Love, A More Excellent Way: not misusing our spiritual gifts

Lord we come now in the name of Jesus and we thank You for Your Word. We thank You for Your Holy Spirit which is that deposit, that earnest of our inheritance given to us, residing within us and able to do Your work. Lord we ask for a cleansing of our own heart and motive, forgiveness of our sin, that the blood of Christ would be upon us and that Your interest and Your purpose Lord that would be dear to our hearts and that we might fellowship today in Your Word, that it would bless us and teach us and that we might not only know the fellowship of the saints Lord but feel Your presence as well. We ask for help in this hour in Jesus’ name amen.

1 Corinthians 13. This is a difficult chapter to teach because we’re all familiar with it. As soon as you start reading some of the verses, you start thinking of weddings and you start glazing over in your eyes and losing focus of what’s the consideration. Perhaps we’ve yet to adequately absorb the instruction. I think one of the common responses I have when I read 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, one of my common responses is my own revelation of my own realization of my sense of inadequacy and I get uncomfortable with the passage and kind of skip from word to word and hope I can improve and kind of go on. It’s easy to sense a pretty high standard here. Quick context though, this chapter on love is in the middle of a discussion of the church and how the church functions adequately as a church and how there’s a real danger in the church to divide up among ourselves and separate based upon things that aren’t worthy of separation. So Paul has been teaching about that need for unity and then all the sudden he come upon questions they have asked and he’s needing to speak about the nature of diversity in the church. And the diversity of the church centers around the differences that people possess, not only the different gifts that the Holy Spirit gives them but how they are manifested differently from person to person and situation to situation. And yet in all this context he’s striving for this bigger consideration of unity in the process of acknowledging this diversity. So chapter 13 begins with the last verse of chapter 12 which reads, “But covet earnestly the best gifts and yet I show unto you a more excellent way.” If I can end for a moment, let me skip over to chapter 14 and read verse 1, “Follow after charity and desire spiritual gifts but rather that you may prophesy.” So we really see that chapter 13 is literally sandwiched in between a very direct discussion of spiritual gifts. So if we’re going to get the greatest benefit from this understanding, then we need to recognize that this discussion on love is not about marriage and things relating to marriage, though we can certainly glean from that usefulness for our marriage and for our children. But it’s primarily an instruction to the body on a way that we function. So we have to ask the question as we begin. “I show unto you a more excellent way,” we’re striving for excellence. And the standard of excellence is shifting suddenly away from the gifts but how the gifts are used. I want to ask a practical question. It’s Sunday morning, we haven’t been here for several weeks, everybody’s not here yet, it’s heavy air pressure outside, all the sudden we’re talking about a passage of Scripture we’ve been studying in the distant past and here we are so what? I just want to ask a question, what do you think the problem is that we have as people that brings us to this necessity of describing excellence in terms of love and setting that up as a clear standard? What do you think is the core stress that relates (this is kind of like a practical question back in your own heart and your own home where you live) why do you think it’s necessary to raise this issue? What is our tendency? I guess that’s the question I’m asking. If you don’t answer me I’m not going to speak anymore. I’m just kidding. I’m trying some means to draw some life out of this group. If it’s selfishness, yes, but can you describe that selfishness a little bit more elaborately or illustrate it with some practicality? Yeah it’s selfishness. (I really can’t.) Let me explain it for you then and if I’m wrong you tell me. I’m speaking for you so you can correct me if it’s not what you meant. And I’ll just tell you if you were wrong. Selfishness is exactly the problem that we have as people. One of the problems that we have when somebody brings correction to us, we tend to imagine that correction as so out of the ordinary, so unusual, so above and beyond what’s appropriate. And it’s very difficult often for us to receive correction because we tend to camp out in a sense that, “Hey, I’m doing pretty good and I’m trying hard.” And of course we really underline the phrase, “I’m trying hard.” So when some criticism comes against us, there’s an offense because we say, “Well you don’t see how hard I’m trying and you’re just making this cut and dry statement criticizing me and…” So we tend to operate out of selfishness and selfishness means self-interest. Someone was telling me yesterday, I won’t say who, but somebody was telling me yesterday that when I talk to them they kind of wonder if I’m there or not and I’m kind of distant and far away and they’re not sure whether they’re speaking to me or just to this shell of a person that is somewhere else and the body is greeting them but the eyes and the heart aren’t there. That’s often the nature of selfishness. We’re on a mission. We have an agenda. We have an interest. And when it comes to spiritual gifts we have a problem and that’s self identity. As people we naturally try to strive and struggle for a sense of self identity. Who am I and what am I? That sense of self identity is very importatn when you find yourself where? In a group. Here we are in a group and what’s my identity? The natural nature of man is that I don’t want to be obscure, I don’t want to be a nothing. We often can be hurt in a group like this if there’s not some extension of consideration or friendliness, just a friendly hello. I remember when I was teaching high school, these teenagers were hard for me to deal with because I liked people looking me in the eye and saying “Hi, how are you?” That just means a lot to me. Here I am a teacher in the school and I walk down the hallway and I feel like I’m invisible. Nobody says hello. That natural sense of identity we like to be connected and feel like we’re a part. That’s natural. So when you’re in the body of Christ and when you’re struggling with this issue of self, how does self connect to the divisions that the Corinthians were having? What was the one thing that these divisions were doing for the Corinthians and of course sinfully working against Corinthians? But what was happening? Open in chapter 1, what did Paul say? “I am of,” and identity, it was an immediate sense of identity and the importance of relationship to the group was identity. Now believe it or not that is a tremendous struggle that you and I have as people. We have a tremendous need for identity. And we’re very sensitive if we sense at all that someone’s view of me has a little bit of distance, a little bit of seclusion, “You’re not really in our group.” And there’s people that have actually come to this church I’ve heard recently that are visiting and they’ve left feeling like we didn’t welcome them. They left feeling like we were so tight and friendly with each other that we didn’t have room in our hearts for them. I hurt when I hear that. I think, “Oh who was that?” Why did we do that? Or what did we do? But there is that need that we have to feel included and welcome and there’s that sensitivity that we have naturally by a sense of exclusion. And this discussion on love is so important because it helps us over that barrier. What’s the hardest part of a barrier of love? It’s when you don’t return the love, the love isn’t requited or returned back to you and you’re supposed to what? Keep on loving. So physical love is of the utmost essence visionary. It’s visionary outwardly to someone else and our natural state of mind is generally self-centered, it’s selfish, and we’re kind of looking for ourself. So often I come in and I want to be welcomed, I want to be received, I want to be loved. So I’m walking among you with the major thing hanging out, “Please love me, please love me.” And so what do I do to get you to love me? This is really funny, children sometimes do this. You can have my hanky if you’ll be my friend. We try and get something that we imagine will attract people to us and get them to love us. Here is where the spiritual gifts in the Corinthians had become a problem. The spiritual gifts had become magic hankies and they were sharing them and trying to get acceptance, trying to get acknowledgement and trying to belong and be important to the group. And these gifts were being used as little means of gaining specialness. So the purpose of the gifts was beginning to be threatened by the misuse of the gifts.

