Yesterday our daughter, Louise was married to Hillman here at Christ Church. They are beginning a new life together in Hong Kong. It must surely be rare for parents with three beautiful daughters, to have them all get married in the same year. I was in South Sudan recently. My hosts were in awe at how wealthy I must surely have become as a result. In Dinka culture the father of the bride receives many cattle in exchange for each daughter. I had to explain that our society was not as enlightened and that I would probably have to wait until Michael gets married before starting my herd.
Our reading today is 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love” chapter. It is probably most widely read at weddings. True, it is indeed the most beautiful description of love in the Bible – yet the context of the passage is not about marriage. The context is clear – I Corinthians 13 is sandwiched between teaching about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and chapter 14. Why is that? Because, like marriage, Christian ministry is not primarily about gifts and talents, its about serving in love.
These three chapters explain the relationship between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. In this series on service and on Pledge Sunday, I want us to consider our motivation for all that we do. What is driving us – really driving us? What is our motivation in giving? In serving? I have three headings:
Love is Essential in Service (12:31-13:3)
Love is Expressed in Relationship (13:4-8)
Love is Evidence of Maturity (13:8-13)
1. Love is Essential in Service: Gifts alone are Inadequate
“And yet I will show you the most 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. (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3)
Do you see how important love is? The gifts of prophecy, knowledge, faith, giving, mentioned here are valuable or worthless depending on one thing: Motive. What is my motive in serving?
Without love, even the greatest gifts and rare talents are worthless. We are quite unashamed in saying that we expect every member of Christ Church to give a proportion of their time, talents and treasure to build and extend Christ’s church. This is foundational.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature…. speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4: 11-16)
The role of the staff team is not to do the ministry, but to equip you to. Giving of ourselves, in our time, our talents and our treasure is the only way we will grow to maturity. Serving one another is the only way we will grow God’s kingdom. But – love is the key.
Love is essential in service: Spiritual gifts, skills or ability alone are inadequate. Love is essential in service because,
2. Love is Expressed in Relationship: Spiritual Gifts are Secondary
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor 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. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Love is probably the most devalued, overused and debased word in the English language. That is why this passage is so important, for it defines authentic love. Several years ago, someone challenged me to replace the word love with my name. I did and I became a liar. Stephen is patient. Stephen is kind. Stephen does not envy. Stephen does not boast. Stephen is not proud. Stephen is not rude. It sounds lovely. The only problem is it’s not true – ask Joanna. And for years that was my problem with 1 Corinthians 13. It set a standard I could not meet. No one can meet it. No one, except Jesus. For in reality, this quality of love is divine.
Insert Christ’s name in place of the word love and see how it rings true. Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. Jesus is not rude, Jesus is not self-seeking, is not easily angered. Jesus keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails. Rather than let this scripture remind us of a love we cannot reproduce, let it remind us of a love we cannot resist – God’s love. Some of you are so thirsty for this type of love. Well, God loves you. Personally. Passionately. Others may have promised and failed. But God has promised and succeeded. He loves you with an unfailing love. And his love – if you will let him – can fill you and leave you with a love worth giving. What is done in God’s love lasts. In other words, what is done in Jesus will last. When we are serving in the name of Christ, in the power of Christ, we are serving in the love of Christ. The serving roles we fulfill are not as important to God as the heart with which we do them.
If we genuinely love we will serve willingly and joyfully. Generous people are not necessarily wealthy people. But generous people are invariably grateful people.
The relationship between your spiritual gifts and experiencing God’s love is foundational. Love is essential in service: spiritual gifts are inadequate. Love is expressed in relationship: spiritual gifts are secondary.
3. Love is Evidence of Maturity: Spiritual Gifts are Temporary
“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, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 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. 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. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-13)
Notice the emphasis of these verses is on growing up – from childhood to maturity. The reason? God has not finished with us. We are under construction.
“Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family… Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10)
This life is a practice. Let me illustrate this.
Twelve years ago, when we built the Church extension, we added a 10% tithe, around £20,000. We invested it to provide one year’s salary for Tom Hewitt to start a new initiative among homeless street children in South Africa. It was seed money. Umthombo has helped hundreds of street children reintegrate into society and changed the way the community perceives and treats them. Umthombo’s Durban model is pioneering the idea of providing alternatives to street life and focuses on addressing the traumas associated with the children’s experiences. Umthombo’s team is a fusion of social working professionals and trained former street children who have a unique relationship of trust and respect with the children. Why do they do it? Because they are grateful. Umthombo also pioneered the Street Child World Cup bringing eight teams of street children to from around the world to compete in South Africa ahead of the World Cup. The aim now is to enlarge the vision and organize a second Street Child World Cup in Rio in 2014.
Your investment 12 years ago has transformed hundreds if not thousands of young lives. Today we are asking you to pledge your giving to Christ Church in faith for 2013.
15% will go to mission like Umthombo. Do it for no other reason than because you are grateful and you want to express your love for God in tangible practical ways. There was once a young man who appeared to be a budding artist. Of all his works, he was most proud of his latest masterpiece a painting of the Last Supper. With childlike enthusiasm, he was anxious to get his friends opinion. That friend just happened to be the writer Leo Tolstoy. The day came when the young artist presented his. He unveiled his rendition of the Last Supper and asked, “What do you think?” Tolstoy quietly studied the picture. He pondered every detail as the artist watched impatiently. The silence was finally broken as Tolstoy slowly pointed to the central figure. “You don’t really love him,” he said quietly.The confused young man responded, “Why, that is the Lord Jesus Christ!” “I know,” said Tolstoy, “but if you loved him more, you would have painted him better.” What picture of Jesus are we painting as we serve one another at Christ Church? What picture of Jesus are we revealing as we pledge what we believe God would have us invest in his work here at Christ Church in 2013?
Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, actions speak louder than words. Most of us are not budding artists, but we are budding servants. How we serve and what we give, says a great deal about the Lord Jesus. Pledge today not out of guilt but out of gratitude. Not out of legalism but out of love. God has given us his very best in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. God wants our hearts, first call on our talents and gifts. Because as we have discovered today, Love is essential in service: Love is expressed in relationship: Love is evidence of maturity: The goal of the Christian life is to love well, not just on a wedding day but every day. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is….” Lets pray.
Lord, I’ve got a lot to learn about love. I’m more self-centered than I’d like anyone to know, and I’m often asking the silent question. “What’s in it for me?”
Lord, forgive my selfishness, And begin a new work of love in my heart. Teach me the difference between servility and true Christian service. Teach me to use my passion, my gifts, and my talents for your glory. Teach me to love you more so that I can serve you better. In Jesus’ name, Amen.