But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
--1 Corinthians 12: 31--
We’ve talked a great deal about how much the pandemic has interfered with our plans, as a congregation and as individual Christians. We have lamented opportunities we perceived lost, and we have bemoaned the absence of what we perceived to be normal.
Maybe we have an opportunity to redeem all of that.
Paul takes great pains in 1 Corinthians 12 to instruct the young church in Corinth about the various gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to every one of them. He doesn’t pretend to offer an exhaustive list of all the possible gifts (others have and they believe that there are roughly 30 Spirit given gifts identified in the scriptures), Paul lifts examples that they might already be familiar with even if they never thought of them as Spirit given.
Paul does point to the Spirit given gifts that he thinks are most necessary for Christian community and he does exhort all members of the congregation in Corinth (and at George Street United by extension) to seek these greater gifts. Paul also explains how all of these gifts, the greater and the lesser are spread around among all members and our communal health is improved when all of us exercise the gifts that the Spirit has given to us.
Which is, when you think about it, pretty much what we want to know about what it is we are supposed to be doing. It is a recipe for a strong, healthy, community of faith.
There’s more . . .
There is a still more excellent way than the way that focuses on the gifts that the Spirit has given. It isn’t an easier way mind you. Paul never promises easy, he does promise better. And the better way is the way of love outlined in 1 Corinthians 13. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I will be preaching on 1 Corinthians 13 in worship on January 30, 2022, so consider this a teaser.
The word “love” appears nine times in 13 verses and is implied grammatically another four times. It is no wonder this chapter is nicknamed the “Love” chapter. Each time the word “love” does appear in the chapter Paul has chosen the Greek word “Agape” which is the same word John uses in his Gospel chapter three, verse 16. It is the ultimate expression of love described in the Bible it is a love that is prepared to sacrifice the self for the sake of the beloved.
What makes this more excellent way a more difficult way is that the recipe that Paul lays in this chapter isn’t about things we do or stuff we believe. It is about the character we display. It is about who we should be at the very core of our being and what we show with every fiber of our being.
It challenges our misconceptions of leadership and authority, and it threatens our perception of self and the rights and privileges we are convinced are rightly due to us. It exhorts us to servant leadership and calls us to exercise responsibilities and obligations that are due to others based entirely on the fact that they are also created in the image and likeness of God and are therefore tremendously worthy of respect and our service.
Such a difficult way frightens us because we can see how we could so easily make a mess of things. We might feel more comfortable using the Spirit given gifts as that might be an easier way. Unfortunately, Paul grabs some of those easier gifts and says that without love being a part of them the gifts themselves are worthless.
Remembering then that love is patient we can see that God grants us ample time to make the character change that the more excellent way requires. Seeing that love is kind we can also see that God will be with us as we make our progress. God will beckon, direct, and correct as necessary.
We will ultimately arrive where God wants us to be. If we can trust God to embody the love Paul outlines, we can have faith that the Spirit will get us to this level of Christian maturity in time. Even if it takes longer than we want.
Grace and peace to you and may you run with joy the race Christ has set before you.
-Reverend John Maich