Summary: Exploring the principles of serving one another in the assembly with the gifts God has provided.
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”
Reciprocity is a mark of spirituality. By that, I mean that each Christian is responsible both to receive ministry from others and to invest service in others. Christians are not to live as though each person is an island, but rather Christians are to recognise and embrace the need to serve one another in love.
That reciprocal aspect of the Faith is the focus of the message today, and in order to get a handle on our purpose in the church, I ask you to consider the words of the Apostle to the Gentiles. In his first letter to the Corinthian congregation, Paul wrote of our purpose. Though he did not specifically say that we were to serve one another in the passage under consideration, he did nevertheless emphasise reciprocity in service.
THE OVERARCHING PRINCIPLE — “Pursue love…” Paul begins this portion of his instruction with an admonition to seek love—and to do so ardently. This is a call both to love and to seek what reveals love. It is a plea for the people of God to see the best in one another, even as they interact with one another. One translation commands, “Be constantly pursuing this love, earnestly endeavouring to acquire it.” Another asserts, “Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does.”
The preacher urging his congregation toward love is the stuff of caricature. The world ridicules the ubiquitous emphasis on love that characterises the Christian message. We are compelled to speak of love since love is integral to our Faith. God is presented as loving; accordingly, we are taught from earliest days that “God is love” [1 JOHN 4:8]. All that we are and all that we do as Christians is coloured by God’s love for His people.
John reveals the impact of God’s love in the life of the Christian when he writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 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.
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” [1 JOHN 4:7-21].
Love is from God, because God is love; even so, those who know God reflect the love of God toward others. In the Greek tongue, different words are translated into our English tongue by the word “love.” One of those words, éros, is not actually found in our New Testament; the word represents sexual love. Another word translated into English as “love” is the word phílos; it is used of feelings for a dear friend or family member. The third word is that which is used in our text—agápe. The word connotes unconditional love—love without consideration of the object. Agápe is a selfless form of love that is focused outward, instead of being focused solely on the “self.”