Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Primacy of Love: Having a Love-Sided Community (1 Cor. 13 -Small Group Study- Wk 2)

by JM

I think that it is healthy periodically to ask yourself the following questions:

(1) What are my greatest talents?
(2) What am I weak at when it comes to relationships?
(3) How can I take my greatest talents and strenghten my relationships?
In turning to 1 Corinthians 13, it is clear that the church Paul addressed was tremendously talented while at the same time relationally dysfunctional. They were unable, or better yet, unwilling to build a bridge between spiritual gifts and spiritual community. So long as a person was functioning with frequency and intensity in their spiritual gift, cultivating godly relationships seemed unimportant. In fact, whenever the two were opposed (gift vs. bother or sister), the gift always won. With this philosophy of radical individualism, the result was a church content in being contentions and chaotic. It appears that they prided themselves in the contention and chaos, for that was thought to display to the world their ultimate value of individualistic expression, even when it meant corporate upheaval. For the Corinthians, Gifts were far greater than Love.

A Lop-Sided Church: A Gift-Sided Church

The unbalanced is striking: Here we have an immensely gifted and talented church who appears to lack in no spiritual gift. Here we have a unique church, in that we have no other example in the NT of a church operating with the fullness and intensity of the spiritual gifts than they. However, despite all the spiritual gifts, there was very little spiritual fruit; much charismata, little character

Wrong Measurements of Spirituality

The Corinthian Church prided themselves as having attained spiritual maturity. Their justification was grounded in the sheer enormity and expression of supernatural phenomena in their congregation. Their logic followed this course: If the presence and practice of spiritual gifts is the measure of spiritual maturity, and there are no other churches that function with the fullness and intensity of the gifts, then there’s no church as mature as the Corinthian church. To get a glimpse of this hubris, check out 1 Cor. 4:1-16.

Wrong Expressions of Spirituality

What did the typical Corinthian church service look like? I imagine it would make our Pentecostal brothers and sisters look Baptist in comparison. I envision tongue talking matches (or clashes), prophecy show downs, and “I have greater faith than you” displays('Oh, you moved a mole hill, we’ll I moved a mountain'). Regardless of the apparent exercise in madness, there was method behind it all. It was all quite reasoned out. If the intensity and quantity of your spiritual gift is the fundamental sign of spiritual maturity, then each service I must give full vent and expression to my gift - I'm displaying to myself and others the degree to which I’ve arrived. To refrain is to be unspiritual.

Bringing Balance: The Love-Sided Church

1 Corinthians 12:31 - 13:3 31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. 1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
In this foray of poetic expression, I believe Paul to be saying that a spiritual person will display his maturity primarily in godly character, and in particular in a loving character. Love cannot or should not be classed with charismata (‘just another spiritual gift among others’). It is not one gift among many, it is the matrix in which all gifts are to be expressed and orchestrated; an all-embracing style of life that utterly transcends in importance the claims of this or that spiritual gift.

The irony of this passage is as striking as the chaos in the church: Paul is here declaring that the primary evidence of the Spirit working in one’s life is whether 1 Cor. 13 love is in operation in one’s life. As applied to the Corinthians, here we have the self-professed spiritually mature church (allegedly outranking all churches in their spiritual progress), lacking the primary evidence of the Spirit - Love. They have all the Gifts of the Spirit, and little of the Fruits of the Spirit.

Illustrating Love’s Primacy

With the opening volley of love, there’s a powerful image that is suggested.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
A spiritual gift (be it tongues or prophecy…) is to love what cymbals are to sheet music in an orchestra (though of course full-blown orchestras were non-existent). Imagine a full-fledged orchestra. Cymbals and gongs are the kinds of things that are expressed only a few times compared to other instruments; expressions that are directed by the sheet music. We’ve seen the images the few cymbalists who are intently focused in on the sheet music, turning page after page with little activity of their own, awaiting for the crescendo and climax of the piece. And finally, the music is building up and their grand moment has arrived. In a moment that arrests the audience, with all instruments are at their peak, the cymbals and gongs are unleashed and as quickly terminated in a breath- taking musical tour de force. Notice the following things:

• The expressions of the cymbals are relatively infrequent.
• The expressions of the cymbals are strategic and timely.
• The expressions of the cymbals are subordinate (they play a supportive role) – they accentuate other instruments and/or the whole symphony
• The expressions of the cymbals are not-lime light instruments – not like the piano; or the violin.
• The expressions of the cymbals reach their potential due to their relationship to the sheet music, which determines their relationship to other instruments.
I would suggest that Paul is saying that this is the kind of relationship that should exist between Love and Spiritual Gifts. Love is incomparable in its importance, and should serve to dictate how gifts are expressed. The analogy is suggestive.

•The expressions of gifts are to relatively infrequent.
• The expressions of gifts are strategic and timely.
• The expressions of gifts are subordinate (they play a supportive role) – the accentuate other instruments and/or the whole symphony.
• The expressions of the gifts are never to be lime light gifts
• The expressions of the gifts reach their potential due to their relationship to love – They are spoiled and profit nothing if they deviate from love.
Introspection - Are We Lop-sided People?

Signs that you are gift-sided: You equate spiritual maturity with spiritual activity. It is enough in your mind that you are doing; that you’re active; that you’re in movement.

Signs that you are love-sided:

•You realize Most gifts are easier to perfect than the character needed to drive them: Anyone can brandish a knife and harm, but it’s only the surgeon that can cut to heal; anyone can brandish a tongue or prophecy, but can they do it out of love.

• You realize that spiritual maturity involves movement, but you realize that there’s something fundamentally more important and more difficult to get right than movement or activity = motive. (movement w/o right motive = nothing). In fact, right motive will inform the specific way you ought to act or express your gift.

• You will find yourself asking these questions:

o I’m I expressing my gift?
o Why am I expressing my gift? Am I expressing it to primarily build others or myself?
o Who do I express my gift to? Am I consciously trying to build others.
o How do I express my gift? Do I express my gift in a way to divert as much attention from myself as it possible?
o When I’m to express my gift? Am I able to refrain from expressing it so as to bring the greatest amount of blessings to others?
For two great messages helping to understand the context of 1 Cor. 13, listen to C.J. Mahaney's two outstanding messages:

Deflating the Puffed Up Church - 1 Corinthians 4

Concerning Spiritual Gifts

Next Weeks Memorization Verses: 1 Cor. 13:4 & 5.