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The Greatest Gift

Updated: Feb 24






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target: Christ's love compels us



In our series, Unconditional Love, we have explored the depths and fullness of God's love. My prayer and hope through this series is that we may know the Lord better and, in knowing Him, for His love to impact and transform our lives. Our first few lessons have focused on God's love. In our first lesson, God's Love Is Life, we discovered how God's love is life for all who believe. Last week, we considered how God's Love Makes All Things New. Through His love and because of His love for us, God rescues us from the trap we find ourselves in, the trap of sin. We are given new life in Christ. 


The focus of our series and lessons will take a shift. We are going to begin exploring the practical side of God's love. What does His love mean in my day-to-day life? How does His love guide and direct my steps each day? How does His love impact and transform me? These are some big questions that have a direct influence on our lives.


What compels us? Why do we do the things we do? Why do we make the decisions that we make? What influences our behaviors and our choices? In some ways, we are all shaped by our environment. Our families, friends, and communities all have a part in who we are. The things we hold as core values are often the values that were passed to us from our families early in life. These may include honesty, integrity, or work ethic. Is there enough, or do we have limited resources? Are our actions and decisions based on a scarcity or an abundance mindset? What we find attractive or unattractive is often the result of the culture around us. Many things make up who you are. As Christians, we should ask, "What compels us?" 


At the center of the gospel is love. 


John 3:16 (NIV)

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."


Does God's love compel us?


Difficulties In Corinth


In Corinth, the apostle Paul dealt with some of the same questions we are asking. Paul planted a church community in Corinth, and they struggled to understand their identity in Christ. They had an enthusiasm and love for Christ as they embraced the gospel. However, they struggled with their decisions and choices because of the community and culture around them. The culture around them influenced and distorted their understanding of what it meant to follow Christ. Their distortion was leading to division. In his letter of 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes how Christian communities should live. He talks about what is guiding their decisions and how they should be shaped.  


Paul's first letter to the Corinthians has several major movements:


  • 1-4 Addresses divisions

  • 5-7 Sexual integrity

  • 8-10 Food sacrificed to idols

  • 11-14 Worship gatherings

  • 15 Resurrection and hope


In each of these movements, Paul deals with specific issues in Corinth as he guides the community. We are dropping in at chapter 13, the famous "Love" chapter. If you have been to a wedding, you have probably heard this chapter read, or at least a portion of this chapter read during the ceremony. However, as we notice it in the context of the letter, we see that it is within this movement dealing with Christian attitudes and actions in worship gatherings. It's always important to know where we are if we want to understand where we are going. Context is key to understanding the Scriptures. 


One Body In Christ


Let's gather some context before the famous love chapter, which is another recognized chapter, "One Body Many Members," 1 Corinthians 12. Paul is addressing the topic of spiritual gifts. He is explaining how the Spirit has distributed spiritual gifts to the church for the benefit of the church community. There is a diversity of gifts given, but there is one Spirit that gives them. Each gift is given and arranged for the benefit of the community. 


Paul explains this in an amazing metaphor that we can understand: the metaphor of our physical bodies. Our physical body is one body, although it consists of different members (12:12): a hand, feet, eyes, and ears; each different member is one body. This represents the body of Christ. We are unique members; we have different backgrounds, experiences, strengths and weaknesses. However, we come together in Christ to form one body. Each member is needed and vital for the healthy working of the body. The Spirit has arranged the body and gifted the body for the growth and development of the body, and each member is essential. These gifts are not meant for division but development. 


The Greatest Gift  


Eager for gifts and seemingly elevating some gifts over others, Paul encourages the community to seek the greatest gift, love (13). Paul challenges the community by asking them, "What is compelling you?"


1 Corinthians 13:1–3 (NIV)

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing."


The eloquence of speech, such as that of poets and philosophers, was greatly appreciated in the first century and influenced much Greek and Roman culture. Paul speaks about these cultural influences as he compels the Christians at Corinth to seek the greatest gift. 


Without love, what good is it to speak in tongues of men or of angels? Paul was often criticized for not communicating eloquently (2:1, 4). However, here in (1 Cor. 13), through the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul pens this early poem or hymn that is still recited today and known for its eloquence and beauty. 


Cymbals were used to worship Dionysus,(1) the God of wine. Without love, our words can be momentarily startling but fade quickly. 


The gifts of prophecy, knowledge, and faith without love are empty. "Paul was not depreciating those gifts but was appreciating love by showing it to be incomparable."(2). Even in sacrifice, giving all to the poor or giving my body to hardship without love is nothing. 


Concluding his poem, Paul pens these words:


1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."


The community and culture around the church at Corinth were influencing and distorting what it meant to follow Christ. The influences were leading to distraction and divisions. Paul teaches them that they must be compelled by the heart of the gospel, love. 


What Compels Us?


Why do we do what we do? What is influencing our decisions and actions? What directs our steps each day? These are complex and challenging questions. However, as Christians, we should be compelled by the gospel of Christ. We should be compelled by love. 


It may take some reflection. We may need to sit in prayer and ask what is shaping my steps. We are all shaped by something. Some of these influences are positive and have formed who we are. At other times, our culture may slip in and create confusion. As Christians, we should seek clarity on what compels us. Christ's love must compel each of our relationships. His love should compel our community. 



notes:

Scripture references and quotations are from the: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


1. John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), 1 Co 13:1.

2. David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 535.



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