Summary: The primacy of love against the backdrop of Spiritual gifts, mutual interdependence and the common good.
Have you noticed what’s been happening in your bank? "The Banks" have been introducing change by stealth. It began over 10 years ago when the banks made some poor investment decisions during the buoyant 80’s. But with the Stock Market crash of 89, banks were struggling with extreme levels of defaulting loans. But rather than sack their Directors, or reduce dividends to the investors, they started to recoup some of their losses through the introduction of the principle of "user-pays" (we call them bank fees). The banks continue to cut costs through service rationalisation (we call them branch closures). With each release of their annual financial results, it’s unusual not to hear that each bank has "improved" on its prior year’s result.
And linked with those changes has been another shift - perhaps more subtle, yet foundational to the relationship between our banks and us. Check this out - a pamphlet entitled "Important Notice to all Bank Clients"! What do you see?
I’m sure I used to be a customer. Now I’m a client. And do you know what the difference is? You serve customers, you charge clients. The dichotomy is we need banks (or perhaps credit unions), but banks also need us. No customers, no bank. We have a mutual dependence upon each other, which used to be based on service and trust - not any more. We are clients, not customers.
We used to get service with a smile and a piggy bank, now we stand in long queues for the privilege of paying bank fees. There’s a warning in this for banks, because everyone knows you’ve got to mind your fees and queues.
What’s all this got to do with a sermon from 1 Corinthians? The church used to be about service and mutual interdependence and about love; but it, but we, are in danger of losing our sense of service and interdependence. We are in danger of losing our first love in the pursuit of programmes, effectiveness, individualism and dogma. It is love that sets the Church apart from the world - it always has, it always will because love is the mark of Christian authenticity. The Corinthians were no different. The church in Ephesus was condemned in the book of Revelation because they’d lost their first love. They’d sought truth - which they were commended for, but they forsook love in the process - and for that they were condemned. We need to regain that sense of service and interdependence. We need to hang on to our first love and rekindle it. We need to hear from God about what He says, we need to pay attention, and we need to do it.
THE CONTEXT OF 1 CORINTHIANS 12-14
For the last couple of months, we’ve been looking at 1 Corinthians. And the overriding consideration has been how the church of God in Corinth was to be the church of God in Corinth.
This morning’s sermon is something you may expect to hear at a Pentecostal wedding. We’re looking at Spiritual gifts and love. Whenever someone mentions Spiritual gifts, the Bible springs open to 1 Corinthians 12 - as if by divine intervention, and I would suggest that 1 Corinthians 13 is the standard fare for the majority of "church" weddings in between strains of "Love divine, all loves excelling".
Today’s passage is 1 Corinthians 12 to mid way through chapter 14. With two and a half chapters to cover and 20 minutes up my sleeve, you hope that I’m going to be a little selective. Some may be a little disappointed with what I don’t say today, but I’ve picked out the ideas that I see as having the most relevance for us. I’m not going to talk about tongues, or their interpretation, or about prophecy or the distinguishing of spirits. That’s the sort of stuff the Corinthians were big on, and yet Paul subordinates those things to third place behind the need for unity and the need to love.
The Corinthian church had some problems. Hey, all churches have problems. All people have problems. The key is how you deal with the problems you have. The Corinthians had written to Paul requesting his insight and wisdom. His response indicates the Corinthian church had:
- A tainted understanding of unity where they wanted to follow the gifted and not the leader.
- A preparedness to tolerate sin within their numbers.
- They had a misplaced emphasis on particular Spiritual gifts. And how some people saw it as their right to exercise those gifts whenever they chose.
- And there were some issues about the Lord’s Supper, which Roger looked at last week.
Yet throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul doesn’t spend too much time describing the negatives of Corinth, but instead details the positives of how they should live as the church of God in Corinth.