I want to establish the first principle then. What is the misuse of a spiritual gift? Based on what we’ve talked about this morning so far with selfishness, what is the misuse of a gift? The misuse of a gift is to use a spiritual gift so that, fill in the rest. (So others will like me.) O.k. (Personal gain.) Here’s the sad thing about it if you’re honest we’re always inclined towards that. Now to admit that doesn’t mean that you should be sweepingly condemned but there’s always that temptation, there’s always that taint of me in there, it’s natural. Now as Christians we have to recognize that God loves us and He’s working on those things. And if He’s working on those things, what’s He probably going to do? He’s probably going to put us in settings that cause us to learn how to give up that need of self, to learn how to sacrifice and die to that need and serve anyway. That’s the process. So for you Christian it’s not a fun task when it comes to that kind of approach because it’s a training camp of learning how to die to myself. When you see how much you have to die to, you can get very discouraged because you think, “I’ve been a Christian umpteen years and what is this? I’m still acting like a baby in first grade.” So the misuse of a spiritual gift is to use something so that I bring somebody else into an accounting with me whereby they owe me some affection, they owe me some love. There is the tail of the misuse of gifts. And that’s how spiritual gifts get turned upside down because that’s how you end up with little cliques. The gifts that are the most honored in the group become the greatest means. I have a question. It’s real important to this passage. You may not believe this but we’re not going to get to chapter 14 today so I’m going to get to it this way in preliminary function. What do you think in weakness men would use in terms of spiritual gifts, what would be the nature of elevation? What kinds of spiritual gifts would man naturally tend to elevate in order to magnify their self image in order to cause themselves to feel good about themselves, feel important, feel like they really belong and maybe somebody should listen to me because I’ve really got something to say? What do you think would be those kinds of gifts. I’m not actually meaning specifically. I’ll touch on it specifically once we get the category resolved, but generally speaking. (Visible gifts.) Visible, yes, but visible in what way? Visible in the supernatural. The more supernatural, the more exciting it is. Have an exciting supernatural thing, it draws us. I want to illustrate just briefly, when Christ was on the earth and He did miracles, do you remember that time He changed the loaves and the fishes into multitude and fed 5,000? And the Scripture said in John, it said they were going to come and forcibly make Him king. They were excited. What’s important to realize is they were fed and they had never had this happen before and they were excited. They had been fed food and they were excited to make Jesus king and then Jesus looked at them and rebuked them, He said, “You don’t seek Me because of who I am, you seek me because your bellies were filled.” Then immediately they turned on Him. Just an immediate transition, all the sudden they’re mad. They said, “Who are you to talk to us like this, show us a sign.” And they immediately began demanding a miracle. I don’t get this. You just fed them, their bellies are full. With one tiny rebuke and now they want to demand a sign. What did Jesus say to the Jews? There became a phrase that the Gospels recorded more than one time, a phrase that was used and what was that phrase? It says, “This generation seeketh after a sign, but there shall no sign be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” That’s an important point for us to understand in connection to spiritual gifts. Our temptation to associate with supernatural spiritual gifts that are more visible to make ourselves feel more spiritual. “If there’s a larger visibility of the Spirit, then I’m more spiritual than if there’s a lesser visibility.” Do you see that natural inclination that’s going on? Here’s the dilemma God has chosen spiritual gifts to nourish the church. It’s His purpose, it’s His plan. We do have the Spirit and we do have gifts and it’s necessary, it’s useful, it’s profitable, so the gifts need to be there. But Paul stops in the middle of his discussion of spiritual gifts. Basically he rattles off a little list and then he says, “Now desire more earnestly the best gifts, but I show unto you a more excellent way.” And he’s immediately concerned about the manner in which the gifts are used before he goes on in chapter 14 and elaborates the manner in which the gifts are used or isolates these gifts and talks about them in context. And he gets to that. If the gifts that are more supernatural appearing tend to attract us more, can anybody guess what would be the most likely gift that would naturally by its nature, by the gift’s nature, now the gift is from the Holy Spirit so the gift isn’t evil but by the nature of this gift, by it’s nature and the weakness of man, what gift would naturally cause the most division in the church just understanding our misimpression that the more spiritually supernatural a gift appears, the more impressed we tend to be with ourselves? Thank you. Everybody’s saying it quietly but nobody’s saying it out loud. The gift of tongues. Now why is the gift of tongues such a supernaturally appearing gift? Because it’s visible, it’s very obvious and when I speak with tongues fluently that I’ve never spoken before, that’s amazing. It’s just stunning. So it’s kind of like the chief gift for spiritual grandeur in terms of the weakness of the flesh. I’m not saying the gift has no value, I’m just saying it’s the gift that has the greatest temptation. So when Paul is talking to us and wants to show us the more excellent way, he wants to give us the secret for avoiding the trap of gifts. By the way, every single spiritual gift has a trap of spiritual pride with it, every one. Every single gift can be a means for you or me to depart from the path and find ourselves feeling more spiritually important than we should because we’re looking again at the outward appearance and we’re causing ourselves to be comforted by this grandeur that we’re impressed with of who we are. So there’s a great danger in this whole process and Paul’s addressing it directly. I want us to understand in context that Paul looks at tongues as the greatest or the least gift? From the text. Anybody know? You want to tell me? Is tongues the greatest or the least gift in Paul’s eyes? The least gift. It’s the least gift. Why is it the least gift? We’ll learn this in 1 Corinthians 14 in real thorough detail that’ll almost wear us out and maybe we won’t go into every detail. It tends to edify me and not the body and there’s the secret to value of spiritual gifts in the church. When the assembly convenes, there is a necessity at that convening for edification of others and not self. That’s the primary need. When we assemble together, that need for edifying of one another is a primary thing. That’s a motivation. It has to be an objective. I want to put you on the spot. Should I put Andy on the spot? He’s newly baptized, and ..Andrew, when you came to church this morning, now you don’t have to answer this question, you can just groan and grunt and turn white, how much time did you spend praying and asking God for a tender heart and a sensitive spirit so that you might minister to the body? And you don’t know who you’re going to minister, but “Lord just make me sensitive to be alert.” And as you sit there, how much anticipation do you have with a desire to serve the body? I don’t want you to answer it because that would be unfair. I’m asking Andrew but I’m asking us all. That’s a good question. If you don’t come to fellowship so that your concern and your interests are others, you’re at risk. You’re most likely coming for your own personal edification. So if that’s the truth then you come out of sync with this very first verse, “I show you a more excellent way.” Maybe we can keep it from being too stinging and too rebuking by saying, “It’s natural for people to come together, it’s natural for us to want to have fellowship in the body and it’s natural for us to want to be nourished and encouraged ourselves and we want to come for our edification, but it’s more excellent for me to come with a consideration of the group and not myself.” I just want to pause for a moment and express, that’s why fatherhood is such an important leadership building block for the church because what is fatherhood? Taking on the selflessness of Christ and learning how to serve and minister to my root, to my family, and put their interests at my primary point of reference and care sacrificially at the loss of my own interests for their well being and for their good. It’s just kind of a natural reflection that what I do in the church reflects what God is also trying to do in our homes. These are mutually beneficial that as I learn how to be a better dad, a better husband, I am engaging the spiritual apparatus by which I learn how to serve the whole body. I don’t know if you’ve had an experience of meeting someone but I have met some really godly men and when you see the godly men function in groups I’m amazed sometimes at the length of time at which they’re totally silent and are just quiet and they’re watching. And there’s so many times this need of others to clamour in their interests and their concern for themselves and this godly person is just quiet. I’ve watched finally, there’s almost is this uncanny sense of the group finally getting the picture and the group asks, “Well do you have something to share?” And they invite the quiet one and when he opens his mouth everyone listens. You can hear a pin drop because he’s been well considered and he’s thinking of the group and he’s thinking of enriching them and he’s not there for himself. So as we move into this discussion of 1 Corinthians 13, it is a very difficult passage for us to take home and practice. And why is it difficult? Because by our very nature we tend to be people who are inclined to promote our interests when we get in a group and to position ourselves in such a way that we receive that which we want and that’s not the more excellent way.

