Loving Spirit

Loving Spirit

The Holy Spirit and the Church: Loving Spirit
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

This week we read Paul’s famous discussion on love from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. We will ponder how love is the one de-constructable reality, the most fundamental principle of the universe, and the very essence of God. The sort of love that Paul calls us to in this passage goes against the world’s thinking where domination, control and pride are the logic of the day. By contrast, Paul calls us to a softer way of inhabiting the world; to live out love characterized by patience, kindness, humility, and forgiveness. By doing so we will find the blessings that come from trusting and hoping in the power of love – discovering that love never fails.


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We are in the penultimate week of our series looking at how the Holy Spirit moved through the early church – because next week is Pentecost.  So far we have looked at the Healing Spirit in the Early Church in Jerusalem, the Disruptive Spirit in the church in Thessalonica and for the past few week we have looked at the Uniting and Living Spirit in Corinth.

This week we are still in Corinth – and I love the fact that on Mother’s Day we are reflecting on the idea of the Spirit of Love – or how the Holy Spirit can grow love in us and help us to love.

I am sure that you have heard the Bible Reading just had before.  The middle portion of that reading from 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most popular wedding bible readings – mainly because it is a great description of love.  But when we hear this reading at a wedding, we think about romantic love.  That the love between two people should be patient and kind and keeps no records of wrong – how that romantic love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.   You can see why people love using this at weddings but I am not sure if Paul intended it to be a reading just about romantic love.  We just have to look at what Paul was writing about just before and after this passage and we start to get the idea that Paul had a bigger picture of where this love is to be expressed.

In 1 Corinthians 12 – the chapter just before the love passage – Paul is talking about the church community – and uses the analogy that we are like a body with different parts – and each has its part to play.  Paul says that we all need each other in the body and we are to celebrate and embrace the differences as different parts of the same body.

And because we are all connected – when one part suffers we all suffer; when one part rejoices, we all rejoice.    

That’s 1 Corinthians chapter 12 … and in 1 Corinthians 14 – the chapter immediately after the love passage, Paul writes:  “Follow the way of love…” and then goes on to talk about how we can structure worship so that it is helpful and inclusive and uplifting to all. 

Let me be clear – I am not saying that 1 Corinthians 13 cannot speak on romantic love – it can and it does really well. And on a day like today, I would even add it can speak about Motherly love really well – but I also think it is clear that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13 about how we show love each other in community in the church.  

I love the verse immediately before our reading for today – 1 Corinthians 12:31.  Paul has just  acknowledging the joys and the challenges of supporting and being together as one in community.  He talks about how we are to use our gifts to help one another but finishes this chapter with the line  “And yet, I will show you the most excellent way…”.  What is this most excellent way of being church, of being community?

“Love is patient, love is kind….”

Listen to these words again … but in the context of how we live together as a community, how we care and support each other as a church…   “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, 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.”

It’s good isn’t it – but it is also challenging.  If we are honest, we are not always patient to each other, we sometimes are self-seeking and yes, sometimes do keep records of wrongs.  God through Paul is setting the bar really high … but there is a good reason for this – because love is so critical for being community.

Let’s jump back to the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 – the bit about how if we don’t have love we are like a clanging gong.  I was listening to a podcast were the hosts were struggling with the examples.

Would you prefer to have church preacher who explain to you the secret things about God, or one that showed love?  Would you like to have someone in the community who could move mountains with their prayers, or one that showed love.  It is tempting to go with the amazing teacher and the prayer that produces results … but Paul is saying, you don’t understand … without love, it is nothing.

I heard a story on Friday from a friend who was at a conference on Child Trafficking.  One of the speakers there was a Jewish Christian who was born in Gaza.  During the question time, he was asked about the situation in Gaza and what might be a way forward.  His response was that first – before all things – all sides need needed to find a way to love.  He said any political solution or two state solution would not work if they did not love.   Yes – it just makes sense.  Of course love is the answer.

Love has to be part of any answer because if we don’t have love, we have nothing.

Paul is making it clear to the Early Church in Corinth … all this stuff that I am trying to teach you about being church, about supporting and loving each other in community … it won’t work without love.  Without love, it will be nothing.

Just wanting to jump back to that example about would you rather a great preacher or amazing prayer or love … and clarify that I was not saying that things like prayer or great preaching are not important … they are.  But as Paul says at the end of 1 Corinthains 13, these things are great in the moment … but in 10 years’ time, you are not going to remember my preaching … but you will remember that I showed love.  Ultimately when we are talking about a church community, three things are important – faith, hope and love … and the greatest of these is love.

And this is a super-theme throughout the gospels and the New Testament.

  • Jesus in Matt 22:37-39 summed up all the laws of God by saying simply we are to love God and love others.
  • In John 13:35, Jesus says that people will know that we are followers of Jesus by our … love.
  • John in 1 John 4:7-8 says that whoever love is a child of God and knows God because God is love
  • Paul in Ephesians 3:17-19 prays that we might comprehend just how significant this love is … and that we might know, personally know, this love in our life.

I could go on but I think you are getting the point.  The Bible affirms over and over again, its all about love.  The way of God, the gospel of Jesus, our calling and purpose in life – it is all about love.

I read this great line this week that 1 Corinthians 13 calls us to a “softer way” … a softer way of living, a softer way of interacting with each other, a softer way of being part of community and part of this world.  There was something that phrase that really grabbed me.

I think it perfectly summed up 1 Corinthians 13.  The challenge of loving with more patience or being kind.  The call to not be only for yourself but thinking of others.  To show love not through anger but through forgiveness.  It is a softer way.

Softer as in being more caring or supportive … not as softer in weaker.  Paul is quite clear … it is this approach that is transformative.  It is this softer way that makes all the difference.

So how did the Holy Spirit help the church in Corinth take up this challenge to live the way of love?  How can the Holy Spirit help us to love too?

Galatians 5 says that people of the kingdom are called to live by the Holy Spirit’s power and guidance – to walk by the Spirit.  This includes serving each other with love.  And when we are opening ourselves up to the Spirit, the Spirit will grow within us the things that are of God – the fruits of the Spirit starting with … love.

I was struggling writing this sermon because I kept of feeling that it was too simple – that I needed to explore more of the complexity of the passage … what was the new insight that I could bring.  But that’s the point, isn’t it.  Love is the one de-constructable reality.  It is simple, but it is the fundamental principle of the universe because it is the very essence of God.

And so, I will finish by simply encourage each one of us, on this day when we have been reflecting about love … to embrace this softer way of inhabiting the world.

Let’s show patience and kindness to the people that we speak to.  Let’s be softer in the way we consume and be content with what we have.  Let’s love God and love one another by showing honour and grace and forgiveness. 

Let us walk in this way of love. Amen