that area.

But here’s the thing about this: in the seasons of your life as this church shifts and more people come in and more people go elsewhere—maybe you’re in different churches in different seasons of life elsewhere—what your niche is or what your thing is, it could probably adapt to the needs of the situation in that place. There are times where every single Sunday I was on stage, not doing this, but I was singing. Why? Because I can sing. Is singing my favorite thing to do? It’s not my favorite thing to do, but there were people that needed me to sing, so I was up there a lot. Now, there’s a need for people to step in when Brian’s out of town, right? And so that’s what I’m here doing now. Or I’m filling some other roles and we’ve got people that sing a lot better than me, thank the Lord. Right? But in different seasons of life we see what the needs are in that moment. I think it might help to say, “I see where the Lord is using me and I’m actually engaging in it.”

2. The Body and Its Members

What we see here is in the next passage. Paul is saying that we see this idea that we are unified and we have a sameness, but also there’s some differentiation and some uniqueness and some individuality within that. So he starts to say—there’s a metaphor that I think explains this well—it’s the idea of a body with the different members of the body, and so what he’s going to do is start to apply this to the church. 1 Corinthians 12:12:

“For just as the body is one and has many members [that’s the physical body, is what he’s talking about], and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

So we see this analogy of the body. I don’t need to go into too much detail on it because Paul went into a lot of detail on it, right? And we kind of get the point. It’s talking about the physical body, right? It’s an entity in and of itself. You look at a person and think, “That’s a body!” Right? But also you can look at the individual parts of the body and say, “That is an entity in and of itself. That is the right arm; that is the left arm. If you switch those, they can’t open anything anymore.” Right? Those are individual members. They have their own little function and so they are an entity in and of themselves, but also they only actually have identity in the aspect of the body. There are more prominent, showy members—things that are outward. And then there are ones we tend to cover up and hide, and you say, “But actually, we tend to give those the greater honor by covering up and protecting them a lot more.” And the idea is that just like the human body works, so in the body of Christ every single part is important. It’s not about how prominent their roles may or may not be or how showy; every single part is equally important.

Here’s the thing: when a member of the body suffers—if you injure your left foot—I tell you what, your whole body gets thrown off. Have you ever injured a foot? Your hips are all of a sudden out of whack and your back is, and your neck is, and somehow you have a pain in your right shoulder. You don’t even know why it’s happening. And that is what happens with the body. It’s all connected. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. And when all the members are strong, the body is strong together.

I’m going to look at a few different aspects of how to look at this body analogy and see what we can learn and see some of the errors that seem to be present in the passage, and just say, “Here are some errors that we can maybe fall into as well.”

(1) First, the identity aspect. You see that in 1 Corinthians 12:12. He’s talking about the physical body, and it says, “All the members of the body, though many, are one body. So it is with Christ.” We are people who are in the body of Christ; we are people who are in the church of Christ. So the idea is we have an identity that is not just ourselves, but in a powerful way our identity is actually based on how we are working in relationship with the other members of the body of Christ, just as the human body works.

We see two errors that we can fall into here. First, the error of individualism; and second, the error of collectivism. I think these are things that the Corinthians were obviously falling into and that we can fall into as well.

The error of individualism. What is individualism? It says your individuality, your personal preference, your passions, are all that matter, and you should not change or adapt yourself or your preferences for the sake of the community.

A lot of us operate this way. We’re used to operating this way. The way we assess a church is if this church is about the things that I’m about, if they’ll do the things that I want to do. When I’m in the life of the church, if I’m not able to do my thing or some of my preferences aren’t in place, then I’m out, and I’m going to go shop around for more churches until I find one that fits. Some of us have been bouncing around for years doing that, and that can happen. Sometimes giving those assessments, asking, “What is a good fit?” of course that’s a good process, but sometimes we can fall into an individualistic error.

We can also as the church body fall into a collectivist error, where we actually don’t appreciate the individuals. What does a collectivist error say? It says your role in the community is all that matters, and the ways of the community should not change or adapt to the unique contribution of the individuals.

We can be that way as a church together, right? We can find our ways together: “We like this carpet. It’s been this carpet for this many years. And we like this music; it’s been this way for this many years. And we like our position. We like this property. It’s been this property for many, many years.”

We can be very rigid, and we can say, as the individuals come in or as God is growing the church and bringing in more members into the body and they are adapting and they are bringing what they have to the body, sometimes the church can be rigid and they can pitch those people out and say, “You can adapt to what we’re already doing or you can just get out.” That’s something that we need to be aware of as well, an error that you can fall into, because that’s not how the body works.

