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Home Sermons Part 1 Maturity is the overflow of genuine love. 1 Cor 12:31b–13:13 - Text

Part 1 Maturity is the overflow of genuine love. 1 Cor 12:31b–13:13 - Text

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Part 1  Maturity is the overflow of genuine love.     Text of sermon

 1 Corinthians 12: 31b – 1 Corinthians 13  

 David Calderwood   




 Two weeks ago I suggested we need to rehabilitate 1 Corinthians 12 from a battle zone to a classroom. Paul wanted the Christians to learn more about what spiritual maturity was and how it would be displayed within the church family.

Some of them seemed to think that those with the most miraculous or showy gifts were the most spiritually mature. Paul challenges them to recognise that every ability, talent and gifting is given by God’s Spirit, for the benefit of God’s church.

Therefore true spiritual maturity is demonstrated as each believer, each part of the body, values the wide diversity of abilities within the church family, and happily uses their own particular ability or gift to promote harmony and growth in godliness for the whole family.  

This morning I suggest we need to rehabilitate 1 Corinthians 13 from the warm, fuzzy, feel good wedding sermon scenario, where it has been so badly trivialised, to a stinging rebuke for seriously wrong thinking and behaviour in the church family at Corinth.

The picture in 1Corinthians12 was the church family at Corinth as the body of Christ. In 1Corinthians 13 Paul like a heavy-weight boxer lands a serious body blow, designed to knock the wind out of them, fill their eyes with tears, bring them to their knees, and bring them to their senses.

So, let’s jump into the text and be confronted by Paul’s rebuke and correction –

1. Don’t ever think that displaying your ‘gift’ is all that matters

 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The context, as always, is crucial for understanding the argument. Paul inserts these verses focusing on love, in the middle of his teaching on how spiritual maturity is demonstrated in respect of spiritual gifts and abilities.

But 1 Corinthians12:31 is the immediate connector. Paul’s teaching on love is in direct response to a clear lack of love in the church family at Corinth. Instead of displaying deep unity, they were seriously divided and competitive, especially in respect of their gifts and abilities.

They had lost any sense of being a beautiful inter-connected body, striving together to become like Christ. Instead they were individualistic and self-centred, chasing after showy gifts and ministries, convinced that having these was the evidence of spiritual maturity.

Paul exposes their immaturity, verse 31 – Surely you won’t still be determined to chase after the showy gifts in competition with other believers after all that I have said about being united by Christ’s Spirit, and about the wide diversity of gifts the Spirit has given for the benefit of the church, rather than to make you look good individually?

Let me give you a whole new perspective to underpin all your thinking and activity together. And with that he unleashes his body blow - Without love I am nothing, no matter how gifted and active I am as a Christian in the body of Christ, this church family!

Paul speaks personally, bluntly and practically to the Corinthians – the skills, abilities, talents, ministries, gifts we value most as individuals within a church family like this, show us to be empty shells, and have no benefit if they are not under-pinned with love.

Verse 1 – I might think my worship in tongues is angelic and deserving of special recognition, but if it is not under-pinned in love, then I am, in fact, just an irritating noise to God.

Verse 2 – I might be the most amazing bible teacher with the most amazing insights into God’s word and be highly regarded as somebody with amazing faith and trust in the Lord, but unless this is under-pinned with love, I am actually an empty shell to be pitied.

Verse 3 – I might be highly regarded for my apparently selfless acts of service and personal sacrifice, but unless they are driven by love, they have no meaning and achieve nothing.

If love here is, at least, the general Christian orientation of other-person-centredness and acting in the best interests of others then we need to ask what is left of any activity, service, or ministry if it is done without love?

For me – preaching without love is lecturing; pastoral care without love is self-righteousness; speaking the truth or correcting is arrogance; choosing to be silent rather than responding to a sin or offence without love is actually avoidance and refusal to get involved. Relating to others without love is simply a staged performance. This would expose me as an empty shell

What about you? If the things you do are not under-pinned by a genuine other-person-centredness, and desire for their wellbeing and maturing, then they are under-pinned by self-centredness and a desire to create reputation for yourself. Ultimately it would expose you as an empty shell and render all your activity useless.

This has a scary application for us as a church family, so obviously gifted in such a diverse way. And we tend to think our future stability, growth and maturing as a body is assured because of the massive range of abilities, energy, and gifts already evident and active in our church family, and constantly being added to as newcomers abilities are deployed.

But the presence of gifts alone will never be enough to produce stability, unity and maturity into the future. Here was a church that lacked no spiritual gift. They had a bagful of gifts, but no unity and little desire to work together to build one another up in Christ.

Sometimes I think the worst that could happen in the future is that the church could fall over. But there is something worse – we could continue as a large group of believers with a massive array of gifts and abilities, but be nothing more than an irritating noise to the Lord.

So, don’t ever think that displaying your gift is all that matters, and

2. Don’t ever forget that who you are at heart, always ‘drives’ what you do (4-7).  

Paul describes rather than defines love. We should not think of this as saying everything there is to say about love. Rather it is highly likely that Paul is picking up key aspects of what love will look like in their particular situation of disunity.

