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  The Fruit of the Spirit 1 Cor 13


  Today we return to 1 Corinthians, but it's been over a month, so I thought I should bring us all up to speed again. Let me remind you of where we got to last time. Paul has been addressing the question of the nature and function of spiritual gifts in the congregation. Corinth is a place where spiritual gifts have a high profile. It would seem from the comments he makes in both chs 12 and 14 that speaking in tongues was highly valued and presumably being promoted as the ultimate sign of being a spiritual Christian. But, he says, it's clear that not everyone has every spiritual gift. What's more if you wanted to rank gifts in terms of their importance or value to the congregation, tongues is fairly low on the list. So be careful, in your search for spiritual maturity that you get your value system right. Seek the higher gifts before you start looking for something like speaking in tongues.
  But then he takes a completely different tack. He says, forget gifts for a moment. Let me show you the best way to demonstrate your Christian maturity. If you want to show just how mature you are as a Christian, then show it not by the way you exercise the gifts God gives you, but by the way you bear the fruit of the Spirit. Show it particularly in the way you demonstrate God's love to those around you.
  Why love above all the other fruit of the Spirit? Because love is the one fruit that will endure to eternity.
   As I was reading through this passage it made me think of a symphony orchestra. And so I've entitled the three sections: Love is the Melody line; Love is the harmonising element and; Love is the tune that stays with you when the symphony is finished.
   Love is the Melody line
   Have you ever been to a symphony concert and watched the orchestra play? I love sitting up in the balcony looking down at all the musicians as they play their instruments. And I particularly love watching the percussionist. He or she will sit there waiting and every now and then they'll get up and give a few thumps to the kettle drum, or bang the cymbals together, or ding the triangle. Then they sit down and wait for the next time. It seems like such a frustrating instrument to play. It's not like a rock and roll band where the drummer is playing along the whole time making as much noise as he can. In an orchestra they're there to add their contribution to a much larger production.
   But imagine if the percussionist decided that they weren't getting enough attention so in the middle of the piece they started to just bang their cymbals in time with the music. You can imagine the hubbub that'd be caused can't you. Beethoven's 5th symphony begins da da da dah and the cymbal goes clash clash clash clash. It'd totally ruin it wouldn't it.
   Well that's the sort of picture Paul is painting here. When gifts like that of speaking in tongues are exercised without the broader context of love it comes out like a clashing cymbal or a noisy gong. Rather than adding to the harmony of the church, it disrupts, it annoys. If you've ever come back into the church on a Sunday you may have heard one of the kids sitting at the drums banging on the cymbals and it's a really annoying sound. So too, gifts exercised in the absence of love, are wasted. In fact they might as well not be exercised.
   He says, even if I have all sorts of prophetic powers, if I can see into the future, if I have outstanding faith, if I'm the pinnacle of generosity, but don't exercise these gifts in love, then I'm nothing, I gain nothing. You see love is the melody line. Love is the thing that gives shape and beauty to what we do and say. Love is the thing that gives substance to our exercise of the Spirit's gifts. And without it all we do is to repel people, or annoy people by our noisy exhibitions.
   Without love the exercise of our gifts fails in its primary purpose, which is bringing glory to God. That, I think, is why Paul says without it we are nothing. You see, it's possible to have a successful ministry, on the outside at least, to be admired and applauded for the amazing things we do for God, but if at the heart of our ministry is something other than God's love, it's wasted as far as God is concerned. The Corinthians thought that those who exercised spiritual gifts were the VIPs of the Church, but in fact they were nothing if their motivation didn't come from love.
   In fact we see why this is so as we read on.
   Love is the harmonising element
   Love is the characteristic, the fruit, that binds all the other fruit and gifts together. Notice how in these few lines Paul pulls together a list of characteristics that we immediately respond to. I'm not sure that this is meant to be a full blown definition, as much as a cameo of what love looks and feels like. "4Love shows patience; love cares; love doesn't envy doesn't brag, doesn't puff itself up 5nor act dishonourably." Notice that I've translated this list using verbs rather than adjectives. The sense of the passage is that these characteristics are actions and attitudes that become habitual through repetition. They're the sorts of actions that the more you do them the more natural they become.
