Sermon: 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13
Pentecost 4 – February 3, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Spiritual gifts are those gifts, abilities, strengths, that God gives to believers in Jesus Christ which they can then use to teach, build up, and encourage other Christians, and in that way help build the kingdom of God.
What spiritual gifts do you have? What spiritual gifts would you like to have? Or let me ask the question this way: What spiritual gift would you rather have – the gift of administration or the gift of healing – being able to miraculously heal people? To be honest probably a lot of us would think, “Well, administration doesn’t sound all that exciting. Healing the sick would be much more miraculous, much more helpful to people, more interesting.”
That point of view might make a lot of sense, but the truth is that the administration of a congregation, the leadership of a congregation, the day to day business of a congregation, is just as important or more important over time than the gift of healing.
Or, what spiritual gift would you rather have – the ability to teach the word of God or the ability to speak in tongues? Once again the curious part of us, the part of us that would like to see miracles, would probably desire the gift of tongues.
But the Apostle Paul would indicate to us in our text today that teaching or preaching the word of God is more important than speaking in tongues or any of the miraculous gifts of God. And Paul tells us to eagerly desire those greater gifts. As a matter of fact, he mentions one gift that’s even more important than preaching and teaching the word of God, the greatest of all spiritual gifts, the one that will last forever.
Paul tells us to
EAGERLY DESIRE THE GREATEST GIFT
For three Sundays now our Second Lesson has been from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, and specifically from the section in which he addresses this issue of spiritual gifts. The Corinthian congregation seemed to be abundantly blessed with spiritual gifts, particularly the miraculous gifts like healing and speaking in tongues. Those miraculous gifts are seldom, if ever, found among God’s people today. That matter of miraculous gifts is an oft debated topic among Christians. It’s actually an entire topic all by itself, worthy of a complete sermon or Bible class. But Paul has a greater message he wants us to focus on.
The Corinthian congregation had a lot of debates and problems within its membership, debates and problems ranging from who had been their best pastor to actually having doubts about the resurrection of the dead. Paul tried to address all of these problems in this letter.
And one of those problems involved the use of spiritual gifts. The specific problem seemed to be that some members of the congregation thought that their gifts were more important than those of other people. And while some gifts might indeed be more important, more fundamental and necessary, than other gifts, some of these people were looking down on and disregarding people with gifts they didn’t consider to be that important.
And we get the impression that those who were rather proudly strutting around in the congregation imagining that their gifts and abilities were more important were those who had miraculous gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues.
Paul begins to defuse this problem by reminding them that all the members of the congregation made up the body of Christ. They were one body, one congregation. A physical body has many different kinds of parts, some more important, some less important, yet they all are necessary and fit together to form one body. So also the body of Christ, the congregation, including this Corinthian congregation, was made up of many members with different gifts, but all were necessary and fit together to form one functioning congregation.
But then Paul gets more pointed. He actually makes a list of some spiritual gifts starting with the most important. He starts with gifts that involve preaching and teaching the word of God. And he ends with miraculous gifts, especially speaking in tongues. And then he makes the rather obvious point that not everybody has every gift. God gave various people the gifts he desired them to have.
But Paul does make this point: “Eagerly desire the greater gifts.” To put Paul’s words plainly he’s really saying, “If you’re going to wish for, if you’re going to ask God for, some spiritual gift or strength, then ask God, not for the gift to speak in tongues, but the gift and ability to speak, talk about, and discuss the word of God so that others will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ too.
So who’s the most important person in this congregation? Who’s the person most blessed with the greater gifts of preaching and teaching the word of God. Well, you might quickly say, “Well, you are. You’re the pastor. Or Pastor Haakenson. He’s a pastor too. You’re both trained to teach and preach the word of God, to exercise those greater gifts.” But both Pastor Haakenson and I are wise enough and experienced enough to know that our preaching and teaching of God’s word would be rather fruitless and pointless without all the other gifts that the Holy Spirit has abundantly scattered among the members of Immanuel.
I couldn’t imagine stepping up into this pulpit to preach the word of God, there would be no point in stepping up into this pulpit to preach the word of God, if we didn’t have people who administer this congregation, if we didn’t have people who fix things around this church and the parsonages and maintain our property, if we didn’t have generous people who give offerings to this congregation, if we didn’t have people who pray for this congregation, if we didn’t have people who endure in their faith, who come to worship week after week, if we didn’t have people who encourage the fellowship of this congregation, people who make food and serve meals, if we didn’t have people who encourage other people in the congregation, who check on others when they’re sick, when they’re sad, when they’re in need, people who give others rides to church.
And let me tell you what’s a greater gift than my ability to preach from this pulpit. It’s the mother, or the father, who tells their child about Jesus, who demonstrates to their child what Jesus is like. It’s the mother and father who bring their children to church on Sunday. It’s the person who leads “the little children to the Savior’s waiting arms.” It’s the person who talks to a relative, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor about what Jesus has done to forgive our sins. It’s the person who warns a friend or a relative about their continued and unrepented sin.
Paul wants us all to desire that great gift, those greater gifts, of using our mouths to talk about Jesus. And you don’t have to talk about Jesus from a pulpit or in a church. God wants you to talk about his Son Jesus in the most ordinary of situations. Desire that gift. Ask God for that gift.
And then Paul tells us what’s even greater than that great and necessary gift. He says, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” He says, “If I speak in tongues, if I heal people miraculously, if I can prophesy and preach, if I have the strongest faith in the world, if I have the most profound and insightful spiritual knowledge of anyone in the world, if I know the Bible back and forth, if I give everything I have to the poor, but don’t have love, but don’t have Christian love, I don’t have anything, I am nothing, and have accomplished nothing.
Love is the motivating factor behind every spiritual gift. Love is the reason for exercising every spiritual gift. Let Paul’s words speak for themselves: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Real love, the love of God, the love of God’s people, is going to last forever. Speaking in tongues and miraculous healing are eventually going to be unnecessary and come to an end. Some argue they already have. Someday preaching and teaching and administering a congregation and the need for all the other spiritual gifts are going to come to an end.
But we haven’t come to that time yet. We’re in this world yet where we’re like little children with imperfect knowledge and experience, learning and growing. We don’t see the future or God’s eternal plans for us perfectly. It’s like we’re looking into a foggy mirror. But we keep going as God’s children with the gifts he’s given us until that day when Jesus comes again. Then we will know more abundantly and perfectly who God is, who Jesus is, and we’ll know fully with astounding and thankful joy all that Jesus did to save us.
And at that moment and for all eternity the only spiritual gifts that will be necessary will be faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of them, the greatest of all spiritual gifts, the gift that will last forever, is love.
But even before Jesus comes again eagerly desire the gift of love. We don’t love others perfectly. Probably most of us have a real problem loving others. What causes the problem is our sin. We are born without perfect love for God or love for others. And we struggle with love for others because way too often other people are not very lovable.
But love steps forward to love the unlovable. Love steps forward to love others when we don’t feel like loving them. Love steps forward when other people don’t deserve to be loved. Love steps forward when we see someone in need of love. Love steps forward when we know we’re probably not going to be loved in return.
How do we know that? How to we find that kind of love? We look to Jesus. “We love because [God] first loved us.” Jesus loved us when we were unlovable. Jesus loved us when we didn’t deserve to be loved. Jesus loved us because he saw that we needed to be loved. Jesus loved us and all people when he knew that he wouldn’t always be loved in return. Jesus loved us so much that he died on a cross to take away our sins.
Love for God and love for others is the greatest of all gifts. Eagerly desire that greatest of all gifts. Amen.