A Still More Excellent Way

In the middle of Michigan there is that small town of Edmore founded in 1878 by Ed Moore. And in that small town of Edmore there is that farm. And on that farm there is that door. And next to that door there is that rock; a twenty-two pound rock; a twenty-two pound rock from the sky; a twenty-two pound rock that fell from the sky and “made a heck of a noise when it hit” the ground over eighty-years ago. And there that rock sat and sat and sat holding that door open all those years. Just this year it was verified to be what everyone thought it to be; a meteorite. But this year it was also revealed to be so much more than everyone treated it to be. This twenty-two pound doorstop is valued to be worth one hundred thousand dollars.

1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 13 are part of a letter in the Bible written to “the church of God that is in Corinth.” This was a local church just as we are a local church. These three chapters come together as the heart of this letter. And the heart of this letter is about what it means to be a local church. And what it means to be a local church is for our joy.

A Still More Excellent Way

The primary reason for 1 Corinthians 13 is not weddings. The primary reason for 1 Corinthians 13 is not for dating and selecting that one person to stand next to at the wedding. The primary reason for 1 Corinthians 13 is for being a part of a local church. It is something introduced as “a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31b). What is this still more excellent way? It is interesting that this is called a still more excellent way. It gives the impression, and it is true, that all that was said before is an excellent way. But there is still more. And it is with eager anticipation that Paul writes what has been called a gem – 1 Corinthians 13.

All Christians, those who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, are members of the body of Christ, the Church. The moment a person becomes a Christian, the moment you became a Christian, you are placed by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. This is a one time moment called the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And at this very moment, too, you are given at least one spiritual gift. This is something taught here in 1 Corinthians 12, but also in Romans 12:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; and 1 Peter 4:7-11. What is the point of these spiritual gifts? Listen to 1 Corinthians 12:7. I love this so much. It is very helpful in understanding what it means to be a part of a local church. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” To each Christian is given a spiritual gift and it is to show God, to show that God is at work and active among us, and catch this, it is for the common good. This is for the good of people. What people?

This is all best expressed in the local church. And so this chapter helps us understand the wonder and importance and joy of what it means to be a member of a local church. These gifts are for the good of other church members. But there is more. This is visible; it shows God. And it shows God at work and active to the other church members. But Jesus said, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). So the good is also for the looking world that is around us.

But what are these gifts? First, just notice 1 Corinthians 12:6. “It is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” Each gift is empowered by God Himself. These are supernatural gifts. Now back up some more and listen to 1 Corinthians 12:4. “Now there are varieties of gifts.” Notice that word varieties. Some translations have the word different or diversities. The important thing to note is that it is a plural word; the Greek word is a plural word and it is so wonderful. And keep in mind verse seven. Each of us is given a spiritual gift by God. There are varieties of these gifts and these gifts show God active and at work for the good of people. But how? The word varieties answers this question. It is made up of two words. The first word, diá, means to reach across. And the second word, haireó, means to make a personal choice. These gifts are personally picked out and given to Christians by God Himself and it is for others. These varieties of gifts are so that God’s people can reach across to others, as His hand extended.

These varieties of gifts are gifts like wisdom and knowledge and speaking and teaching and serving and exhorting and generosity and leadership and zeal and mercy and encouragement and patience and hospitality and helping and administrating and understanding and… Some gifts are more visible than other gifts. A lot of gifts go unnoticed, but are not to be under appreciated. These kinds of gifts, the less visible gifts, are as important as the more visible gifts. And local church membership then means: God has perfectly positioned you in this local church. God has perfectly positioned you in this local church for better and for worse. God has perfectly positioned you and has perfectly enabled you to serve in this local church. And as if it could not get any better there is still a more excellent way.

The Missing Ingredient

1 Corinthians 13 has been called the missing ingredient. It was the missing ingredient for a church that was getting it wrong. And it is the ingredient to the experience of being a local church getting better and better. It is love. And it is better than what we think.

