Monday, June 10, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 1

I have been listening through Alistair Begg's Firm Foundations series for the last several weeks, and I am on Volume 6 right now, the beginning of which is on 1 Corinthians 13. The insights he has had throughout this series are spectacular examples of Spirit-given wisdom, and his thoughts on this chapter are no exception. At the beginning of it all, he makes a point to say that even though most of us "cozy up" to this chapter as a feel-good chapter of warm fuzziness, it is actually a minefield of vaulted standards to which most of us rarely measure up. Try inserting your own name starting in verse 4 (e.g. "Jason is patient, Jason is kind," etc.) and you will understand what he means. As I have had the subject of love come up from various sides many times here of late, I am going to spend some time sharing my own thoughts on the first eight verses of this chapter, focusing in on verses 4-8.

Before I do though, it is easy to forget that this is not an isolated chapter. Paul penned or dictated this in the middle of chapters 12 and 14, both of which focus on spiritual gifts, unity in the body, and orderly worship. Something else that is easy to forget is that the exhortations, admonitions, and rebukes Paul wrote to the various churches were to address actual issues in those churches. In the case of the Corinthian church, it seems that they were using their spiritual gifts as an opportunity to exalt themselves and divide the body. Paul addresses this directly in 12 and 14, but in chapter 13, he focuses on love, which he calls "a more excellent way" in 1 Corinthians 12:31 (ESV).

What I believe Paul was saying here is that, though what he gave the Corinthians in chapter 12 was practical direction to address real problems in the church, it really was not the root of the problem in this area. The root of the problem is that the Corinthians did not have love for one another. We see that in the first three verses of chapter 13.

Paul highlights several specific gifts in these first three verses, but I don't think the specific list itself is meant to be all inclusive of the gifts through which it is easy to not be loving. The point I believe he is making here is that regardless of your spiritual gift, if you use it in such a way that builds up yourself instead of building up the body (Eph 4:12-13, 1 Cor 14:4), you are not acting in love towards your brothers and sisters in Christ. And this can be said of all of our actions towards and interactions with one another. If we act out of a selfish motivation to seek our own good rather than  the good of our brothers and sisters, we are not acting out of love (1 Thess 5:11, 1 Cor 10:24).

Love may be the more excellent way, but it is also the more difficult way. The picture that we see in verses 4-8 is an incredibly high standard, one that is only achievable through the power of the Spirit. I will be looking at the individual characteristics Paul highlights later this week, but for now, if you are in the midst of conflict with anyone, I encourage you to look at these 5 verses and see if you can insert your own name into the list and end up with true statements. If you can, give glory to God. If you can't, earnestly pray that God will make you able by His Spirit.