February 3rd 2013, Pastor Galen
I Corinthians 13:1-13
If you could have any superpower you wanted, what would it be?
A friend of mine says he wishes that he had the ability to reach behind his back and pull out a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies whenever he wanted. How many of you would like to have that gift?
Here in our passage today, the author lists some amazing powers, or gifts, that are kind of like superhero powers. Here are a couple of the powers that Paul talks about:
- The ability to speak any language in the world
- The ability to tell the future
- The ability to make a mountain move just by commanding it to move.
Those would be some pretty cool superpowers, wouldn’t they?
I would love that first one — wouldn’t that be amazing to be able to speak Spanish, Chinese, Russia, French, German, and Greek and all the other languages in the world?
Or, what if you could always know what’s going to happen before it happens? (Actually, I’m not sure if I would really want that one or not… I kind of like surprises).
Or, what about the ability to make things move by just commanding them to move? This would absolutely be the superhero gift I would choose. Yesterday my daughters and I spent most of the morning folding and putting away laundry. Imagine if we had just been able to say, “laundry, be folded and put away!” That would have been great.
But Paul tells us that having all of the greatest powers in the world would be worthless without one very important thing: Love.
You see, it doesn’t matter how powerful you are, or how many wonderful things you do to help other people on a regular basis, if the things you do are not motivated by love, if it’s not motivated by love it’s pointless. In fact, any sort of power without love can be a very dangerous thing.
The reason Paul was writing this to the people in Corinth is because some of the Corinthians thought that their special gifts or abilities were better than others. The Corinthians didn’t necessarily have superpowers, but God has given each one of us gifts that we can use to help others and to bless the church.
For example, some of the Corinthians were good at teaching. Some of them were preachers and evangelists. Others of them were good at leadership or administration, and still others seemed to have the gifts of healing (see 1 Cor. 12:28-30).
The problem is that some of the people in Corinth thought that their gifts were better or more important than other people’s gifts. Perhaps the teachers thought they were more valuable than those who did the administrative work. Or the leaders thought they were more significant than the people who did collected the tithes and offerings.
And you know what? I don’t think that the Corinthians were the only people who ever thought that way. The reality is that all of us probably value the things that we’re good at, and we might have a tendency to look down on people who aren’t gifted in the same way.
If you have the gift of hospitality and you are really good at making people feel welcome and at home, it’s probably really frustrating to go to someone’s house who isn’t very hospitable. If you’re a really gifted teacher, it can be very frustrating to be taught by someone who is not a good teacher.
But what Paul told the Corinthians in the previous chapter is that every member of the Church has a unique gift and a valuable role to play in the church. Every spiritual gift is equally important. The preacher is not more important or significant than the Sunday School teacher. The pianist is not more important than the greeters or the ushers. We all have a vital role to play in the Church, and we all need each other.
Noisy Gongs and Clanging Cymbals
And now here in this beautiful and poetic chapter, Paul takes it a step further to say that it doesn’t matter what we’re good at, or how much we’ve sacrificed our time or energy or resources to help other people, if what we do is not motivated by love, it’s worthless.
Paul uses the analogy of a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Both of those instruments can be really beautiful when played at the just the right moment in an orchestral suite. But they can both be really irritating and annoying when played all the time.
In the same way, doing wonderful things for others for any other reason other than love can be quite aggravating.
You’ve probably all met someone who does nice things for other people but for the wrong reasons. They want others to be indebted to them. They go around keeping a mental list of everyone who owes them favors. At first they seem servant-hearted, but when you scratch the surface you find that down deep they’re really self-centered.
Or maybe you know someone who is always doing nice things for their bosses or teachers or those in authority, with the hopes of climbing the corporate ladder or getting ahead of everyone else. They’ll step on whoever they need to in order to make it to the top. They grow in power, but not in love.
Paul says that you can do all the wonderful things in the world. You can even give all of your possessions away or give everything you own for a particular cause, but if don’t have love, then it’s worthless.
Love is What We Need
Love is a powerful force. And it’s a necessary force. It’s a force that is severely lacking in the world today. It’s a force that our world desperately needs.
As I look around at our world today, we have plenty of gifted and talented people. We have plenty of powerful people. But we don’t need more people who are only concerned with getting ahead, or who are interested in building up favors from other people.
We need more people who are loving. Genuinely loving. And not just any type of love, but a Christ-like love that doesn’t discriminate or differentiate. A love that loves across boundaries, a love that doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve done. A love that flows out of the love that God has for us. A love that overflows from Christ’s sacrificial love, expressed on the cross for us.
How do we gain this type of love? What do we need to do in order to become the type of people who love like this?
Interestingly enough, Paul doesn’t provide us with a how-to manual in this passage. He doesn’t give us the 5 or 10 steps to becoming a loving person.
Instead, he tells us what love looks like:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Paul wants us to be able to recognize love when we see it. Love is already around us, and if we have Jesus living in us, then love is already inside us.
But if we want to grow in love, we need to know what real love actually looks like. We need to be able to know it when we see it. And we need to open ourselves up to receive more of God’s love, so that it can flow out of us to those around us.
In the very next passage — 1 Corinthians 14:1, Paul tells the Corinthians to “Pursue love…” Each of us have the ability to love others. It’s inside us! But we need to work at it. We need to chase after it. We need to grow in it.
There are a lot of gifts and talents that we could pursue. We can and should pursue the things we’re gifted in. If you have the gift of teaching by all means use it, and seek to grow in it! If you’re gifted in administration, or hospitality, use those gifts, and strive to get even better at them!
But above all, let’s seek to grow in love. Let’s pursue it. Let’s strive after it. Let’s recognize that all of our wonderful gifts and talents are worthless without out. Let’s open ourselves up to receive more of God’s love, and let’s let it exude out of us to everyone we come into contact with. Let’s get to know Jesus more intimately so we can truly know what love looks like, and so that we can grow in our love for God and for others.
Because in the end (according to Paul), Love is the only thing that will last. Love is the ultimate super power.