   What's more, they're all actions that attract us rather than repel us aren't they? They're actions and attitudes that people respond to. So they're actions and attitudes that provide a foundation on which the exercise of gifts can build.
   "Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth." One of the saddest things you can see is a gifted person who feels threatened or upset when someone else begins to receive recognition for their gifts. Or who insists that their way is the only right way to go. And who gets cranky when they don't get their own way. If you hear someone talking about leaving their husband or wife because they love someone else, it's not this sort of love. "Love doesn't rejoice in wrongdoing."
   But unfortunately the sorts of negative characteristics we see here are common in all of us. We'd all like to have our views accepted, our ways taken. We're all impatient at times. We all envy others at times. Most of us are happy to brag about our successes, to feel that they make us somehow better than someone else. We've probably all been guilty of rudeness from time to time. Let's face it, jealousy, pride and selfishness are universal human failings. But not so the person who's controlled by the Spirit. Why? Because if we're truly controlled by the Spirit, then God's love will flow out from us and these types of behaviour will be overcome by the harmonising influence of that love.
   You may wonder then why churches are full of people who are jealous or proud or selfish. Well, perhaps it's because we're not allowing the Spirit to work in us the way he wants to. Perhaps we're more interested in the performance of tasks than in the expression of spiritual maturity. Perhaps we need to give more thought to asking God to pour his love into our hearts.
   The result of such a prayer, in fact, will be that as we grow in our spiritual walk with God, these characteristics, this love of God within us will become an all-embracing shield that will hold us close to God whatever our circumstances: "7Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." Paul doesn't have any misconceptions about the reality of life as a Christian. There are all sorts of hurdles to get over, burdens to bear, crosses to carry. But the thing about love as the power in which we walk is that it provides the strength we need to bear the burdens, to maintain our faith when life is tough, to continue to hope in God when all other hopes fail, to endure whatever is thrown in our way, because we follow a God who for our sake endured suffering and shame and death to bring us to God.
   I've noticed lately a growing attack by Satan on our life together. And the way he's attacking us is through our relationships. We need to pray for one another that God's love will form a protective shield around us. Protecting our relationships within the congregation, our relationships in marriages, our relationships with our kids. So that we can bear the differences between us, support one another, encourage each other to endure to the end, continue to hope in God's love and grace even when we're struggling with life.
   And in the end, that sort of love will not only help us endure, but it'll stay with us to eternity.
   Love is the tune that stays with you when the symphony is finished
   He begins the last part of this passage with the statement: "Love never ends." Here's another reason why love needs to be at the centre of all we do. Love, God's love that is, is eternal. The love of God that shines in our hearts is something that lasts as long as God does. Once we've tasted of the love of God it stays with us forever. It's like the melody, the thematic piece that remains in your head long after the symphony concert or the musical is finished. You find yourself humming it in the shower or whistling it under your breath as you drive to work the next morning. You're almost unconscious of its presence but it stays with you.
   And look at why love remains while these so-called higher gifts fade away.
   Prophecies look to the future, guiding us as we await the fulfilment of God's promises. But a time will come when all the promises will be fulfilled, when there'll be no more need of prophecies. Tongues are fine for communicating with God in this age when we don't know how to pray, but need the Spirit to help us in our weakness. But in the age to come we'll appear before God, face to face. We'll see him just as he is. We'll be able to communicate with him truly without the need of the gift of tongues. Words of knowledge are helpful in this world where so much is unknown, but a day will come when we'll know all things fully just as we're already fully known by God.
   The gifts that God gives us through his Holy Spirit are gifts for growing people, to help us in our growth to maturity. But we look forward to the day when we no longer need those aids to growth, when we can give up baby talk, take off the trainer wheels.
   But when that day comes the one thing that will remain as integral to our being, is the love of God implanted by his Holy Spirit within us.
   In the meantime, the 3 pillars of our Christian faith are not prophecy, tongues and knowledge, as the Corinthians believed. No, they're faith, hope and love. And the greatest of those three is love.

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