The last statement of 1st Corinthians 12, prior to the infamous chapter 13 – the “love chapter” – is this:
“And I show you a still more excellent way.”
Paul had been challenging the church of Corinth to quit being so self-absorbed as individuals. They were using the church for self-promotion and jockeying for position of importance. They were even creating a scale of importance for worship expression and making spiritual gifts about personal fulfillment rather than about church mission fulfillment. They were not choosing the more excellent way that Paul would write about in the chapter that followed.
It is love that makes the church most excellent. Not the church as a “what” – a place or an event or a product – but church as a “who” – the people who follow Jesus and live on mission together. Think about these statements:
- it is love that connects the many, diverse members of the body of Christ, and it is love that keeps them together on mission.
- it is love that authenticates and ignites the body of Christ for relationship and mission and purpose and function together, both locally and globally.
- it is love that blossoms in the lives of the members of the body of Christ when they each choose the fruit of the Spirit rather than the indulgence of self.
Paul wrote a similar message to the church of Galatia. I am praying that our church family will grow more and more in living out this message, not regarding “church” in any way as a means of self-promotion. Rather, living as though crucified with Christ surrendered to blossom the fruit of the Spirit into every detail of our lives. Pretty powerful passage here in Galatians 5:13–26:
13 It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. 14 For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. 15 If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? 16 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. 17 For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. 18 Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence? 19 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; 20 trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; 21 the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom. 22 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, 23 not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. 24 Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. 25 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. 26 That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
May we be the church together in a more excellent way. Living by the Spirit. Surrendering self-promotion and self-indulgence, especially with regard to using the church for these matters. Loving each other. Loving our neighbor and the nations together.
Looking forward to diving into the 1st three verses of chapter 13 Sunday the 27th. Love y’all.