(2) Another aspect is the responsibility aspect. We see this in 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 when he’s talking about the fact that there would be no division in the body but that the members have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

The responsibility aspect—what I have in mind is the idea that we all, if we are members of the body such as the human body works, we all have a part to play. We all need to carry our weight in a significant way, but also we all need to care for one another and ensure that we’re all as healthy as we can be. If we aren’t doing that, then actually we know that we are impacted by it. Such is the nature of the body of Christ; such is the nature of our relationships with one another in this church.

There are a couple of errors we can fall into, the error of apathy and the error of lack of empathy. It would have been neat if I could have left the “lack of” out, but I couldn’t. I needed to clarify. The error of apathy and the error of a lack of empathy. I’ll look at that one first.

What does this mean? I think we see this in the Corinthian situation in a lot of ways. There was obviously a part where there were people in the church who just weren’t really being cared for. There were some who they thought were prominent and were worth caring for, making sure they’re good, and then there were people who obviously weren’t. That’s why Paul needs to bring this correction into their situation.

I think this can happen with us, too. We can come to this church and we can be present and we can like the people around us, but we know that we’ve also left some distance emotionally and practically in our lives, such that if your life is inconvenienced in some way I don’t need to let my life be inconvenienced in any way.

Sometimes we do that as a protection mechanism. Sometimes we do it so that we just don’t get caught up in things we don’t want to get caught up in. We can stay emotionally and practically distant. When people are going through things, we can say, “Oh man, I’m so sorry. I’ll pray for you,” but then we don’t actually let it affect our lives at all. Maybe we actually don’t pray for them at all, not with any heart in it. That’s an error of a lack of empathy. As members of the body of Christ, we need to know that if one member suffers, then all members suffer. If one member is rejoicing, then we come and we rejoice with them, because we are members of one another.

The error of apathy is something that I think we don’t see in the passage a lot, but I think it’s a way to apply some of these aspects to our modern culture. What is the error of apathy? It means that we don’t really give due credence to this body reality that Paul is talking about. We don’t really give it due credence. In some ways, we actually don’t think that it’s that important that we carry our responsibility and play our part. Sometimes we can sit back and we think, “I’m sure everything will be fine if everybody else does what they’re doing and I can stay on the outskirts a little bit.” We’re just a little apathetic. We care about where the church is going, but we don’t care that much, such that we’re just kind of on the outskirts and we don’t really want to be drawn in. We have a lot of important things in life, so we don’t really want to get caught up in this.

In some sense, we’re not really appreciating this body language and this aspect of the members of the body, and how every single member is absolutely vital to the working of the body, and the fact that God has so equipped you and called you and gifted you that you are integral, a chosen member of the body. It’s an error we can fall into in small way.

(3) The attitude aspect, as we look at the body analogy, is another way to think about it. Really, this is what we see at the core of the passage we read. We see the errors of envy and pride.

In the Corinthian situation, people were seeing those who had these showy, prominent, or cool gifts, and they were saying, “Man, I wish I was that member. I wish I could be the eye. I wish I could be the foot. I wish I could be the person who spoke in tongues. I wish I could be the person who prophesied. Look at how everyone is quiet when that person prophesies! I don’t do that; I wish I could be that kind of person.” It’s the idea of envy.

Or there’s the idea of pride, people saying, “Listen, these are my gifts, and I will domineer this space, and I will make sure people hear me or people have what I have to contribute,” and I don’t really think about what other people are contributing, I don’t really give space for it. Actually, I don’t think it’s that important altogether.

That was kind of how it worked out in the Corinthian church. I don’t really know that this tracks into our culture quite the same. I do think the cultural situation in the Corinthians—it was very clear that they had this draw to a worldly pursuit of power and knowledge and wisdom, that people who are prominent and well-spoken and were people of authority or who were dynamic in some way, especially in the spiritual gifts, were obviously people who were gifted higher than other people. They were given to this false understanding. Paul all throughout the letter is trying to correct this. The cross is foolish to the world, and that should shape your whole life, this cruciform aspect.

I think for us, this is where these ideas come from. I don’t know that many of us envy the gifts of other people in the church. Sometimes maybe we do. If that’s there, then let it apply.

But I do think we can fall into a similar mindset, where in our minds we tend to over-inflate the significance of some gifts, and it leads us to actually undervalue what we might have to bring to the table. We can say, “I can’t sing like that. I can’t talk like that. I can’t lead a team like that. I can’t teach kids like that. Man, I’m not as friendly as that person is; they’re just bubbling joy. I don’t have that type of personality.” We kind of think—it’s not apathy, but it’s an undervaluing of ourselves, such that we draw back and we’re like, “I don’t really have much to give; those people are doing pretty great.”