The chapter first begins with these more visible gifts which can appear to be the better gifts. They appear to be the better gifts because they are visible. And so imagine possessing those gifts. Imagine being able to speak all the known human languages, fluently and perfectly. Imagine being able to speak like an angel. It would be so impressive, but if it is without love I sound like something. Maybe something like a toddler banging on pots and pans (a gong or clanging cymbal). Imagine being able to preach the greatest of sermons all of the time. Every sermon being a home run or even a grand slam every Sunday. Imagine crowds gathering to listen to you expound any passage of Scripture, keeping interest through every minute. And imagine to have the kind of faith that could move mountains from one place to the next (see Mark 11:23). If it is done without love, I am nothing. Imagine if I gave away all that I have, even myself, (see Mark 10:21), but if it is done without love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Imagine, who did do all of that but with love?

What Is This Love?

So, what is this love? In Greek, there are many words for love. There is romantic love and familial love. This is not that kind of love. This is a love, this is too good, that is really defined by God. This Greek word was not a word commonly used or found outside of the Bible. It was not a familiar kind of love. But I love thinking of it in terms of a love that God defines. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It is a love defined by God the Father’s action in sending God the Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, a love that reached out to those that did not deserve it; a love that put the interest of others first; a love that forgave people and started over with them; a love that sacrificed itself for others. It is called agapé love. And this love is the environment that local church membership takes place.

Now listen to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Listen closely and carefully. Love each time here is a noun not a verb. There are verbs, but that is to say that love does things. And these actions are given as something always true, a habitual action. And this means it is to be always true, always found where and when? Love is patient. It has a really long fuse. Love is kind. I love this one. The word kind is the Greek word chréstos. Outside of the local church, with unbelievers, there was a confusion about the title for Jesus, which in Greek is Christos. This title was confused with the word chréstos. So they heard Jesus the kind instead of Jesus the Christ. And in the earliest of local churches, the spectacle of Christian love was so stunning that the outside world called Christians not Christians, but chrestians, “those made up of mildness and kindness.” Love does not boil over with envy. Love is not arrogant. Love is not rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable, touchy. Love is not resentful, does not keep counting all the wrongs of others. Love does not rejoice in those wrongdoings, but instead love rejoices with the truth and in the truth and at the truth. Love bears all things. It covers, protecting like a roof. Love believes the best all of the time. It trusts that motives of others are pure. Loves hopes the best all of the time. It hopes that the motives of others are pure. Love endures all things. It has this tireless capacity to endure despite ingratitude, bad conduct, and problems that come with people and this without complaining or becoming discouraged. When the motives prove to be impure, love bears it all with no resentment.

And listen to verse eight. Love does not fail. It does not fail at all those things listed in verses four through seven.

Does this not sound as if love is talked about as a person? Listen to 1 John 4:8. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” And if I know God I then love. So instead of the word love in those verses, I should be able to put my own name. This is how I am to treat and to be found treating that twenty-two pound rock called the local church.

Paul picks up with those really visible gifts that get romanticized and sought after and thought to be the best (13:8-12). And he says that those things will pass away. All the gifts will pass away. But love, love remains. And the more I looked at and thought about this kind of sacrificial love, I thought, this is too remarkable! It is too hard, impossible even to do! Romans 5:5 tells us that this love, this love that is defined by God has been poured into our hearts so that we can love like this. And this is part of the point; this love is too remarkable! It is to be so different than any love found anywhere else. It truly is to be in comparison more excellent.

Think of a few people in your church. Picture their faces. Now think about the lengths to which Jesus went to bring those specific people to Himself. Think of the whippings He endured so that they could be forgiven. Imagine the way He thought of each of those people as He hung on the cross. No sacrifice was too great; there was nothing He would hold back. He did everything necessary to redeem and heal and transform those specific people. He did the same for you. So ask yourself, who does God want you to pursue? Who could you desire to spend time with more? Jesus went to the ultimate extent for them; why would you hold anything back? Jesus pursued those people from heaven to earth to bring them into his family; what barriers could hold you back from pursuing a deep familial relationship with them? We have experienced the greatest love in the universe. Shouldn’t that profound love flow out of us? And shouldn’t that be enough to shock the world?[1]

And the big question each of us must be asking ourselves is: is this the way I am loving you?

And now listen to how this is for our joy. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:11-12). Right there is a joy filled promise. If we love like this, if we love one another like this, God will abide in us and His love will be perfected in us.

[1] Francis Chan, Letters to the Church, pages 74-75.

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