So can we read together 1 Corinthians? I’m going to go ahead and read with the first verse of chapter 14 as well as the last verse of chapter 12 as a point of reference. So beginning at chapter 12 verse 31, let’s read 1 Corinthians 13. “But covet earnestly the best gifts and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” Now listen to this first section very carefully. 1 Corinthians is divided into three sections. Verses 1 to 3 gives us the comparison of the wrong attitude of gifts that vaunts one’s self and the right attitude by comparing it to love. The second section is from verse 4 to the first fragment of verse 8 and that’s where we get a good, simple definition of love or charity in it’s manifold aspects and we’ll never master that perhaps in our whole life, but it’s a good point of reference, it’s a good place to keep going back to. The third section is from verse 8 to the end of the chapter, verse 13 where we focus on one quality of charity above all the other qualities and that is that love never fails, charity never fails. It compares spiritual gifts in this category of failure and that’s important for us to understand in terms of the context which helps us to see love for what it is. I believe that I can say wholeheartedly that any believer who walks out their gifts in love, they can be confident that they will be edifying those they’re serving. There’ll be an edification and a consideration and there’ll be a usefulness from it. That’s the challenge, “this is the more excellent way.” If I’m going to use my gift, why not use it in such a way that it reaps a large reward in the hearts of those I want to serve? Why not? Why not strive for excellence so that I might reap the greatest benefit in the least amount of time with my gift.

Let’s read. Chapter 12 verse 31, “But covet earnestly the best gifts and yet I show unto you a more excellent way,” verse 1, “But if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become as the sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” Notice the contrast, pretty stark contrast. Verse 2, “Thou I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though I have all faith so that I can remove mountains and have not charity, I am nothing.” Verse 3, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and though I give my body to be burned and have not charity, it profits me nothing.” Pause for just a moment and imagine a martyr’s death at the stake, being burned to death at the stake. We have lots of examples through history. And look at this incredibly stark comparison that the Word of God brings to such an illustration. From the human side, we dare not lay the smallest accusation against one who so nobly would defend their faith that they would die in the flames of death, that great torture. And yet God has the courage to say, “You know what? That’s nothing, that’s absolutely meaningless if it’s not done with love.” If motivation isn’t love, it’s nothing. That starkness, brothers and sisters, is important for you and I to register because if I came to you and criticized you with this starkness you’d be hurt. You’d be very hurt because you would think that I was disregarding all the good things that I do. You know, we as believers know we are saved by the merit of Christ and not our own merit and we will be offended if anyone would explain the Gospel to someone in such a way that said, “You know, if your good works outweigh your bad works, well I think you’ll be alright.” That would highly offend us because we know that there’s no good works adequate to save us and our singular one bad work, if that’s all we had, was enough to damn us. We know the Gospel that clearly. It’s just a lie and we’re not going to be falling for that. But you know what? We do fall for it all the time with our sense of lack of self judgment, lack of analysis of who we really are. Because here we are, we tend to be like these disciples that Christ speaks of in the Gospel when they come to Him at the end and say, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we do many mighty works in Your name?” And there’s expectation. “I’ve got my list, I’ve got my works, I can show you spiritual power that came out of my life serving God,” and yet there’s this stark absolute sweeping condemnation when Jesus says, “Depart from Me ye workers of iniquity for I never knew you.” That’s incredibly stark. You and I tend to walk everyday out of that sense of satisfaction with what I’m doing, “I’m trying pretty hard, I’m doing pretty good. I mean I know I’ve got lots to work on and I’m trying, I’m working on those things but overall,” isn’t that a common phrase we use? “Overall I’m doing pretty good, I’m striving, I’m pressing for the mark.” It’s important for us to understand that when we have a point of reference for our own spirit’s well being, we have to have a clear spiritual reference that’s absolutely stark, that captures our imagination and in a sense builds us in our gut this shear sense of terror that there’s a chance that I am completely off the mark; I am way out of line. Look at this pattern. He looks here, if you notice, pay close attention, he lists here the most visible spiritual gifts, the gifts that are most supernatural and most visible. Those are the two keys to spiritual gifts, natural inclination for my desire and he lists them. There they are tongues, prophecy, understanding, faith. It’s interesting here. I just find this, if you want a definition of faith, here’s a cute one. Jesus said, “If you have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Be thou removed into the sea’.” Paul is discussing faith, he describes that little grain of mustard seed as all faith. “If I have all faith so I can say to this mountain, ‘Be moved to the sea’,” and the context that he is, not yet has anybody spoken to this mountain and had it moved to the sea, it’s still yet to be done. That’s the little bit of mustard seed faith that we need and it’s just all faith. Do you see the angle? Faith, God’s looking at the heart where I’m trusting God and resting in Him. But when I have got a hold of faith and my ego’s attached to it, I’m looking at the mighty work I did and so getting that mountain into the sea, the biggest thing in faith anybody’s ever done. But the Lord says, “I’m nothing.” He says, “I am a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” He says, “It profits me nothing.” That’s a stark contrast of God’s view of me when I’m using His gifts. It’s a stark view. It’s amazing to me to realize that God isn’t just interested in the gift getting used, He’s interested in it getting used in love, in the excellent way. I want to suggest to you this morning that if you can replace the natural inclination we have of our egos to be important, to be viewed as really spiritual because of our gifts, if we can replace that with a better motivation where my heart’s ambition and desire is, “How can I encourage the brothers? How can I build their faith? How can I find the spot where they’re struggling and where they’re weak and come alongside and help bear their burden and move them towards victory and success in Jesus? How can I do that?” That’s the exchange. It’s the motive of me versus you. That’s what the motive is all about. It’s a whole sense of consideration. As we go through this next section of chapter 13, as we read that, I want you to just keep one perspective in mind, in this whole perspective love is being defined in terms of me, the person who’s doing the loving as giving consideration to someone other than myself for their interest. And everything of love is measured for somebody else’s interest. And there’s a pretty high standard here and it’s also a safe standard because when you really love someone else, you will not Mickey Mouse with the areas of correction in their life that need correcting. You’ll not call iniquity good. You’ll call it iniquity and you’ll clean it out if you really love them. Course you and I know that we can judge and think evil and despise people by looking at their sins and shortcomings. So it’s not just the willingness to speak, there’s a whole battery. The two extremes are a judging condemner of souls, someone pretending that he’s serving them and that’s a lie, and the other end of the spectrum is a little mouse who would never lay a word of accusation, would never let it to rest on someone’s ears the slightest question about their spirituality. How many times have I been in a counseling session with someone and when the problems are kind of brought out in the open and we’re discussing the problems and you say, “I wonder about,” blank and you name a principle of God’s Word and what have you and you say, “I know but you need to understand I have really tried and I’ve done everything I can,” and the first round of discussion is the defense of me. And it takes a lot of courage to penetrate that self justification when you’re in an intimate counseling session where somebody’s perhaps sitting there with tears, needing comfort and wanting to stand behind lies for their comfort. It takes a little bit of love to circumvent, to overcome that. So there are the two extremes, mousiness and judgmentalness and love finds itself dead square in the middle because it’s serving the other person’s interest.