Verse 4- They were impatient, unkind, jealous, quick to suggest superiority over another, arrogant.

Verse 5 – they were harshly dismissive of others, concerned about their own rights and reputations first and foremost, quick to take offence and get annoyed, but slow to let these things go and quietly carrying carefully formed and guarded grudges.

Verse 6 – they justified actions towards others that were really sinful at heart rather than honestly attempting to recognise and live according to the truth of the gospel.

Paul exposes their disunity as failure to show other-person-centredness and commitment to the best interests of brothers and sisters in Christ; failure to cultivate high regard and deep affection for one another, as modelled by Christ.

Disunity is the result of the loss of true love as the platform for all activities and relationship.

Likewise, If they get it right in terms of who they are and learn to truly love one another, then the issue of gifts and abilities and how they relate to each other in the church - what you do, how you do it, and why you do it in a church family will look after itself.

Their starting point was totally wrong – They were asking “What is my gift and what does it say about me as a Christian?” They should have been asking, “What does it mean for me to be like Christ in my relationships with brothers and sisters in this family?”

Friends, put bluntly – it is quite possible to appear to serve Jesus obediently, generously and sacrificially in this church family, yet be doing so for all the wrong reasons, to be doing so sinfully and with no glory to Christ, and no benefit to yourself or to the brethren you serve.

Over the past few months I have been discovering how easily I have slipped into that trap, and the realisation is almost more than I can bear. But it is something you also need to consider if we are to be mature individually and together as a family.

Being a Christian is easy while you are simply taking from the church family. Turn up to whatever activity interests you and gives you the outcome you want; talk to those you like and are easy to talk to; listen to a sermon; sing a few songs; have a cuppa and go home.

But being actively engaged in giving selflessly into a community of sinful people, suddenly it becomes really hard and messy, and it begins to expose our wrong motives and thinking, and it confronts us with the awful reality that so much of our so-called service of Christ is actually self-interested.

The love that Christ models and requires of us believers is not natural, and certainly not easy. In Luke 6:32-36 Jesus said that anybody can love the lovely people who love them. But Jesus wants us to love the unlovely people who are unloving to us. He wants me to love you, even if you annoy and hurt me. And he wants you to love me even if I annoy and fail you.

This is a huge challenge. Unless we exhibit the basic character and desire to be like Christ in our relating to one another, then it means nothing if individually and collectively we have truckloads of gifts and abilities.

We need to be real careful not to think of disunity only in terms of people leaving the church. The reality is that there are many hostilities and much disunity below the surface even as we sit together on a Sunday morning apparently united.

We are quick to be offended, but slow to raise issues and seek forgiveness. We easily assume the worst about others; we easily talk to others about the sin of a brother or sister, but do not have the love which gives courage to raise it directly with the person concerned. We are secretly angry with others and dismiss them. We are not good at extending the large doses of grace we want others to extend to us.

Friends, I am guilty, and you may be guilty. We need to address this and turn it around because God hates disunity. And it is the stench that turns so many non-Christians away from the gospel.

3. Don’t ever become smug, thinking you have ‘arrived’ (8-13).

If the starting point for the Christians at Corinth was wrong, so was their end point.

At least some of them seemed to think that having spectacular or miraculous spiritual gifts was evidence they had arrived at completeness or fullness in Christ – absolute maturity or the ultimate goal of Christ for his people.

With that came a sense of smugness and superiority that was actually divisive.

Again Paul corrects them. Essentially he is telling them that their actions were evidence they were locked into immaturity rather than being mature. He is telling them to grow up!

All gifts are only temporary. They are only the means to an end. Look back at 12:7. They are given by God’s Spirit for the purpose of bringing God’s people to maturity or to Christ-likeness.

In other words, the end point for our salvation is to be like Christ, to live a grace-based life, summarised here by Paul in the shorthand formula of Faith, Hope and love. Our spirit enabled gifting and abilities are all towards that outcome.

As the Corinthian Christians grasped and pursued showy gifts for their own enjoyment and self-promotion, they were showing themselves to be like spoiled children.

In contrast they should be pursuing maturity which is recognising that gifts are only a means to help each other become like Christ or live the life of love and unity demonstrated through a sense of belonging to others, a sense of responsibility to others, by giving, serving and teaching.

So practically Paul urges them to sit loose to particular gifts that in the end will disappear, and which in the meanwhile are not necessarily the most valuable in terms of producing a full understanding of God and the gospel, and therefore not most useful in helping the body of Christ, the local church family become mature or Christ-like.

Friends, here’s our challenge: Not to focus on getting the opportunity to use any particular gift, but to be determined to be the love-driven people God intends us to be in Christ; not just talking about the importance of love; not just reducing it to a feeling of love and positivity; but a consistent costly demonstrating of the same type of love as Christ loved us.

A loving unity – not uniformity with everyone the same; not unanimity with everyone having precisely the same view – but a relational unity demonstrated in a oneness of heart and mind – being kind to one another, gracious to one another, loyal to one another, forgiving of one another, and courageous enough to challenge and correct one another in truth.























Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 May 2015 15:28  

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