When the church reaches “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…. [t[hen we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there….” Ephesians 4:13-14
This a verse that ended a sermon in a series on the love chapter – 1 Corinthians 13, given by Jeff Frazier at Chapelstreet Church, The Greatest of These, May 24, 2020.
The sermon began with the observation that 1 Corinthians 13 is not really the “ode to love” that we often think it is. The First Century Corinthians probably didn’t embroider 1 Corinthians 13 and hang it on their walls. Paul was chiding them for all the things they were not doing and doing wrong.
The Corinthians were a worldly, wealthy, educated and diverse people. If Corinth had magazines, they would have been candidate for the list of 10 best towns in which to live in the First Century Roman Empire. They were sophisticated in all the ways of the world.
But they fell short when it came to love.
Love, of course, is the greatest attribute of a Christian. That’s the point of 1 Corinthians 13. (1 Cor. 13:13) Though the Corinthians were rich in many things like eloquent speaking, even prophecies and faith, Paul says even those things mean nothing without love. (1 Cor. 13:1-2) A person could even give all his wealth away and offer his body to hardship, but without love, nothing is gained, says Paul. (1 Cor. 13:3)
The Corinthians thought they were pretty hot stuff. They had much in this world and much in the way of talents and resources, and because of that they were boastful and proud.
The beautiful list of what is love is a list of what the Corinthians lacked.
We could read it this way: the Corinthians are not patient or kind. They are envious, boastful and proud. They dishonor others and are self-seeking, easily angered and keep records of all the wrongs done to them. They delight in evil and do not rejoice in truth. They aren’t protective, trusting or hopeful, and they don’t persevere. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
The Corinthians were full of jealousy and pride about their own spirituality, and they didn’t appreciate each other. (1 Cor. 12:16 -22) They were puffed up with their own knowledge. (1 Cor. 8:1) They were given to argument, strife and disunity over which leaders to follow. (1 Cor. 1:10-12) At the same time, they tolerated sexual sin, greed, idolatry cheating, slander and drunkenness in their members. (1 Cor. 5:1-5, 9-11)
The Corinthian church was rich in the way of worldly wealth and talents. They were even full of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but they were poor in the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)).
Paul goes on to say that love is the greatest fruit of the Holy Spirit. Love is the ultimate goal of the Christian, because God is love (1 John 1:9), and He desires us to be transformed into His image. (Rom 8:29) We don’t need wealth, resources, talents, knowledge or even the gifts of the Holy Spirit if we have love.
Love, including all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, is the sign of mature Christianity.
Jeff Frazier said that Paul could have written the love chapter to much of the American church, and I think he is right.
The American church is rich in talents, resources and even spiritual gifts, but we can be boastful, proud and envious. Disunity abounds. The American obsession with the cult of personality is prevalent in the church (like in Corinth where people argued over who to follow, Paul, or Apollos, or someone else).
American Christians sometimes tend to look down on Christians from other countries, especially third world countries. When we think of missionary work, we don’t picture missionaries coming to the United States; we think we need to go to “them”.
How often, though, do we hear people coming back from a short term mission trip amazed at the richness of peace, joy, hope and love of the “those” people who have little in the way of worldly goods, talents or resources?
These are signs of mature Christians! These are fruits of the Holy Spirit. These are the riches that are from above. These are characteristics of mature Christianity that I think much of the American Church is lacking, though we are rich in other things.
Jeff Frazier focused on verse 11 of 1 Corinthians 13:
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”
He distinguished between childishness (characterized by a lack of love) and childlikeness. Even the disciples, early on, were focused on who is the greatest. When they posed the question, “Who is the greatest among them?”, Jesus said the greatest is the person who becomes like a child and humbles himself. (Matt. 18:1-4)
Childishness is self-centered, envious, boastful, argumentative and gullible. Yes, gullible.
Being like a child means being innocent, yet wise (shrewd). (Matt. 10:16) Paul says to the Corinthians, as I think he would say to us, that we need to grow up, stop being childish, become more childlike and mature.
Jeff Frazier ended his sermon quoting Ephesians 4:13-14, which states that maturity is marked by unity, knowledge of the Son of God (knowing God who is love), and mature Christians are “no longer … infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there….”
He mentioned the gullibility of many Christians today as we labor under the strain of the corona virus threat. Difficult times have a way of exposing the weaknesses in people.
Many Christians are falling for online conspiracy theories, while others seem to be gripped by fear of the virus. The seeming blind support of Donald Trump, despite his boastful, prideful, bullying and argumentative demeanor, seems very “Corinthian”, does it not? And the other camp is quick to argue it!
I am often reminded of the narrow road. The narrow path is often the middle road. It’s easy to fall off and get lost in the woods on either side of a narrow path.
The narrow road is where the innocent and the wise travel. Paul is saying that, with the maturity of love, we won’t be tossed to and fro by every gust of wind that threatens to sweep us left or right. We will stay on the narrow road, but we need to mature in love to do it.
The strife and disunity we see in the American Church is indicative of a lack of love and a lack of maturity. We need more faith, hope and love, but especially love. Everything else may fail, but love never fails. (1 Cor. 13:8)