Monday, March 31, 2008

Eagerly Desire to Serve in Love (I Corinthians 12:27-13:8)

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (I Cor. 12:27-31)

Notice that? Paul's talking about the different Spirit-empowered gifts, services and activities that individual members of the church exercise. Paul gives eight kinds of gifts then rhetorically asks seven times if "all" in any given church exercise said gifts. Two of those rhetorical queries (tongues and interpret) branch out from one listed gift, that of "various kinds of tongues." Left out of these series of rhetoricals are "helping" and "administrating."

Why might that be? It's clear Paul means that not everyone has the gift of tongues or healing or teaching or prophecy. But helps and administration seem to be different. They seem to be gifts and acts of service to the church that are broadly based.

After all, on some level, albeit in different offices and complementary functions, every member of the church is to minister in helps and administration. Relatively few publicly exercise apostolic, prophetic, or teaching authority in the administration of the church, yet all Christians have a role in the administration of the work of the body of Christ on earth.

But I can think of another and perhaps more important reason, given the context of Paul's instructions to the church at Corinth. Regardless of what gifts we have or haven't, our exercise of all of them should be characterized by the love of Jesus Christ for His church flowing through us.

Love is what Paul calls "a still more excellent way" in the closing verse of chapter 12 and is to be characteristic of our use of any spiritual gift:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, [1] but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [2] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. [I Cor. 13:1-8]

Our service to the Lord and our brothers and sisters in Christ should be patient, kind, content, humble, gracious, yielding to authority, thick-skinned, centered on God's loving kindness, and joyous in the truth of the Gospel.

Walking in Christ's love we should:

  • bear with diverse personalities within the church
  • tolerate a diversity of opinion on secondary theological issues
  • bear with the sinful shortcomings and disappointments we're bound to experience in an assembly of sinners being saved by the grace of God from the wrath to come

We will become quite familiar with these challenges to our pride and our self-importance when we humble ourselves and engage in practical, self-sacrificial service, especially when that service is not noticed and praised by men.

It's a tall order, but we're called to not only walk in love but to pursue it, to seek out our growth in it (I. Cor. 14:1). This requires frequent self-examination of the motives of our hearts that is brutally honest before a holy God.

Let's examine our hearts and see what drives us. Where we've sinned, let's repent, and move on, continuing to do good to all, "especially to those who are of the household of faith," knowing that in due season, we will reap eternal life (Gal. 6:1-10).

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