October 29, 2011

Day 29: The Greatest of These is Love

Wow, this is the next to the last "real" post for October.  I asked on Facebook a couple of days ago if you have any ideas for where we should go next.  Please share if you have anything you're dying for me to talk about: topics, single posts, whatever!  I will be cutting back from daily posts to 3-4 per week.  This month has been fun, but not something I can keep up in this stage of life (or any stage ever?!)  Thanks for joining me on this journey; it's been a blast!  If you're just joining in, this is Part 28 of a month-long series you can learn more about by starting with Day 1 here.  There are many others doing super cool series this month as well, perhaps you'd like to see the list?

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Yesterday we closed with the cliff-hanger of Paul's statement Now I will show you the most excellent way, to eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Guess what the most excellent way is?


Perhaps you've read this passage:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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 have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 
 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 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 childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 
 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

In this description of love, we hear echos of the Galatians 5 description of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Real love encompasses all of these things.  In our reflection on who we are, what gifts the Spirit has given us, and how we might serve His church ... we have to take a look back at our hearts.  It doesn't matter how awesome your Spiritual gift-bag is, if your very character is not marked by love.  Are we growing in the fruit of the Spirit?  Or are we trying to maintain a facade when it matters and doing whatever we want otherwise?

Just today I had to clean up soup from behind my sink and dish drying rack that got there, not because a child was clumsy, but because a frustrated woman, feeling overwhelmed by what she needed to do this afternoon,* threw a half-full bowl into the sink in a very not patient and not kind way, hoping to release a little of that frustration.  The clean-up time allowed me to reflect on my need for a Savior, how much room I have to grow, to take note for the future that God's way of love is the better way.

Pressing into the Spirit (especially when we've just "failed"), asking Him to grow His fruit in us, actively working to change old patterns, confessing when we sin, praising God when we choose righteousness - in these things we will begin to see spiritual growth.  As we practice these habits of faithfulness, we'll find God molding us into exactly what He created us to be.  With good fruit growing inside, we don't become suddenly sinless or better than anyone else, but we do become more of who God wants us and designed us to be!

Elsewhere in the Bible it says that God is love.  Jesus came and lived that love - he could do astounding things, but He loved first - both God and man.  He knew that it didn't matter what kind of miracles He did, if He did not love.  Paul reminds us, in the context of thinking about our own unique calling and gifting within the church, that the baseline call to love God and love our neighbor is the same across the board.

What this all draws out for me is that there's always a lot going on when we're walking with the Lord.  Even as we love and serve in the church, we never outgrow our need for the blood of Jesus; we've grown and changed some, but God's always got more growth and change for us!  Jesus is always interceding on our behalf.  And the Spirit that is in us transforming and empowering us is the One who will also continually point us back to Him, to amazing grace.  As we gaze on the Savior and meditate on His love, we are drawn to love the Father that called us and to love the neighbors around us, with whom we are equal at the foot of the cross.

With that focus, using our gifts is just another way to love God and love others.  Our concern is no longer the specifics of the gifts, but rather the glory of the Giver, honoring Him by using what He's given to His glory.

In the here and now, to love God and our neighbor takes work, parts of us must die, we're constantly aware of our weakness, but Paul wraps up I Corinthians 13 with a breath of hope.  One day the struggle will be over.  We will see!  We will know!  We will worship in spirit and truth all the time.  Right now we're in preparation for those glorious days.

And they're going to be eternally spectacular!

*Ironically, I was overwhelmed by things I needed to do to get ready for the Sabbath and the need to post on the blog today - things that are invitations to breathe-deep and trust God!  How desperately we all need Him, huh?

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