So let’s read beginning at verse 4, “Charity suffers long and is kind. Charity envieth not. Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” Verse 5, “Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never faileth.” I’m going to stop right there for a moment because this is the section where love has been defined, where love has been described. It’s a little difficult to get through this section adequately because as far as I’m concerned, I’m completely inadequate at making an attempt to really draw out every one of these elements in their greatest sense of power and vantage. But let’s look at it a little bit. Let’s just kind of explore from the surface what we can see at least today. Let’s start, I always like to start in the middle because that gives it a disjointed contrast and then you can kind of look around better from that side, you can climb back to the beginning from there. But the thing that kind of struck me is look at this one list here in verse 7, “Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Those four items are already discussed in the first three verses. It already talked about somebody being willing to give his body to be burned, having all faith to move mountains. And there’s a secret here about love that you need to understand right at the beginning. Abstractly, it’s common, it would be natural for me to think abstractly, “Well if I have this gift, gift “Y”, if I have this gift, I need to use that gift. I need to find out how to use this gift and how to serve people.” And there’s a tendency to naturally think about my constructive effort to use my gift. But the danger is, if I spend too much introversion time looking at me and my gift, I’m going to tend toward the error of self identity. I’m going to tend to the error of selfishness and self consideration and I’m going to be primarily focused on me and my gift in a way that will have a tendency to take away valuable spiritual ministry. And that’s why he said, “If I use my spiritual gifts perfectly to the best they’ve ever been used in the history of mankind, there’s a perfect use of my spiritual gift but I don’t have love, it’s of no value. It’s absolutely worthless; it has no benefit.” That should be frustrating to the human spirit. You and I should be frustrated to think, “You mean I can put all this effort and all this consideration and care into my gift and perform perfectly,” that’s even the hardest part, “perform perfectly, a perfect work of faith or a perfect word of prophecy, it could be absolutely perfect, but when God measures it in His measuring stick, He says, ‘This is worthless,’ and He pushes it aside like a piece of dung.” That should be frustrating to you and me. That should captivate us with a sense of, “I don’t want to waste my life producing rejection.” I want to do something for real. But notice the turn around here. In that verse, verse 7, the turn around is amazing. If I have love, love is the whole motivational thrust of gifts and as soon as I am walking in love, my gifts are going to start flowing and I am going to be functioning with vitalness in my gift. But more than that, my gift’s going to be hitting a mark and I’m going to be hitting home runs or whatever you want to call it in terms of some description of victory and success. I’m going to make it. As far as I’m concerned that challenges me because I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time striking out. It’s great for the major leagues to have a batting average of 300 which means 2/3 times out of ten they strike out. I’d rather have a little bit more accuracy in functionality. And love is the key. Love is the key. The thing about love is that love stops the inward focus and it starts the outward focus. I’m going to stop for a moment. The church was called in Hebrews 10 to gather together so much the more, verse 13, we are to “consider one another, how to provoke one another unto love and good works.” That is the single most powerful definition of the church you will ever find in the Scriptures. One verse describes it all. My purpose in the church is to consider others. My contribution to others is to consider how I can encourage others toward love. Notice that works follows love in that verse, “towards love and good works.” You get the engine of love working in someone’s heart and that stirs up the Holy Spirit power and then the gifts kick in, that which God has given as a deposit, it kicks in. I’m going to be provoking others to good works. They’re going to have good works out of their love. They’re going to be stirred by love to serve. Again, to me it’s an incredible point of reference. I just keep going back and remember, “Oh thank God for the family. Thank God for the family.” The family is the place I get to learn this first. Here’s the place of service. Dads, how much time do you consider how to provoke your family to love? If there’s tension in the home, what’s the first thing that you feel tension around, you don’t feel what? The first thing seems to go out the window doesn’t it? A lack of love, a lack of acceptance and we’re hurting because of that lack of love and lack of acceptance. The whole nature of God’s work is this love, love does what it’s supposed to do. So it’s like this, now this is my practical application you want to have success in the body of Christ with your spiritual gifts being used in a vital way, don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about your gifts. Start learning how to love. Start identifying your selfish and self-centered ways that detract from your love and service. Start at your own home. Start with your own spouse. Start with your own children. How? How can I provoke someone to love? You know what the Bible says in Ephesians 6? It says, “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.” Is it possible that this is the opposite spectrum of it? If I’m not considering how to provoke to love, likely I’m provoking to wrath? Simple, stark contrast. Is it possible that it’s not so much a spectrum where there’s a whole bunch of gradients in between but rather it’s kind of like flip side, either or. It’s like if I’m not doing this, I am doing this. If I’m not provoking unto love, I’m provoking unto wrath. There’s an incredible need to consider what this means here. We find that there is that capacity to serve out of that which I possess as a gift when love is in place.