It’s a similar thing, where we over-inflate, such that we actually undervalue ourselves. We’re not really believing what God is saying about us, that we are a vital member of the body that has a lot to bring as well. It might look different; it doesn’t make it any less valuable. It definitely doesn’t mean that we can go without it as a people of Christ.

I also don’t know that the main way we use our pride in the modern culture is reign in authority over people and try to impress people. Our culture is actually quite different. We tend to be suspect of people in authority. We tend to be suspect of people who are overly showy in some of their leadership. We tend to sit back and be quite critical of them—maybe for good reason. We’ve all been burned. But I do think that’s a natural tendency in our culture.

I think if pride comes in in relation to gifts, one way it might come a lot is we can take this critical, consumer mentality that we have in all of life—there are so many competing options that we have to be very critical and say what’s the best and what isn’t the best, and once this brand lets me down I’m done with them forever. There’s this critical consumer idea.

Sometimes we can use our pride to just sit back. We’re not using our gifts, we’re not really contributing much, but we’re highly critical of the people who are trying to use their gifts in love or in obedience to the Lord. We can be highly critical of the music, and maybe there are lots of things you don’t like about the music or that you think could be better. Sometimes you can be really critical, and you’re not actually being thankful and appreciating the people who really labor to try to love you through their gift of music. Sometimes you can do that with the preaching. Listen, I critique myself very hard for all of my preaching; there’s a lot to critique! But sometimes, if you’re only walking away with the critique in your mind, without a thankfulness for how people are serving you—this can go lots of ways, right?

The people who greet you at the door; don’t take it for granted. The people who serve you coffee every morning, who are early, don’t take that for granted. Be thankful, appreciate it. Don’t sit back and be like, “It’s not even good coffee. Why can’t we get good coffee in this church?” I get it; it’s mass coffee. But sometimes if that’s all that reigns, it is a bit of pride, where you think you can sit back and critique everyone.

There’s a little account in Mark 14 that I think is really sweet and came to mind while I was studying this. In Mark 14 there’s a woman who has this precious ointment in this alabaster flask. So she sees Jesus, and what she does it she breaks open this precious alabaster flask so that she can anoint the body of Jesus when she sees him.

A lot of people are scandalized by this. They’re like, “Whoa! What is she doing? Why would she break that? Don’t you know how much she could have sold that for and what we could have done with that money, or how she could have given it to the poor?” But she saw the value of who Jesus was, and she said, “No, he is worthy of it all, and I will break what is so precious to me to anoint the body of Christ, because I see its value.”

I do think some of us have an alabaster flask of things that are precious to us—our time, our gifts, our money, our preferences, our pride. I wonder if you might just walk away saying, “Is there an opportunity or is there a call by the Lord to break my alabaster flask a little bit of what’s so precious to me, to anoint my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ with service that I might be able to offer them in love?” I think that’s a good way to think about this.

The question is, how do we do this? This isn’t always easy. We’ve all been in the church for a while. How do we work together, sacrifice for one another, give up our preferences for the sake of others, maybe when they’re not even doing the same for us? How do we step out of our comfort zone for one another when we have some tendencies that strongly lead us to do otherwise? The answer of 1 Corinthians 13 is love.

3. Love and Its Vital Importance

Let’s read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. It says,

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 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. 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.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

I think, really simply, I think we can outline this prominent passage of Scripture in these simple headings:
Verses 1-3: The necessity of love
Verses 4-7: The description of perfect love
Verses 8-13: The eternality of love

I’m going to say a few things on each of those points.

(1) First, the necessity of love. What’s he saying here? All of our spiritual activity, all of our service, all of the things we do, even in service to one another, even if it’s very sacrificial, even if it’s giving our body up to be burned in martyrdom, but it’s not done with this kind of love that we see in this passage, it’s useless. Maybe it’s even offensive, the way a clanging gong would be in someone’s ear.

I think of it like a symphony, where all the members of the symphony really practice hard, and they’re just playing their heart out, but they’re not in the same key, and they aren’t actually playing in rhythm. What is it? It’s discordant. It’s painful to listen to. All their effort of practicing is useless if that happens. What do they need? They need a conductor. They need a conductor to make sure they’re in the same key and that they’re playing at the same rhythm and that they’re coming in when they’re supposed to come in; and then what happens is beautiful.

