Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sunday School Lesson: The Greatest is Love

Purpose: To assure us that God’s eternal love is the ground of everything good and lasting in the universe.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13

Last weeks lesson (1 Corinthians 12) covered spiritual gifts and their roles in the church. In chapter 12, Paul used the metaphor of the church as a body, functioning very much like a human body. Every part of the body must function properly and cooperate with every other part in order to maintain proper health. There has been a lot of press in the last few years on holistic medicine, an approach to healthcare that emphasizes the health of the "whole person". This idea seems to agree with Paul’s metaphor. The health of every part of a person affects the health of all other parts. The same is true in the Church. Every Christian is a unique part of the Body of Christ. Every unique Christian has unique gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Every Christian and every gift has a valuable and important role to play that contributes to the health of the whole Body. Every part needs all the other parts and every part aids all the other parts.

We were told in chapter 12 that all the individuals who make up the have a function in the Church. But what is the function of the Church?

Let’s make a list:

What is the function of the Church? What is the Church for?

Possible answers:
1. The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ
2. To proclaim the Gospel.
3. To seek, welcome, and gather persons into the Body of Christ.
4. To nurture persons in Christian living.
5. To teach persons to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel.

(Note: these and many other functions of the church can be found on the "What We Believe" page at

Of all the answers that we come up with for the function of the church, how many relate to things we do but not to why we do them?

In Chapter 12 Paul tells about who does what in the church. Verse 31 marks a transition:

1Co 12:31 ESV
(31) But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Paul is no longer talking about who does what. He now shifts his focus to why.

1Co 13:1-3 ESV
(1) If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
(2) And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
(3) If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

What point was Paul making about the use of our spiritual gifts in these verses?

Our gifts are only tools and have no value in and of themselves. The only value of our spiritual gifts is how they express love. Paul makes a very radical assertion in these verses. Without love no spiritual gift or any religious act has any lasting significance. Good acts, even sacrificial acts, have no value if they are not motivated by love.

Let’s talk briefly about the love that Paul is talking about. This passage is often used in wedding ceremonies. Does this passage have any relation with romantic love?

The covenantal love that Paul celebrates in this passage has little, if anything, to do with romantic love. This passage is directed at the church as a body and at the individuals that make up that body in how they function together as the church.

Is love just another of the many gifts of the spirit offered to Christians?

Love is not merely a gift. Agape love forms an essential part of our new nature in Christ. Love is the goal of the creator and the basis of all creation. It is the only foundation for eternal life. Love is the foundation on which we build the Body of Christ.

From Adult Bible Studies: Teacher :

One could argue that this text is imminently relevant to marriage. However, the sentimentality of most weddings vitiates the seriousness of Paul’s message, which was directed toward a church that was tearing itself apart.

It would be more faithful to Paul, and more effective for our faith, if we mandated the reading of 1 Corinthians 13 at church council meetings and annual conferences - indeed, at every meeting where Christians meet to settle scores or to keep them....

If we took its message seriously, this chapter would shake the church and its members to the foundations. How much of our activities, architecture, and attitudes would stand the scrutiny of the issue that Paul raised in this chapter? No matter how good it looks or makes us feel, if what we accomplish is not an expression of love, it stands for nothing.....

The founder of Methodism, like Paul, understood that the work of Christ was nothing less than to make us... "perfect in love". It is time to take 1 Corinthians 13 (like the family Bible) out of its case and to start living what we profess.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, understood the connection between grace and what he called "sanctification" or "Christian perfection." Early protestants had reacted strongly to the Catholic emphasis on "earning merit" before God and stressed the idea of salvation by grace alone. But salvation was often narrowly defined as "rebirth" or conversion, and the early Reformers had difficulty explaining how Christian conduct was informed by the Bible.

Wesley realized that Christians are not only "justified" or "born again" by faith through grace; Christians are "sanctified" or "perfected" by faith through grace, too. The goal of the Christian life is not merely to "get to heaven" ...but to be made "fit for heaven" by the work of the Spirit. This understanding lies behind the teaching about the Spirit, spiritual gifts, and the doctrine of love in 1 Corinthians 13.

Wesley wrote a tract (one of my favorites) that addressed this subject in depth called A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. Here are some excerpts from this tract:

"Q. 3. How, then, are we 'not without law to God, but under the law to Christ?' (1 Cor. 9:21.)
"A. We are without that law; but it does not follow that we are without any law: For God has established another law in its place, even the law of faith: And we are all under this law to God and to Christ; both our Creator and our Redeemer require us to observe it.