I have one of the most humourous stories I’ve ever heard but it made me cry and laugh all at the same time. But it was my daughter-in-law’s father told this story at a school meeting a couple years ago…(tape turned here)…Dennis Gilliard, you all probably remember meeting him from time to time. But he shared this story about how he wanted to help his daughter. He was taking Algebra and she was gifted in math but he took shop classes and he did not have any Algebra history and he was not sharp in Math. I guess he functioned adequatly for basic math but outside of that he didn’t have much background. But he had this desire to encourage his daughter in Algebra and he would walk in and find her struggling over a problem. Of course he looked at the book and it was like tongues, foreign language, “Don’t have a clue what this is.” And he would want to help her but he wanted to help her out of his love but he didn’t know what his gift was. Actually he thought he had no gift to help her because he didn’t know the math. The natural inclination would be direct logic, “Well let me show you how to do this formula and how to do this problem.” But he didn’t even understand what he was looking at, let alone any of the process. So he just sat there with a hungry heart, a loving heart to help his daughter. So looking at her and having nothing of any resource to encourage her, he said, “Well why don’t you do this. I know I don’t understand anything and I won’t understand it, but why don’t you just teach it to me, why don’t you tell me what you’re trying to do and try to explain what your problem is.” So he sat there, she might as well been speaking in a foreign language. But she started telling him and she just smiled and not understanding anything she was saying. But as she went on she said, “Oh, oh that’s it Daddy, thank you, thank you for helping me.” And she got it, she’d get the answer. Love did the ministry and love did what it could. See that’s the beauty of spiritual gifts. When love is engaged, it does what it can and you use the resources of what you have, your own gift. And it doesn’t really matter what the offerers say, a gift is something that’s there and you have it and when your motivated, you’re stirred up by love, you just reach in and say, “Let me help you.” “Let me help you,” that’s the motivation of love. That’s the motivation of spiritual gifts used in love, “Can I help you?” Well if we’re going to help somebody we have to consider how we’re going to help them. We have to consider who they are. We have to consider what their needs are. We have to consider what our resources are. There’s a process of consideration. But can you begin to see a little bit why Paul said this is a more excellent way? Because I’m motivated not for my own end, but I’m motivated for somebody else’s and that’s what’s driving me. My motive, my ambition that I’m pressed with is somebody else’s benefit. I’m anxious that they get blessed, that they get help. And when they get help I get this sense of victory, “Thank you Lord, they’re helped.”

Looking at this list again, a few other things I’d like to point out. If you look at verse 6, you see what I call the fundamental premise of love. The fundamental premise of love, “Love rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in truth.” “Love rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in truth.” There’s three things here that’s important for us to see. First of all, let’s look at the error. We tend as humans to err with love and this principle is important to correct us in our perception of love. Because we think of love too often as a warm fuzzy affection. We wrap our hands or our arms around someone and give a sense of warm consideration and as that warmth is emitting, our capacity or our strength to resist them at any point naturally diminishes. You’re on my side, I’m on your side, I don’t want to resist you. So we tend to view correction, this is the flesh, the flesh tends to view correction as the opposite of love. Remember the story I told you when Daniel was born and I was teaching school? I explained to the children how I spanked Daniel and I went through the little formula of focusing on the command, the disobedience and the Scripture, praying, spanking with all my might and restoring with love. And the children said, “You’re confusing your kid. Your kid is going to be crazy when he grows up. On the one hand you tell him he’s wrong and then you turn right around and you hug him and you kiss him and you tell him he’s alright.” And this group of young people had no concept that love corrected. Their only idea of love was that you got what you want. When somebody’s in a loving mood, you can have your way and when you’re not getting your way, you’re not being loved. That’s the natural inclination of the flesh. But charity rejoices not in iniquity but it rejoices in the truth. Here’s the second key and that is the word “rejoice.” I’ve found the secret in difficult circumstances. I have been able to approach every single difficult circumstance by finding the truth that I could rejoice in and recognizing that this truth when properly perceived by me here is going to cause them to get happy and excited about good things for God. They’re going to be lifted up with joy and compassion and it’s going to separate them from their sin. That enables me to be strong in holding up the principle. Being strong as a leader isn’t just that you are stubborn, I’m that I realize – that’s a gift not a spiritual gift but a personality gift, but stubbornness and just refusal to bend, that isn’t the ultimate reality of love. It’s that rejoicing. I cross over and I rejoice. There’s a beautiful passage in 2 Corinthians I showed you several weeks ago; it says about the same exact thing, about rejoicing. Paul desired to rejoice with them in victory and in truth. But love rejoices in the truth and not in iniquity. So here’s what happens the person I need to minister to, they, by the fleshly design, are not rejoicing in the truth. They are rather being tempted by Satan and the circumstances they’re in and they’re rejoicing in iniquity. Instead of being attracted towards sin, they’re being drawn away of their lusts and their appetites towards that which is evil. Here I come in and I’m the bad guy. I have to come in and separate my children from these affections that are evil, but they think they’re good. Of course the battle is easy to ensue at this point. “Well I don’t see anything that’s wrong with it,” the first volley is fired and on we go. But the power of love is that it gives me the capacity by consideration of those I’m loving, it gives me the capacity to recognize the truth that they’re not seeing. It stirs in my heart a joy, “Yes, that’s going to get them,” and it gives us confidence that once my kid hears this they’re going to just be on my team and they’re going to rejoice with me. So I bring that truth but I have an edge now. All the sudden, instead of me being angry, instead of me being wrathful and provoked with impatience, I’m visionary; I’ve got a vision. “This is going to change your life, this is going to bless you. This is what it’s going to do,” and I bring that truth in the concept of its joy and I minister life. Love rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in the truth.