What’s the conductor in our sphere, in our relationships together in this church? It’s love. Colossians 3:14: “Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

John Stott has a little thing that I found helpful, where he’s looking at a verbal parallel in Scripture and he’s trying to draw attention to it. I think it’s very helpful for us. The thing is, as the people of Christ, as we’re gathered together, the reason we’re gathered together is to know the Lord Jesus Christ and it’s to be known by him and it’s to shape ourselves into his image, but it’s really difficult because Christ isn’t here. He’s not with us. It’s tough to really know Christ in a dynamic way.

Stott is speaking to this difficulty, the difficulty of the people of God dealing with the fact of God’s invisibility. All through the Old Testament this was difficult, but then we get this profound statement in John 1:18 about Jesus. It says, “No one has ever seen God [that’s the difficulty]; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” That’s astounding! The world did not know God. It knew him through some words, it knew him from some interactions; but finally, when Jesus came, we could see God. We could see God incarnate. We could see his heart, we could see his character. We could see how he interacts with people who walk around in the dust of this earth, and it’s beautiful and lovely.

That’s all nice, but then Jesus went to heaven. He’s not here anymore, and we don’t get to have that. How do we know God now? How do we deal with the fact of the invisible God?

He looks at 1 John 4:12, something John wrote much later in his life, which starts like this: “No one has ever seen God.” It’s the exact same formulation right there. But what does it say? Instead of continuing on with the reference to the Son of God, instead he says, “If we love one another, God dwells in us.”

Isn’t that profound? As the people of Christ, in our love for one another God’s presence is manifest in our community in a way akin to the way God revealed himself in the incarnate Son when he walked this earth and revealed himself. How do we know God? How do we walk in this love? How do we experience it? It’s in our love for one another. That’s how we manifest the life of Christ.

(2) So we see this description of this love that’s so important, this premier passage on love. I don’t need to do much on this. Most of us have heard this passage a hundred times; most of you probably had it read in your wedding to some degree.

In fact, it’s one of those passages that, even outside of the church, even if people don’t have any faith and they don’t appreciate anything in Scripture, if they have anything Scriptural in their house it’s going to be a passage like this. Why is that? It’s because we all read a passage like this and we innately understand that it’s right, that it’s good, that it’s pure. “That’s the type of love that I know I’m called to and I struggle to have. That’s the kind of love I want people to show to me.” We see something very sweet and powerful in it.

Why is that? It’s because this is a very Christlike love. The nature of this love is selflessness. You see all these attitudes listed here; it’s a self-referential attitude. It talks about how that’s actually quite destructive; that’s not loving. This is not the type of love that makes an impact—envying, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, insisting on your own way, irritability, resentfulness, not bearing with people, not believing, not hoping, not enduring. All this is very self-referential, and what this is calling us to is a very selfless love, where we put away these self-referential feelings and thoughts for the sake of the other. We’ll see, of course, that Jesus is the one who personified this perfectly.

D.A. Carson has something that I think is really helpful as we try to grasp the uniqueness of this type of love. And he says this: “What’s distinctive about God’s love for us is this: it’s that it’s self-originating.”

That’s what’s unique about God’s love. Now our love is usually not self-originating, it’s usually based on the fact that we see something attractive in the person that we are loving. That doesn’t have to be romantic, it could be just, “I like you. I like your sense of humor. I like that you make me laugh. I like that you are also interested in some of the things I’m interested in.” And really what it is, it can be self-referential because we’re actually excited for what they can do for us in relationship with them. But this is usually how it works to generate our love. He says,

“However, God’s love is self-originating. It is not dependent on the loveliness of the object. His love comes from his own character, it’s not precipitated by something attractive in our character.”

And that’s the core of our faith, right? The good news of the gospel is not that we were lovely and we made ourselves good, and pure, and righteous, and attractive to God, therefore he responded by saying, “Okay, man, look how lovely you are. Now I love you because of how lovely you are and I will save you.” No, No, No, that’s not our faith. In fact, the reality of our faith is that we knew ourselves to be very unlovely. We were stuck in the filth and the mire of our sin, and God in his love for us, not because of anything lovely in us—in fact, we are very hostile to God—not because of anything lovely in us, but because of his own character and will he showed his love for us in that while were sinners, Christ died for us. That’s the good news, that God can love out of his own character, not because of something lovely in us.

And the point is this: Carson says,

“In a derivative way, as the people of Jesus in community, we are also supposed to start growing in this ability to love others in a way that’s not dependent on our really liking them that much in the moment or seeing something lovely in them in the moment.”