"Q. 4. Is love the fulfilling of this law?
"A. Unquestionably it is. The whole law under which we now are, is fulfilled by love. (Rom. 13:9, 10.) Faith working or animated by love is all that God now requires of man. He has substituted (not sincerity, but) love, in the room of angelic perfection.

"Q. 5. How is 'love the end of the commandment?' (1 Tim. 1:5.)
"A. It is the end of every commandment of God. It is the point aimed at by the whole and every part of the Christian institution. The foundation is faith, purifying the heart; the end love, preserving a good conscience.

"Q. 6. What love is this?
"A. The loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and the loving our neighbour, every man, as ourselves, as our own souls.

Is the Christian life only about getting to heaven?

How does Paul’s statement that the only value of our spiritual gifts is in how they express love relate to much of what we do in the church today?

What danger is there in doing religious activities or acts of piety out of obligation or habit?

All of our "Christian" acts mean nothing if we have not done them with love in our hearts for God and our neighbors. Service can easily become self-serving without this dimension of love. There is very little danger of not engaging in service if we have love. There is great danger that one can become very active in the church without love.

Can you think of any instances when we have used our spiritual gifts without love?

What should the church do about its positions, roles, and activities that are not motivated by or do not express love?

What love is and is not:

1Co 13:4-7 ESV
(4) Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant
(5) or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
(6) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
(7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Let’s try something different. Let’s read verses 4-7 and every time we find the word "love" replace it with"Christ".

Christ is patient and kind. Christ does not envy or boast. Christ is not arrogant or rude. Christ does not insist on His own way. Christ is not irritable or resentful. Christ does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices the truth. Christ bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Does that still make a true statement?

Jesus has always set the benchmark for love:

1Jo 3:16 GNB
(16) This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for others!

Imitating Jesus and being conformed to Jesus mind and heart is the essence of Christian discipleship.

Is it easy to recognize love in action?

Can we recognize where love is non-existent in our hearts, minds, and actions?

Is it safe to say that where love is non-existent there also Christ is non-existent?

1Co 13:8-12 ESV
(8) Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
(9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
(10) but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
(11) When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
(12) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

What is meant by "love never ends"?

Love is not only eternal, but will eternally triumph. All of our spiritual gifts are tools to be used toward that end. The tools will (gifts) will one day become unneeded.

John Wesley’s notes on verse 8:

1Co 13:8 - Love never faileth - It accompanies to, and adorns us in, eternity; it prepares us for, and constitutes, heaven. But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail - When all things are fulfilled, and God is all in all. Whether there be tongues, they shall cease - One language shall prevail among all the inhabitants of heaven, and the low and imperfect languages of earth be forgotten. The knowledge likewise which we now so eagerly pursue, shall then vanish away - As starlight is lost in that of the midday sun, so our present knowledge in the light of eternity.

Is love merely an emotion or feeling?

Popular understanding of love is generally thought to be a romantic emotion, something that makes us feel special about another person. Paul understood love in a much deeper way. He based his understanding of love on the way God has shown His love for us. For Paul love was not merely an emotion. Love is a lifestyle. We love by doing, not by feeling.

What are some of the negative results of inaccurately defining love as a feeling?

Our feeling are in a constant state of change. Interpreting love as a feeling leads us to believe that we can "fall into" or "fall out of" love. Love is not temporary, but eternal.

In verse 3, Paul mentions generosity, or giving. What are some ways that our expressions of giving, even to the point of giving all we have, can be with an unloving attitude?

Many Christians practice charity. Charity is considered one of the defining marks of a Christian.

From William Barclay’s New Daily Study Bible:

There is nothing more humiliating that this so-called charity without love. To give as a grim duty, to give with a certain contempt, to take the moral high ground and throw scraps of charity as to a dog, to give and to accompany the giving with a smug moral lecture or a crushing rebuke, is not charity at all - it is pride; and pride is always cruel, for it knows no love.

How can we develop a mind-set that sees the worth of people and anticipates their becoming more than they currently are?

The best answer that I can come up with to that one is to practice love with open hearts, open minds, and open doors.

1Co 13:13 ESV
(13) So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

John Wesley’s notes on verse 13:

1Co 13:13 - Faith, hope, love - Are the sum of perfection on earth; love alone is the sum of perfection in heaven.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Blame it on HGTV

Due to the filming of the latest episode of "Trick My Kitchen" on location in the East wing of my home, there will be no Sunday School Lesson this week.

Stay tuned for next weeks episode : "Perserverance Through the Trials of Remodeling" or "My Back Porch is Now My Kitchen."