Let’s have a little definition game here. We’ve had this definition several times so I guess this is a pop quiz. What’s the definition of iniquity? Iniquity is doing my own will. Iniquity is willfulness. It’s any action I take based on my opinion. Remember the Scripture says, “There’s a way that seems right to man, there’s a way that seems right, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Iniquity is the actions that I take based on my own understanding. It’s a self will, a self motivation. What I do is I reduce God to my perspective. I had a real interesting illustration of this recently with my son Peter. We were driving in my truck down the road. I’m sitting there and I need my side mirrors to get a good vision. So I’m driving down the road and I was looking at the mirror that was on Peter’s side and it was just a tiny bit out of adjustment and I didn’t say a word but I just thought, “It would be nice to get that adjusted just a little bit better.” And without me saying a word, Peter rolls down the window and starts to adjust the mirror and I never even told him. At first I got hopeful, I said, “Wow he read my mind and he’s going to adjust the mirror so I can see better.” This is what he did he adjusted the mirror so he could see better. And now what was just a little bit distorted was entirely distorted. It was now of absolutely no use. I said, “Pete thanks for adjusting my mirror and everything but can you put it back where it was because I need to see the road?” He said, “Oh I thought if I could see well through it, then you could.” Perspective. “There’s a way that seems right to man but the end thereof are the ways of death.” It seemed right to Peter to get that mirror adjusted from his perspective so he could see things clearly and understand what was going on. But he needed to trust me, I’m the driver and that mirror better be adjusted to my vision. He has to ride in faith or change his position or look out the window backwards. But to me that was a powerful illustration because it was so innocent, just a simple mistake in point of reference in physics and yet there it was a principle of life. “The end thereof are the ways of death.” When I am walking in iniquity I’m walking after my own understanding, I’m walking out of what seems right to me. You know what? I can guarantee you this all of the disagreements that you have in your home when you’re arguing or fighting about a perspective and by what’s right or wrong, all those arguments are built around iniquity. We’re looking at how we seem to see it, how we seem to view it and we’re battering for opposition, we’re arguing for our focus point and we’re insisting that we’re right. But if we go by that we’re going to end up in death. That’s how stark it is. Think about this let’s be nice to each other, was it really an evil spirit that was in Peter when he jerked that mirror to his own view? Was that an evil spirit? No, it was a natural inclination based upon my general sense of wanting to find my way. I wanted to have good perspective. It’s not necessarily an overwhelmingly evil thing to have a perspective. What’s evil is to be stupid and think that that is God’s perspective. How much more is God in the driver’s seat that He sees all things perfectly compared to me? When Jesus told those workers of iniquity to depart from Him, He accused them of iniquity. Now look at what happened. Those workers of iniquity, what did they do? They cited their works, “This is what we did. We’ve done this, we’ve done that. This is what we did.” They cited their own works and what did Jesus do? He judged them on their own works, “You are workers of iniquity. You work out your own will. You work out your own understanding. You work out that seems right in your own eyes, you’re workers of iniquity so that everything, 100% all things were out of line.” Now this is a secret of love, this is the secret to love, if you can master this secret of love recognizing that with love that which is gifted in me is going to come out in usefulness to others and if my focus of love is this, I’m not going to rejoice in iniquity, I’m going to rejoice in the truth. And as I begin to see the truth, I just want to testify, I want to stand up this morning before God and before my brothers and sisters and say, “You know what? It is absolutely true. You can rejoice in the truth. It is a joy. It is absolutely a joy. I just get all fired up.” When I was first saved I was real worried because my perspective always made me go, “Uh, God has made a mistake and He’s forgotten and didn’t see that.” That was my natural inclination about every problem I saw in Scripture otherwise. It was like, “God was asleep when He designed this one.” But I slowly began to realize, “No calm down. God is in control. He see what I don’t see and He’s going to work things out.” And this transfer of trust began to grow and I began to get this confidence, “Give me any problem, God can fix anyone. God has no achilles tendons. There’s absolutely no truth that will ever be shown to be false in any application, God is absolutely trustworthy.” And that confidence begins to build that sense of joy, “Yes.” And then you start looking the landscape, “Here’s the problem, it looks really distorted and ugly but there’s radar somewhere. God has a different perspective. What is it Lord?” You find that spark of truth and it shoots into that circumstance and it gives direction and it gives joy and that’s the motivating force of love, to rejoice in the truth. Now this morning if you and I went home and if it became our lifelong testimony that from this time forth we learned how to rejoice in the truth and not in iniquity, you will only see transformed fruit from the work of your life. That’s all you’ll see because you’re going to have a bee line for service, helping others in truth out of love. It’s going to be transformation, rejoicing in the truth, rejoicing not in iniquity.

I want to make a third comment here about rejoicing in iniquity and that is just how hard it is for you to recognize that you’re rejoicing in iniquity. My estimate is that we people tend to rejoice in iniquity as the norm. We were born in iniquity, we were raised in iniquity and we have functioned in a world that lives and functions in iniquity. So iniquity is normal. It’s what I do without thinking. I just naturally impose my view on a circumstance and respond to it. That’s normal. But that iniquity is wrong no matter how normal it feels, no matter how regular it feels or no matter how innocent I operate in it. Course the whole danger of iniquity is that it is so normal, it is so innocent feeling and sounding. So it’s so natural to just, “I’m so familiar with these gloves, they’ve got to be right. They feel right.” That is the destruction of iniquity. We rejoice in iniquity when our sense of hope is raised up by the wisdom of the natural flesh. I’m going to give you one illustration of rejoicing in inquity. This will surprise you but it applies directly to our discussion on spiritual gifts. Remember when the 70 came back from the ministry that Jesus sent them on by twos? And he told them to cast out demons, raise the dead, heal the sick and preach the Gospel. And they came back and they were rejoicing. What were they rejoicing in? “Even the demons are subject to us.” They were rejoicing in iniquity. They were rejoicing in their position. They had influence, they had power, they had prestige, they were somebody. And they were rejoicing in iniquity. Can you etch that in your mind? That’s so stark. That’s almost like a soccer punch to the gut. Coming back rejoicing, you’ve been serving Christ, preaching in the cities, you’ve done just what He said and you saw all kinds of spiritual benefit and fruit reaping all around you and you get back and you start rejoicing in the wrong thing, you start rejoicing in iniquity; rejoicing in your part in it. What did Jesus say to rejoice in? How do you replace rejoicing in iniquity? He said, “Rather rejoice that your name is written in Heaven.” See this difference? Iniquity is, “Ahh, the demons are subject to me.” Righteousness is, “God has accepted me in my unworthiness, in my unholiness, in my unrighteousness He’s loved me. God has reached out to me. I am redeemed. I am in an honorable place. Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon me that I should be called the son of God.” There’s that contrast. Love is keen and knows how to rejoice in truth and it can identify iniquity and not rejoice in it. There’s going to be times that you and I as parents have to be so sharp that we see our children all excited and we recognize that they’re rejoicing in iniquity. And we have to come alongside them and separate them like Jesus did from rejoicing in that which is just worldly view, worldly status, worldly fame, worldly success and we just have to come in gently and say, “You know that’s not the thing to get excited about.” I want to make a suggestion, because God’s our Father and because He loves us, what do you think God the Father does in our lives? He’s claimed us. Hebrews chapter 12, consider God as He’s called you His son, “Whom the Lord loves He chastens every son He receives.” Then He goes on and He makes an interesting comment, He says, “If you’re not enduring chastening from the Lord, you’re not the Lord’s. You’re an illegitimate child. You’re a free standing imposter. You’ve interjected yourself among His children but you’re not one of His children.” One of the marks of God’s love for us is that He resists our tendency towards sin and He just comes in and says, “No, I’m going to help you.” And there’s that beautiful picture of the Father who is loving us by rejoicing in the truth and not in iniquity. And the more the Father loves us, the more He squeezes sin in our life and draws attention to that area that we’re walking in iniquity. That’s the model that you and I can have. It’s an absolutely beautiful picture if you can just imagine the possibility that we have as people to walk in love towards one another, that we can actually freely be engaging, walk up and we see a brother and we say, “Hi.” And our hearts are pure and are really interested in my brother’s well being and I’m going to listen and I’m going to look him in the eye, I’m not going to be drifting my eyes around and I’m going to care about him. And as he’s speaking and as he starts rejoicing in things and feels love for me and he might say something really stupid. He might start rejoicing in iniquity. And in love, God’s going to enable me by my gift and by my love to consider how to provoke him to love and good works instead of to iniquity. When I am provoking a child to wrath, I’m provoking them to a place of defense that they protect their interest, that they establish their interests and that they fight for their interests. And that’s what wrath does. It pushes people into a defense mode, causes them to defend themselves and protect themselves and advance their own cause. But when I provoke someone to love, I provoke them to get out of their self mode and into a serve mode. And this is a very unusual thing here we are a whole room full of needy people. We’re all in tremendous need of help. There’s not a single person in here who even comes close to, in my view, to getting started and I’m including me as the picture. We’ve got a long way to go. But here we are, we’re all together in our imperfection and what has God said to do? He said, “Would you serve one another out of love? Would you consider one another? Would you be willing to provoke one another to love and good works?” The blessing I have is that there are brothers, there are sisters, who have just that freedom with me. They love me and they come to me and they say, lah lah lah lah. And that’s a joy, that’s a gift; that’s service.