Now this is where it comes to bear in our life together as the church, because I think in most of our interactions with people we could find lots that’s lovely in one another. Most of us are interesting; most of us are funny; most of us are very friendly; we share some things and value all these things. These passages are written for the time when that is not as much the case, where personalities rub you the wrong way, or maybe they did something that offends me and I need to forgive them. And that’s not in me right now. Maybe it’s for those times of some real differences in our cultural background and the way we express ourselves in public, and the idea is that we are supposed to have this selfless and other-seeking love in the midst of times where it’s difficult to see the other person as lovely. And this is something of the very nature of God and the character of Christ as it’s developed in our lives.

How do we do that? I found something helpful from Tim Keller. He says this:

“We need to start thinking of love as investment instead of just service to one another.”

We know we can serve one another. That’s been in view a lot. We can do all kinds of things in service to one another. We can speak kind words. We can listen when someone is struggling. We can go and do deeds with our hands, but all along we can have this thing in us, like, “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here.” Right? Someone can be going on about their problems and we’re just like, “I’m so sorry.” But inside we’re saying, “Golly, I’ve got to get out of this.” Right? Don’t we know that can happen? There’s a lack of love. However, the service is happening. This is why he’s saying we need to think of love as an investment instead of just a service.

He uses this quote from C.S. Lewis. I think it’s one of these profound, shaping things in our lives, then we’ll wrap it up in a second here. Lewis says this:
“It’s a serious thing to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you’d be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long, we are in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”

What’s Lewis have in mind? He’s talking about the reality that everyone you interact with someday will either be someone glorified in the image of Jesus in heaven, resplendent in glory with him, or someone who is the very essence of the people of hell, something horrid, corrupted, difficult to behold. And he’s trying to say it’s very important how you interact with people knowing how God works in you.

But as the people of Christ in the church, as we know what each others destination is—that it’s this glorious destination—the promise is that we can in our love for one another and our care for one another, in our laying down of ourselves, seeking the good of one another, and our service and love to one another, we can be a part of helping people more and more into that glorious reality of who they are in Christ in the here and now because that’s how God works out the love and the grace in the body that is here presented in this chapter. And I think that’s just a really beautiful reality to pursue.

(3) Last point, the eternality of love, 1 Corinthians 12:8-13. Here’s all I want to focus on. The idea is this: gifts and services, they are temporary. They are provisional. These are means to an end. They are for us to know God and manifest Christ in this life until we see Christ face to face. These things will pass away as we see Jesus face to face and we know him fully and we can love him fully, even as we are fully known. In the light of that beatific vision—seeing Jesus face to face—we know that these things will pass away.

And what will remain? Only love. Do you know that heaven is ultimately a place of perfect love? We come into the presence of the God who is perfect love in himself. We get to walk in perfect relationship with that God who loves us fully. We now understand what it means for God’s full love to be shown to us. We are now actually able to love him perfectly in response. And then we share, together with all the people of Jesus around the throne of grace, a perfect love for one another because we have all been perfected in love together. Heaven is a place of perfect love and it’s what makes it so wondrous.

I think this is what’s neat: love is the very essence of the heavenly reality. So what this passage is presenting to us is, as we love each other in this way and as that starts to thread through all of our service to one another in our spiritual activity, then I really believe what this is presenting is that Redeemer Church, right here in Niles, can be a little outpost of heaven as we love one another in this way. And isn’t that just wonderful? As we love one another in this way this can be a little outpost of what we will experience in fullness in heaven. And I think that is just something so sweet and is a beautiful vision for us all to try to take part in.

I want to leave you with this passage, 1 John 4:7-12. It’s kind of a premier passage on love. It hits home these themes. It’s a good way to end. It says,

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

Let’s pray.

Lord, I thank you for your word. We thank you for the truths you present to us that really just astound us. They are difficult to wrap our minds and hearts around fully because they really are something of eternity, something of your very essence. We just ask that you’d call us to this, that you’d make it sweet in our minds and hearts, that you’d show us how we can be a part of these grand realities that we’ve talked about a little bit more this morning.

Lord, together we just confess that there are many ways that we fall short and that we have not walked faithfully before you. We’ve not embodied these things in our hearts the way that we should have. We ask for your forgiveness and your grace, that we would be a people who grow in this, that Redeemer Church—whatever your plan is for it in the future, whatever your plan is for each of us as individuals—that Redeemer Church would be known as a place of a sweet love and that this would be a little outpost of heaven here in the midst of Niles, that we can find hope and encouragement week after week, that we can call others into and bless them with the same, by your grace into your glory, Jesus. This is in the name of Jesus alone, amen.