Confessions of a clanging cymbal

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1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

If you’ve been reading 1 Corinthians you’ve probably noticed that Paul is writing to a group of young Christians – young in the faith that is. He’s been offering counsel on basic stuff like what to eat and what not to eat, how to deal with male/female relationships within the church, addressing abuses of the Lord’s Supper. And then in chapter 12 he describes spiritual gifts which God has given to these young believers, and the fact that all the gifts are needed in the one body of the Christ – the church.

So here in chapter 13 Paul elaborates on the proper use of the gifts of the Spirit. In our passage above he mentions the gifts of tongues, prophetic powers, understanding and knowledge, faith. There are many more though they’re not included here. One thing you might expect in a church full of new believers is inexperience in using the gifts of the spirit to serve the purposes of God. And so Paul explains that, no matter the gift, it must be deployed in the spirit of “love” (“agape” in Greek).

This kind of love compels us to serve others, to use our spiritual gifts for the common good and not the self. Agape is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, and so on. It’s a love that is most powerfully demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

In my early years as a Christian I discovered I had a gift for speaking/preaching. Sometimes I think I was more interested in drawing attention to myself than in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m not proud of that but it’s true. I was like a “noisy gong or clanging cymbal” to borrow a phrase from Paul. Yet over the years I learned a lesson. I learned it’s possible to speak in a way that people find entertaining, but is not particularly fruitful. It’s sort of like giving people junk food to eat instead of the eternal bread of life in Jesus Christ.

Our reading today reminds me of this lesson, that the gifts of the spirit are given to serve God, not self. I’d like to think I have a much clearer understanding and practice of this now. Lord let it be so, by your grace. Amen.

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