Now when you understand, you can see how I’m going backwards, when you understand that my gifts, verse 7, flow from love freely, number two, when you understand that the pinnacle of operation is a separation between rejoicing in truth and rejoicing in iniquity. Love has to operate clearly in the truth zone. It can’t operate in iniquity. As soon as I move into iniquity I cease loving. I realize this is immature and kind of childish but when I was first saved, I remembered my appetite for iniquity and one of the things I had a problem with in terms of an appetite for iniquity was I had a problem with my own greed and self-centeredness. So every year when Santa came to town, my iniquity was provoked and I saw my greed. I wasn’t appretiative of what I got. I was always comparing myself to my siblings and wondering why I didn’t get my share. That was how selfish and how selfishly I viewed it and I was just very self-centered in that focus. When I got saved, I suddenly realized that Christmas is a rejoicing in God giving a gift, He gave His only begotten Son. He surrendered the highest treasure to serve other people’s needs. I thought how I don’t want to raise my children that Christmas, the symbol of God giving in love to others to meet their highest need, I don’t want to corrupt that image by getting my children to be thinking about what they’re getting. When we first started out I had determined not to celebrate Christmas at all. Christmas by means of relatives kind of overwhelmed me so I had to have some alternative modes and plans. Perhaps I’ve not kept as clear as a point of reference to that but I was deliberately avoiding occasions that I could stir up iniquity in my children’s hearts, stir up their appetite for self love, for self worship, for self pleasure. I wanted them to see, love is giving, surrendering my greatest asset on behalf of another. Can you picture that for a moment? Can you see how God has loved us in truth? He has looked upon us and said, “Those people are damned. They are altogether, the whole lot of them, become unuseful. There is none righteous, no, not even one.” The Scripture speaks of us, “The poison of asps is under our lips and all day all we ever do is sin.” But when the Lord looked upon and He looked around there was none to save, with His own arm He wrought salvation. How did He wrought salvation? He wrought it by giving love. What did He do? Did He say, “I’ll change the rules. Because I love you people so much, I’ll excuse sin. The rules were too hard, they were too high to achieve, it was unrealistic, I’m just going to cancel the law. It’s no longer valid. It’s no law, it’s just everybody gets into Heaven, praise God, I love you all so much.” Is that what He did? Is that how God manifested His love? No, that would have been rejoicing in iniquity wouldn’t it? It would have been letting the will of man and the perspective of man rule. God’s not going to give it up. He rejoiced in the truth. He said, “This sin that’s worthy of death needs to be dealt with. I know what I’ll do, I’ll send my only begotten Son and Him will I inflict the weight of judgment and punishment for the whole world. And everyone who acknowledges their sin and recognizes their need for a Savior, anyone who calls on His name, they will be saved.” So we are saved, not because we’re good, we’re saved because we’re bad, we’re saved because we’re evil. And we’re being saved from our evilness and so we’re being transformed from the kingdom of darkness into the glorious inheritance of His dear children. It is a transformation taking place. That’s the work of God. You and I, that’s our objective. I can boil down the whole Christian life to this when it comes to service you only have one job, you take spiritual interests of God and you win people for that reason, you bring them into the kingdom, you nurture them in the kingdom. You keep pressing the joy of love, the joy of truth. You just keep at it and you’re going to walk in love.

Then it moves on. Verse 4 and 5 is understood when you understand verse 6 and 7 and I’ll go back through verse 4 and 5 as I close here for today. Verse 4 says that “Charity suffers long and is kind, envies not, vaunts not itself, is not puffed up.” Now every one of those things that it labels is a natural inclination of man when he’s walking in iniquity. And this is brothers and sisters where I feel such a sadness because I find that we so engage so frequently and so long and so normally in that which isn’t love that we’re accustomed to living opposite of this. We tend to not suffer long at all with anyone, we tend to not suffer long at all. Some people are finding out that it takes a whole lifetime. Someone reminded me recently of a tape that I heard and the son was speaking of his father and some of the shortcomings of his father. The little principle that he was focusing around is God works on you at one point and He doesn’t move on to the next issue until you graduate from this point. And he pointed out that his father never graduated from that base until he was on his very deathbed and then he finally repented, he finally acknowledged God, he finally was broken at that one point. See how faithful God is? He doesn’t change. He doesn’t change the objective and He doesn’t get angry in the process, He suffers long. You have to understand something about longsuffering. What is longsuffering? Can anybody here define longsuffering accurately? I hope you can. Longsuffering is withholding justice or judgement that is due, that’s right. It’s right to have justice. It’s withholding that rightful judgment for an opportunity of redemption before judgment. So if you could think of it in legal terms, longsuffering is the period of time before the court is convened and the person is in jail and they’re attempting to work out some means of resolution other than inflicting the punishment of the law on this person. Longsuffering of God is being held back. That is, the righteousness of God demands that this wickedness that’s in this world be judged and it be judged now. That’s the righteousness of God, that’s the justice of God calling for justice, calling for judgement. But we’re living in a time of longsuffering. So in the longsuffering, I’m holding back the judgement and I’m working toward redemption. Do you understand why when we’re called to longsuffering as those who love God that we have to endure difficult people for a very long time. And you might ask yourself the question, “How long?” Peter asked that question didn’t he? He said this, “Well how many times Lord do I have to forgive somebody before I just knock their block off?” I know he didn’t say that part but you know he meant it. And he said, thinking spiritually. I love this, this is how we are we get our spiritual perspective but it’s just our own understanding. And so we launch this tremendous spiritual statement, “Seven times because that’s the number of God? Should we forgive seven times?” And the Lord says, “No, I’m sorry, try multiplying that seven times itself. Seven times seven.” Forty-nine times. Well I’ll tell you this, if we forgive 49 times the way the Bible says forgiveness is, one of the parts of forgiveness is that you forget, it gets removed from your memory. If you actually count to 49, you probably haven’t forgiven one yet and you’ve got to start all over. It’s kind of like an open ended deal.

