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More Than a Gong - July 15, 2018

1 Corinthians 13:1-1

This is a popular passage, most of us have heard it more than a few times. Even folks who don't go to church have probably heard this somewhere...in popular culture, in a movie, at a wedding...it's pretty well known. But we don't always look at it in context, so we're going to take a bit to look a little at the bigger picture.

1 Corinthians is a letter to the church in Corinth, in Greece...and it's Paul's response...he was their pastor and they needed advice, so they wrote him or sent word with someone else, only

we don't have that letter or communication, and Paul wrote back. So all we see is how Paul is responding to the church and can infer what they were dealing with.

And the passage that comes right before this one is one about the gifts of the spirit..."There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

"To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues".[b] (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)

Paul is explaining the types of gifts but also the balance between them....the way they all come from the Holy Spirit....which to me says the people were arguing about which gift was more important...which gifts were better....who was a better disciple based on the gifts they had. (Tongue in cheek) Now, this isn't a modern problem. We don't worry about who has which gifting and we never covet the gifts another person has. We never assume they're a better Christian based on how they pray, or how well they sing, or if they stand up week after week as the teacher or the preacher. Right? Wrong. We still get caught up worrying about what others have that we don't have or how they have multiple gifts when it doesn't seem we have any. Right?
We need these words, we need this reminder as much as the church of the first century did. We need to know that God has gifted each of us. And that the diversity of gifts is not about hierarchy or rank...it's about God putting us to work in the ways that are most appropriate to our skills and passions and life. But even then we can get caught up....focused so much on our gifts that we fail to see the bigger picture. So, then Paul offers the words of 1 Corinthians 13....
"If I speak in the tongues of mortal and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."
The gifts are given for the good of the church, the benefit of the community, but regardless of the gift...at the end of the day...if we don't have love as our core, our foundation, our first gift...then none of the rest of it really matters. Did you hear it? If you are a linguist who speaks 10 different languages and can talk to millions around the world, but you don't have love, you're like a clanging cymbal...just making noise. If you are courageous and strong and can speak truth to power, you can challenge injustices, but you don't have love, you are nothing. If you have the faith to MOVE MOUNTAINS but do not have love...you are nothing....YOU COULD MOVE THE MOUNTAINS! but that's not the most important thing. You could be the most generous person on earth...even giving your own flesh and blood, but if it's not based in love, grounded in love, then it's not really worth it.
That's huge. So often we become consumed by the things...what we are, what we have, what we can do....but if it's not rooted in love, it's not really what God intended or what God wants for us. So then maybe the question becomes....would I give up everything I have, all that I am...and settle for love? Yep, I said settle. It's not really settling, on one level we know that. But on the other, we hesitate. We stop short...everything I have? My house? My job? My kids? Would I forsake it all for love? People would call us fools, wouldn't they? But the core of our faith says the most important thing of all is love.
And the Bible isn't talking about pitter pat love...not the kind that makes your heart race. Love is not an emotion in the Bible. Love is a verb. It's an action word. It's something that we do. And the love Paul mentions here is agape—God's abundant unconditional never-ending love. The love Paul is talking about is how we live in the world.
And when we ask the question, well what does that even mean? Then we get the most familiar words of this passage—Love is patient, Love is kind, it is not envious, arrogant, boastful or rude. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love never fails.
If you want to know if you're grounded and founded in love ask yourself, "Am I patient? Am I kind? Am I gentle? Am I self-less? Am I humble? Am I honest? Do I believe and hope? Do I endure? Those are the signs of love...and where we fall short, we have to step back, we have to change our ways.

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