12For now we see dimly in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know partially, but then I will know in the same way that God knows me. 13And now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love. But the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 13:12-13
In a humorous science fiction series of my acquaintance (Keith Laumer’s Retief, for those interested), one of the diplomats remarks that there is nothing quite so dull as power struggles amongst the powerless. He’s saying it as a snotty put down, but if you think about it a bit, it’s a very good spiritual statement. We, the spiritually powerless, so often spend our time on power struggles.
Yet that was the state of affairs in the church in Corinth. People were fighting over who had baptized them, how wise (or not) they were, how many spiritual gifts they had and how important those were, and about their freedom which had turned into license, yet was still regarded as a sign of spiritual superiority.
In chapter 12 Paul has reminded them that it all came through the Holy Spirit, acting according to his will, because they had come to Jesus. There was one Spirit working in all of them, and they were all part of one body. All of these silly reasons why one person was superior to another were a waste.
Before I go on, let me remind us all that it’s easy for us to read Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth and think of how different things were in that church. It’s far away and it’s leaders have passed on, so they’re fair game for criticism, right? But many of our churches are quite similar, and I suspect that very few churches don’t share some element of the Corinthian problems.
Once overseas I had just completed teaching a series at a small church, during which a congregational argument had been aired. To my translator, it seemed like a small thing, and she was a bit embarrassed that it had been aired in front of me. On our way back following the final session she said to me, â€œThese people are different. They’re not like your members in your big American churches. They get into fights over the silliest things.â€ I must confess I just couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. I could remember many disputes every bit as silly in my own church at home, even ones I’d been involved in myself.
We all have this weakness. Most of us probably will be wondering precisely what I think the Corinthians were wondering by the end of chapter 12. I think they were asking themselves just how they could tell who was the most important if Paul rejected spiritual gifts, spiritual freedom, baptism, wisdom, and pretty much everything else. â€œJust how are we to tell who’s the most important, Paul?â€
And Paul’s answer? The most important thing is that you don’t care who is the most important. That’s why he says he’s showing us a better way in chapter 13. I am going to make a wild guess here, and suggest that as Paul described the importance of love in verses 1-3, there were some people listening to the letter as it was read in church who said, â€œOK. I can deal with this. I have lots of love. It’s us loving folks who are the most important.â€
Then as Paul describes what love is, they had to realize that if they had the love that Paul was describing, they wouldn’t care who was the most important. The most important people don’t know or care that they are the most important. They just let the Holy Spirit live through them.
And then the final blow to pretensions. Shouldn’t faith be regarded at least as equal in importance? After all, it’s through faith that we grasp God’s gift and become connected to God in the first place. No, sorry, faith doesn’t make you more important. In fact, faith stands with love, but it isn’t the greatest. Well, then hope. We have to know what we’re hoping for in order to keep going. Surely hope is the greatest thing. No, hope is good, but it’s not the greatest.
Love is the greatest. When we see God face to face, faith will have run it’s course. Faith, by then, has received grace and brought us to the conclusion. When we’re seeing God face to face, we no longer need it. And what do we hope for, except for that great moment when we do see God face to face. No, at that final moment hope will have run its course. Our greatest hope will be fulfilled.
There will be nothing left but to be encompassed by our Father’s great love, love that knows no boundaries and no ranks.
Think about that!