So “Charity suffers long and is kind.” That’s interesting. Sally’s grandmother had a statement that she used against her family bitterly and she spoke of wrongs done to her and she said this, “I have forgiven them, but I will never forget.” And when she said, “I will never forget,” she removed any kindness at all from her or from her family to those people. It was like her way of saying, “Those people are off limits, you may not love them, you may not show kindness to them because they have hurt me. I’ve forgiven them but I’m not going to forget it.” If you’re going to be longsuffering, while you’re at it, you’ve got to be kind. You know the opposite, we’re not longsuffering and because we’re not longsuffering we’re not kind. The lack of kindness is a form of judgment. We’re just instituting judgement, “You deserve to be cut off.”

I see the time is slipping and I can’t adequately cover the rest for sure. But let me just encourage you with a couple things here as we close. We tend to envy, we tend towards impatience, we tend towards unkindness. People invade our space, especially the people in our own home, and this really applies to us at home first. We do pretty good with one another, why? Because we’re phonies, that’s why. You know me long enough and close enough and you’ll get the same thing my kids get. That’s the truth. May it be that you get what my kids get and I have a little more longsuffering in the process and a little more kindness in the process. We tend to vaunt ourselves. What does vaunt ourselves mean? Here’s a flat surface. All the people in the church would represent the flat surface and vaunting yourself, can you imagine? This is a flat surface, see my two hands? This is all the people in the church and vaunting myself means this, and with me out in front of everybody else so you see me. It’s fun when we watch our children because our little children struggle with this vaunting from a very little age. And here we are having adult conversation and they have to get into it. They have to demonstrate their grand knowledge. I’ll never forget one little story I heard, Mom said I shouldn’t say it. One of my children walked up to one of the men and said, “You know what Mr. Main?” Natural inclination. We want to be recognized and seen and be considered as a vital part of the universe. “Is not puffed up.” Puffed up has to do with our pride and who we are and what we have. Of course it applies to these spiritual gifts, it applies to anything that we do. And we tend to find our identity in what we do and that’s being puffed up. I can make a real simple definition for you here you’re puffed up when your identity is what you just did. When you think about it, you did something good and then you keep thinking about it, “I was good, that was nice.” Then we ask somebody, “I was just wondering, what did you think about what I did?” We want to promote a little bit of hearing. Puffed up, but love isn’t puffed up. Love isn’t concerned about what somebody else thinks about what I did. It’s just concerned about serving, getting the job done. “Does not behave itself unseemly, not seek her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil.” Four more considerations. All of these things in these two verses are egotistical. It’s living a life out of my own advantage, my own concern. It gives us a wide range of facets to consider ourselves in. Any one of them is enough to be deadly wrong, to move you out of love and into pride and uselessness. Any one of them but there’s quite a variety of them here. We see that the horizon is littered with pitfalls of self. And that’s what these are, these are exactly that, pitfalls of self, interfering and preventing true love from serving others.

The last one which I’m going to close with we’ll begin with the next time and that is “charity never fails.” I realize we were talking about longsuffering a minute ago, “Love suffers long,” but “Charity never fails,” I want to close with that because there is a promise there. That’s the most significant thing that can be stated in the whole passage. And in fact that’s why the rest of the whole passage deals with that principle alone. Love never fails. We have a guarantee. There is no acceptance to this guarantee. If we walk in love, we will achieve our objective, no question, no one can stop us, no government law can be passed, no brutal force of hateful men can be imposed, we will achieve our objective. “Love never fails.” For those of us who are always failing in everything we do on all fronts, doesn’t that sound kind of attractive? Would you like to be in a place where the victory can be sure? The confidence can be preserved without fail? Love never fails. You will achieve God’s Heavenly objectives in your life, there will be fruit in the lives of others if you learn to walk in love. It absolutely never fails. And in the context, what Paul wants to do is he wants to show and he does so powerfully, how everything else even that we have as spiritual gifts and spiritual means, all of those apparatuses are shallow and temporary but love is transcendent and love is permanent and we are absolutely sure to win. “Love never fails.” I think that’s the one thing that Satan wants to remove from us, that simple liberty. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the story of Amy Carmichael. But Amy Carmichael had a ministry in India, she had a little orphanage she called Donovher and this principle of love began to be worked into her as the single essence of ministry. And practically speaking it was the only objective that they strived for constantly to measure with one another. They just kept measuring everything by love. And it was incredible the kind of community and communion that they began to experience as they began to hold themselves accountable to love as the only measure. You can measure yourself against all things but the essence of all things is love. Remember when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was? What’s the greatest commandment? The greatest commandment is love, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength and the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Thus, the vaunting of self is diminshed and the work and purpose of God is advanced and our concern becomes God’s concern for every living creature. That’s the call. May the Lord purify us with that motive. Let’s pray.

Lord we come in the name of Christ and we confess how far we fall from that beautiful and that powerful standard of love. And yet Lord we have hope. We have hope because it is not our love that we’re called to give but Your Word has spoken that it is the Holy Spirit who we have received through spiritual baptism in Christ, it is the Holy Spirit who sheds Your love abroad in our heart. Lord we are accustomed to walking in iniquity, to walking after our own understanding, after our own perception, we’re accustomed to that and Lord it’s wrong. It’s fruit is altogether useless and there is nothing in it by which we can lay claim before Your presence of any worth or value. We acknowledge that to You this morning together in Your presence and we ask for help Lord. Lord may we learn to value others better than ourselves. May we learn to walk in love one towards another. May we have the joy of rejoicing in truth and seeing the objectives of truth be realized in the lives of those that you place in our paths for service. We thank You in Christ’s name, amen.

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