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Jul 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 17, 2010

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:8-12

INTRO: Documentary, “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” – interviews with average North Americans
What became painfully obvious: 

  1. No one wants to listen to Christians–that is, their condemnation, dogma, and arguments
  2. People are deeply impressed by acts of love and kindness

Walter Brueggmann, “Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness.” 
Christians who act out of compassion and treat poverty and misery as unnacceptable, make a favorable impression on others for Jesus Christ
Angry Christians and those who say one thing while doing something else, make a very poor impression on others

Previously, Paul showed us love in action (vv. 4-7)
Now he points out a property of love
 – this explains why progress in love is more important than progress in spiritual gifts or knowledge 

Verse 8, Love Is Eternal (other things are provisional) 

“Never fails” – it never gets used up, never becomes irrelevant, obsolete, useless
 – love endures death – we will forever love and be loved
 – spiritual gifts are another matter 

It’s clear that some believers have a more vibrant experience of God (they seemt to enjoy a greater intimacy with him)
How do we move into that kind of spirituality? What is it’s essence?
All kinds of people are ready to sell you the answer: 

  • self-denial, asceticism (and suffering), ceaseless prayer, in-depth Bible study, service to your church or others
  • also, all the stuff that would fall into the categories under the labels of prophecy, speaking in tongues, and knowledge

But none of these are the essence of Christian spirituality or its growth and development
 – love is the essence; love worships, adores, accepts, labors, gives (and all the other qualities listed in the previous verses)
 – it is the very nature of love to promote growth in Jesus Christ and devotion to him
– we have been trying to make the by-product the means!

Verses 9-10, Why These Gifts Are Necessary for Now 

  • Our knowledge and resources are limited – partial
     – we need insight and guidance
     – it comes to us in packets or pieces – as needed 
  • But looking ahead, the “perfect” will come and our experience will no longer be partial
     – the contrast is between fragmented and all-put-together,
     – between partial and complete, broken and whole
     – the future that Paul envisioned was the end of the partial and the beginning of the complete 
  • Some Christians misunderstand something about “truth”
     – they insist that truth is “absolute” – and I have no disagreement with that statement
     – but where they tend to be naive is in thinking they have an absolute grasp of the truth
     – according to Paul, our knowledge now is partial (which he illustrates well in v. 12)
     – this is why we need prophetic gifts and knowledge for now
    – it is also why we need to cultivate humility, openness, and intellectual honesty

Verses 11-12, Two Illustrations

The role that prophecy, tongues and knowledge play for now is

  1. Verse 11:  Illustrated in the difference between being a child and an adult
     – we are well aware of how our speech, thoughts and reasoning develop with maturity
     – notice Paul says, “I did away with . . .”
     – when he realized his childish ways were no longer useful, he did away with them himself
  2. Verse 12: Illustrated in the analogy of looking in a mirror
     – there is an Old Testament context for this: Miriam and Aaron – Numbers 12:6-8 (in LXX or Greek translation)
     – Moses’ unique experience when compared to that of other prophets–direct encounter with God
     -the prophets received visions, dreams and riddles (“dark sayings” translates the same Greek word Paul uses, “dimly, which is the root for our English word enigma)
     – “mouth to mouth” parallels “face to face”
     – the point is, we will have a more direct experience of God than we do at this present time
     – the eschatological tension is “now . . . then . . . now . . . then”

The completeness of the future does not only refer to our knowledge and experience, but also to us!

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God (Ro. 8:19)

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. (1 Jn. 3:2) 

If prophecy, tongues and knowledge are provisional, it’s because they are not the essence of our life in God
 – they play a role now, because of our limitations
 – love, however, is the essence, and it is indispensable 

Why Haven’t We Thrown Ourselves Completely Into Love? 

Suppose we decide to condition our whole lives to love–and this really is what Jesus taught
 – what the whole of scripture teaches

In my recent reading in the Psalms, I’ve noticed that the overall message is not that God is saying, “Be moral and I will bless you,” but, “Treat others well and I will treat you well. Injure others and I will injure you.” The emphasis is relational rather than moral. The heart of righteousness is also relational.

  • But what if we are the only people who attempt this? That everyone else in our culture is bent on self-love?
     – doesn’t that put us at a disadvantage?
     – won’t we miss out on the best the world has to offer, because rather than trying to grab as much as we can, we are giving to him who asks of us and not turning away from him who wants to borrow from us?
     – won’t we wind up being a sucker for every scheme? A “mark” for everyone looking for someone to swindle? 
  • If we’re the only ones in the marketplace who love as Jesus loved and everyone else is taking advantage of us, isn’t it true that we won’t be doing any good?
     – it won’t make any difference
     – that people will take advantage of us, but they won’t change
     – we would become like well-meaning do-gooders who send monthly checks to charities that don’t exist

If it were true, that we alone attempt to live by love—and I sincerely doubt that it’s true—our situation would be identical to prophets and to Jesus
 – and what happened in the case of Jesus, whose love was exploited? Whose generosity was eagerly consumed?
In AD 33, no one in Rome had heard of Jesus of Nazareth
In 300 AD, the Roman Empire was handed over to him

  • The wonder isn’t that a few small communities of faith changed the world
     – but that God, who never needed human help to do his work, accepted people into his covenant, filled them with his love, and then made that love shine through them in a dark world
  • For the same reason, if we do attempt to surrender to his love, we no longer have to worry about grabbing as much as we can or losing out because others are aggressively living for themselves
  • It is as if you were standing in a long, slow line with lots of irritable people
     – someone nearby falls down, drops what she was carrying, and needs help
     – your first impulse is to help, but that is immediately followed by the thought: “If I help, I’ll lose my place in line and the people behind me would love that”
     – but the person next in line tells you, “Don’t worry. I’ll save your place”
     – now you are free to love, free to help another human being, free to walk away, because someone is watching out for you
  • Because God watches out for us, we are free to loosen our grip on other things to go help others in the name of Jesus

CONC: This week, let’s look for opportunity to love – let’s put more energy into love
In our ordinary activities, let’s look for the chance to show out-of-the-ordinary kindness

  • But first, we must let God love us–and as he loves us, to heal us
     – otherwise, if we begin “doing loving things,” such as working in a soup kitchen, but then run into frustrations, obstacles, or obnoxious people, we may either blow up or give up
     – but if we are moved by love, we won’t get upset or walk away
     – not any more than when we get up for the third time in the middle of the night to tend to our sick child
  • So let God break through your walls to love you
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