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The Most Excellent Way

Sunday Feb 3, 2019, Epiphany 4C, St Petri

 Pastor Adrian Kitson

1 Corinthians 12:31- 13:13 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

You probably last heard those words from 1 Corinthians at a wedding. That is where they often are heard. That makes sense. A newly married couple, Christian or not, want this kind of love.

But this “love poem” was first written to a local church community; a local church “unlucky in love”.

Can I ask you this: Do you find that when you hear this love song that you end up feeling guilty?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered…..

Oh dear! Fail! Just this last week too!

But can I now say that this poem not spoken to squash the love out of us by guilting us into trying to love like this! No. This poem wants to lift us into a higher love and give us real direction to do it – live love daily and so live in this “most excellent” way; this ‘beyond measure” way.

Can I also say that these words, even though poetry are not just ‘airy-fairy stuff either.

Using fourteen verbs, Paul does not attempt to merely describe what love is to this community struggling to practice love. That would be just showing a red flag to a bull – goading the bull to simply try harder to get it right. That would be crushing law, for no local church could do this “fourteen-verb” kind of love perfectly.

Instead, Paul seeks to reveal how to actually love; to show how these love-challenged people can return to and live in the love of God that has already come to them by the good news of God’s love given in Jesus.

Truth is that they are already deeply and completely loved by Paul, the Lord Jesus and their heavenly Father. This song speaks of how to live in that love they already have received by faith. It is a very practical song. Anyone of us can grasp this and try

Those fourteen verbs relate directly to this local church and the trouble it is having with love; especially the loving use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit God has given them:

The gift of speaking a spiritual language in worship is not being done in a way that is upbuilding, but is being used in such an ego centred way that it is just like some guy randomly banging a noisy gong out of time with the orchestra: discordant, annoying, destructive of the beauty of the community prayer…

They are misusing the gift of prophetic word which is meant to help people trust the Lord’s leading. The gift is being used to fuel that deadliest of all things – spiritual pride. “I have it and you don’t”.

Same for their serving in the community. They are serving, but not in order to love those whom they serve, but to look good, feel good, or be good.

In at least fourteen ways they are struggling to live in the love of Jesus they already have received:

They are struggling to be patient (makrothymeo), and so, to act kindly (chresteuomai).

They have this nasty stream of jealousy running through their community (zeloo – “to be jealous”). With that comes boasting (perpereuomai – “to brag”). Paul knows where this comes from – the proud human heart (physiomai (“to be proud”).

All this leads to destructive behaviour that destroys relationships. There has been people behaving unfaithfully in marriage and in relationships in general (aschemoneo – “to behave indecently”) which comes, as Jesus said, from within the human heart – this desire to satisfy our own needs and wishes at the expense of others (zeteo – “to desire”).

This upsets the communal relationships of this church (paroxynomai “to be upset”), not for helpful or needed reasons of God’s calling and leading (which can occur) but for human ego and pride.

They are struggling to judge things well (logizomai  –“to reckon”) and this always saps the joy out of church and life (chairo -“to rejoice”), both personally and as a group (synkairo – “to rejoice with”).

So, there is no bearing with each other’s faults or needs (stego – “to bear”), a lack of faith in each other and the Lord’s calling and provision (pisteuo – “to believe”). There is a decided lack of hope that there is a better way now and in the future (elpizo -“to hope”), and, not at all surprisingly, they are not enduring in faith, hope or love (hypomeno – “to endure”).

So, how are we going as a church, do you think? How are you going in all of this today?

And what about in marriage and other close relationships? How is your marriage going as you hear this love song?

You might hear that you are wrong in fourteen ways this morning, and so, feel driven to do more, try harder, or on the other hand, just give up on love like this, marriage like this, friendship like this, church like this.

Friend, hear this. God is not trying to pull you down or destroy your hope for a real love like this, or your faith in this love. He actually wants you to walk out of here built up so you can live more fully in this love that is already yours in Christ.

Your Lord is simply showing you how to practice his great love for you. He is giving you how to love because he loves you and wants you to love and be loved in his love community.

The Lord is giving you a vision of who you actually are; who you still are, despite your fourteen failures, just this last week!

But why the poetic style? A song, a poem lifts us up to a different space. Paul uses this poetic form to lift us up away from mere head knowledge or theoretical argument and reason.

He knows that we don’t need to hear this as some mere romantic wish list or head-knowledge argument for a better life or ethical direction to do better and get our stuff together. No, we need to hear this vision of who the Lord is calling us to be because it is His way of love for us to love each other.

So, can you hear the poem? Can you sing this song?

Can you see the vision of you and us here?

Can you let yourself be lifted beyond yourself to soar in this beautiful love and hunger for Jesus’ most excellent way again?

This is not ‘pie in the sky’ and out of reach. This is doable by you and me.

Why is this doable and why is this us already? Two reasons;

  1. I am fully known by the Lord.

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

He knows our depths; our flaws and our directions, and he has shown us enough and given us enough of himself.

Jesus is love, gives love and provides the way to receive his receive his forgiving love all the time – repentance and faith to walk on this most excellent way daily.

  1. I am his holy person already, and in him I have what it takes

Remember who Paul says these troubled people and we are?

To the church of God in Corinth, to those made holy and set apart in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people,….….in Jesus you have been enriched in every way. ….you do not lack any spiritual gift…..He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless…. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son…. (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

Friend, he knows you and has made you everything you need to be already for today. You are now living in this, the ‘most excellent way”; or this “beyond human measure” (“huperbole“) way of Jesus.

So, because we have this love beyond all human measure, we don’t need to do any measuring!

May it be said today – we have no need to compare ourselves to each other or anyone else when it comes to living the faith around here. Full measured love of Jesus removes the need to measure each other.

We have no need to compare ourselves as a local church with any other church either. The only need is to practice this love.

This grand vision of Christ’s love at work in us is all is gift to us anyway! a gift unearned, undeserved at that!

Go ahead people, practice the art of Jesus’ love this week

He knows you.

He is always ready forgive and restore because he loves you.

You have what it takes because you have his Spirit enabling you to love beyond measure as you are loved beyond measure.

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