Thursday, July 5, 2012

Love Is the Answer (Now What Was the Question?)


One of the funniest things about cartoons that I always enjoyed were the nonsense “noise” scenes, whether it was Foghorn Leghorn and Dog, Tom and Jerry, or Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner.  When one of them would trying to awaken the other, or just be downright irritating, what did they do?  They would pull out a pair of cymbals and clash them together, or take a mallet and mercilessly beat a gong with it.  Now, if you do this with anyone more than once, they are going to become pretty irritated and riled up.  And I believe that this is precisely why Paul chooses the apt illustration that he does to begin the 1 Corinthians 13.  He says (paraphrased), “If you are able, by some gifting from the Lord, to speak with tongues, exercise great faith, be the best…whatever it is that you do…if you do it without love, then you are like a loud cymbal or gong going off.”  (1 Corinthians 13:1).  It is apparent that the Corinthians struggled with certain “negative” emotions.  This is not too surprising given the high value that the ancient Greeks places on the intellect, and the fact that they diminished "emotions."  Paul experiences this with the Athenians at Mars Hill as he tries to teach them concerning Christ with an illustration from their own highly-esteemed philosophers of the day (Acts 17:22ff).  This was not to diminish the importance of the intellect, but to give it the proper perspective…a priority that we still need today.  Paul understands that if that if the early believers are ever going to understand and experience a relationship with Jesus Christ, that love is going to be at the center of it...and this it is not just a feeling, but a commitment.  

This is one of the most recognizable and significant passages in the New Testament.  It has been interesting to me how people have routinely pulled this message out of context in order to make it stand alone to describe any number of relationships…husband and wife, parent and child, Christian and Christian, Christian and non-Christian.  Yet, in context, it is clearly a description of how Christians are to treat each other as it relates to their spiritual gifts and opportunities for growth.  It is apparent that some of the Corinthians are acting in an arrogant, condescending manner toward some of their brothers and sisters in Christ.  The damaging attitudes on display are to the effect – “I am a better Christian than you, because I have this spiritual gift and it is better than your spiritual gift.”  Paul says, “This is all wrong!”  The first three verses of chapter 13 are routinely ignored, because so much attention is given to verses 4 and following…yet the first few are so descriptive.   In essence, Paul says, 9.     For all of the knowledge of the Word we might gain, convictions we might hold, opinions we might express…if these matters are not tempered God’s Spirit of love, then it is not worth anything.  It is necessary that our love for the Father and the Son and His family be the primary focus of our lives.  We cannot allow ourselves…our opinions, our wants, our selfishness…to get in the way of the greater good and the wholeness of the body.  This is wisdom, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  Love is powerful.  When we exercise love in our lives, certain qualities make themselves evident.  We will strive to have attitudes and actions that are patient, kind, not jealous or arrogant, but thoughtful, humble, seeking to do what is right by and for others. These are very important qualities.  By genuinely pursuing these qualities, it makes all of our relationships fulfilling in their own way.  If this is the case, then matters in our lives begin to make sense that may not have been making much sense previously.  If we are committed to understanding and applying these matters to our lives, then we have captured the spirit and understanding of Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 13.

Paul goes on to shares that…all things pass away, including you and me, but not love – it remains forever. God is love…and His love never fails.  Faith will eventually no longer have a place…when we see the Father, and the Son, faith will be no more.  Hope will one day be fulfilled and no longer relevant…when we have gone to be with Christ, our hope will have been completed.  Love is truly the greatest of these qualities -- is eternal!  God is characterized by love…as are His children.  It is not a question, “If we should or will love,” but an imperative, “We will love”…it is a choice, an action.  In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Do not waste your time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor, act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.  If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less."  Love is essential…if we who are in Christ truly walk according to God’s love, we will live forever.  Love is means taking a risk to help another. Of all the fruits of the Spirit, love is the greatest virtue. Do you love those people the Lord has placed in your life? Today in prayer, thank Christ that He is love and that the greatest example of love is His dying on the Cross for you.

Blessings, Don

P.S.:  I will get back to Galatians soon. :-)

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