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Introduction (Part 5 of 7): The Church's Excellent Adventure

Given the choice, would you want the best or settle for less? Would you rather have a Tesla or a used Prius? For you bourbon drinkers, would you want a pour of 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle or a glass of Evan Williams? Paul sends us into a new chapter about love with this sentence to conclude Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians (again, chapters breaks well after Paul died):

And yet I will show you the most excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31)

Depending on the translation you use, it could be “most excellent” or “more excellent” or “a far better way.” Either way, it is an interesting choice of words and a dramatic teaser for things to come. Obviously, this wasn’t written in English. So I looked up the original Greek word that Paul used which is hyperbole, which is where we get the word hyperbole in English. While hyperbole in English means “exaggerate statements not to be taken seriously” like “I’m so hungry I can eat a horse.” In Greek, it wouldn’t have been an exaggeration as much as a point of emphasis. It would mean something like “superiority, pre-eminence, beyond measure.” So after my deep analysis and research, it seems that “the most excellent way” means “the most excellent way.” You can thank me later for that insight. Being a 56 year old man, when I hear this, I can’t help but think of these guys from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Paul has been instructing the church at Corinth about the purpose and nature of spiritual gifts. There seems to be a faction of people who were speaking in tongues and other more obvious gifts and they had begun to get the idea that some were more spiritual than others. Spiritual pride had started seeping into the church and it was causing division. I have seen this play out in so many churches and it is insidious.

I mentioned in an earlier post about my background growing up in a Southern Baptist church. When I was in my mid-to-late teens, one of my best friends asked me to go to his church with him. I was not aware that his church operated in the more charismatic gifts nor did I even know what that meant. I was just going to hang out with my friend. We were 1-2 songs into the service and nothing seemed out of the ordinary yet. If anything the music was energetic and the congregation was more into it and so it began to feel really nice. Suddenly, an older lady sitting in the pew behind me let out the most bone chilling scream I have ever heard. She fell back in her seat and those around her started to tend to her. I thought she was having a heart attack. Yet, the music continued and then more and more people started shouting things I couldn’t understand. The music continued and one man with a microphone began what I would consider preaching at the same time. I have never witnessed anything like it. To me, it was pure chaos. I looked over at my friend and he just smiled at me. He said, “this is normal in our church.” I don’t remember more about the service other than I recall I might have needed a change of underwear after (kidding…I think). My buddy just said later that’s what some people do. Hmmmmm…that was confusing. That was probably my first realization that the whole world wasn’t Southern Baptist. By the way, to this day, that buddy is one of the most genuine and greatest friends I have ever had. I’m thankful that he opened my eyes a little bit.

Our church today, both the local one that I help lead and the big-C church, has believers in all shapes and sizes that believe in all kinds of manifestations of their faith. I have some very good friends and deeply faithful people in our church who regularly speak in tongues in our church and I have others that do not. I have some good friends that believe in a baptism in the Holy Spirit and some others that believe that you can have many fillings of the Holy Spirit and we should always look to refill. The point is they all are doing their very best to follow Jesus in a genuine way. To be clear, we’re talking about different forms of gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are not talking about sinful behavior. I was reading an article today. In the comments section (never read the comments sections), a man was using scripture to defend his opinion that believers should hate (his word) non-believers and believers that think differently than us. Wow! We are eventually going to spend eternity together, we might as well start loving them now. The danger comes when people start teaching that you aren’t as “deep” or “mature” if you don’t believe what they believe. That is the same pride that was infiltrating the church at Corinth. In fact, I’ve seen many people pursue “sexy” gifts who are not doing some very basic practices of the faith like scripture reading, prayer, and tithing. I’m just giving you my opinion. There are no shortcuts. The road to a deep faith is through love, trust, and obedience. I believe this is what Paul was addressing when he wrote these words. This passage and this whole chapter is often read at weddings. Try to hear it in a new way as instructions for our teams and our churches.

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. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Paul couldn’t emphasize this point strongly enough. If your spiritual gifts are motivated by anything other than Christ-like love, you “gain nothing” and even “are nothing.” The word translated love is agape love, the highest level of love. It is not sexual attraction. It is not brotherly love. It is self-sacrificial Godly love. We are to love in the way God loves us. We are to love them in the way God loves them. That’s a deep calling.

Let me give you the Darin Yates Team Development Translation (trademark pending):

If I am recognized as the smartest person in the meeting, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have insights into a problem and can find solutions that nobody else can see, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I lay down all my possessions, ambitions, desires, and wants for others only because I want the recognition for doing so, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 DYTDT)

Why we do something and how we do something is valued by God much more than anything we will ever accomplish. Who we are, our identity as sons and daughters of the King, matters more to God than our contributions. I remember a time when I had to dig a 3-4 foot cube hole in my backyard as a dry well for drainage. My son, who was probably 3 years old at the time, “helped” me with his tiny plastic shovel. He put more dirt into the hole than he ever took out. He kept saying to me “you couldn’t do this without me dad. I love you.” You know what? He was right. I remember and treasure that memory because he was with me simply because he loved me. I barely remember how backbreaking the work was.

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