Over the last few weeks we have been exploring the Holy Spirit. Last week George preached about the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 12. The gift of wisdom & knowledge. The gift of faith, & healing, the gift of prophecy and being able to distinguish between spirits. And the gift of being able to speak in tongues, and being able to interpret tongues.
These are gifts or tools given to us by God, not for our own benefit, but so that we can use them to encourage and build up the body of Christ. That is why Paul writes ‘Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.’ (1 Cor 12:7)
In the rest of this chapter, Paul goes on to talk about the church as the body of Christ, making the point that each one of us is an important and indispensable part of Christ’s body, the church. We need one another, and we each have been given special gifts by the Holy Spirit, which we are called to use in order to serve one another and grow the church.
If you buy a new tool, or gadget, in order to use it properly, and safely, and get the most out of it, you need to read the instructions. These are some genuine instructions on consumer goods.
On Boot's Children's Cough Medicine:
Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication.
On a Japanese food processor:
Not to be used for the other use.
On a Swedish chain saw:
Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals.
In a microwave oven manual:
Do not use for drying pets.
On a Harry Potter wizards broom:
This broom does not actually fly.
On a toilet cleaning brush:
Do not use orally.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit also come with one very simple, but extremely important instruction: these gifts must be exercised in love. If they are not exercised in love, then all sorts of problems can arise.
This is one of the reasons why Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth. Because the Corinthian church, was a church where the spiritual gifts were very much in use, but the way in which they were being used, was causing tension and division within the church. Which is why Paul stresses that without love all other spiritual gifts count for nothing.
Listen again to what he writes:
‘If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Corinth was a large city, which contained many pagan temples. Gongs and cymbals were often used in pagan worship, and so the streets of Corinth would have resounded with the noise of these instruments.
Paul uses this image, to say that those who use the gift of speaking in tongues without love, is as offensive as the banging of gongs and cymbals. Without love their speech would serve no purpose, it would only be a noise, like a musical instrument that produces a loud crash, but no harmony. To practice this spiritual gift without love, would not help or benefit anyone.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Faith, we are told in the Scripture, is so important that it is impossible to please God without it. But Paul writes that love is even more important than faith. The priest & the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan had faith – they believed in God. But the problem was they had no love. So they walked by on the other side & just left the man lying there to die. Faith, unless it is backed up by love, is of little value.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.’
Now notice that he doesn’t say, "If I give 10%." He says, "If I give everything, if I give all my retirement funds, if I sell my house, if I cash in my insurance policies, if I sit on the corner with nothing left but what I’m wearing, & I’ve given it all away to help the poor, but I don’t have love then I am nothing at all."
As Christians we are called to be generous, with our time, money and talents. But if the only reason I give is to receive praise or benefit myself then love is absent, & the giving is empty. The motive for giving should be love, love for God and love for God’s people.
Mother Teresa wrote, ‘We must grow in love and to do this we must go on loving and loving and giving and giving until it hurts---the way Jesus did. Do ordinary things with extraordinary love… Any sacrifice is useful if it is done out of love.’
The Corinthians believed that the possession of certain spiritual gifts, made them important people, and somehow better than the rest. But Paul makes it clear that what matters most to God is that we have love for one another. And without love, there is no value in these other spiritual gifts, because they effectively become worthless. Love is what makes our actions and gifts useful, which is why love is totally indispensable.
Jesus makes it clear how important love really is. He calls us to remain in his love, and to “love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:11-12)
Jesus is saying that if we remain in him, and in his love, we will be able to bear much fruit, we will glorify God, we will show ourselves to be his disciples, we will obey his commands, and we will have joy that is complete.
But if we do not remain in his love, then we cannot bear fruit, we cannot do anything, and we become like a barren branch to be thrown into the fire and burned. This is why Paul writes that apart from Jesus and his love, we can do nothing and we gain nothing.
Paul goes on to show what the true nature of love looks like.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Cor 13:4-8)
It has been said that love is a verb not a noun. In other words our love must not be a thing of words and fine talk. It must be a thing of action and sincerity. Paul uses verbs which are in the present continuous tense to describe the nature of love: patient, kind, trusting, hoping, persevering. In other words they denote actions or attitudes that become ingrained and habitual. The point being that the more we experience the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, the more loving we should become, and we should see that in the outworking of our lives.
The love that Paul writes about here is a self giving love, a love that looks out to the interests of others. A love that knows no limits, a love that gives while expecting nothing in return, a love that is willing to forgive, a love just like Jesus has for us.
If you replaced the word ‘love’ for Jesus, we would see the very character of Jesus, who is love. The more we experience God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, the more our love for God and one another should grow, and the more like Jesus we should become.
And so, of all the gifts that God’s Holy Spirit gives, the one thing that is most important, and the one thing we should pursue above all else, is the gift of love. Because the gifts are temporary “containers” of God’s work, whereas love is the work itself.