We want to welcome you to a new sermon series today. We’re calling this one “The Bible’s Greatest Hits”. We’re going to look at the most popular Bible passages, as determined by searches at biblegateway.com, which is a website where you can find the Bible in pretty much every English translation you can think of and in a lot of other languages as well.
Now, in referring to these as “The Bible’s Greatest Hits”, we don’t mean to imply that these are the only Bible passages you need to know or that they’re the most important or anything like that. After all, the Apostle Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy that “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” I think most of us would probably agree with that.
But the thing is, just like with music or books or TV shows or anything else, things become popular for a reason. They speak to us somehow. They have a message that’s important, or that appeals to us, or that makes us think or feel or something. All scripture is useful, but we still have certain passages that speak to us more at certain times. That’s perfectly natural.
But the other thing that can happen is that sometimes, when we’ve read or heard something a number of times, we stop thinking about it. We take it for granted. For example, how many times have you heard the National Anthem? If you go to sports events, you’ve probably heard it hundreds of times, maybe thousands of times. How often do you really think about what the words mean? Probably not very often.
So in this sermon series, we’re going to take a look at these popular Bible passages and try to really think about them. And we’re starting with what was number nine in the biblegateway.com list, the passage we read from First Corinthians.
We read the end of First Corinthians Chapter Twelve and all of Chapter Thirteen. Chapter thirteen is often called “the love chapter.” It gets used at weddings a lot. It gets used at funerals occasionally, too. As you heard, it talks about love, what love is and what love is not. And you’ve heard sermons preached on that before, and you will again. But today, I want to talk about the rest of this passage. And I want to start with the part of chapter twelve we included.
In chapter twelve, Paul writes about gifts of the spirit. He says that we all have different spiritual gifts, and that they’re all important. He compares it to the parts of the body. He says that all parts of the body are important: the feet, the hands, the ears, the eyes, all of it. He lists some of the gifts of the Spirit, such as teaching, prophesying, working miracles, healing, helping, guidance, all sorts of things. He says we should work together to develop the gifts we’ve been given so we can serve God. But then he says this: “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”
Now, if you were listening when we read today’s Bible verses, you know what comes next. But pretend you don’t. Imagine that you’re one of the people in the town of Corinth that this letter was written to. You’re reading his letter, or more likely someone is reading it to you. And you’ve heard Paul say that all these spiritual gifts are important and that we need to work together to develop them so we can serve God.
And then you hear: “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” What would you think? I’d be thinking, “Most excellent way? What could be more excellent than working together to develop our spiritual gifts to serve God?”
Paul tells us. The more excellent way is love. Paul says it does not matter how awesome our spiritual gifts are, or how hard we’ve worked to develop them, if we don’t have love. Someone could be the greatest speaker in the world, they could be the greatest prophet ever known, they could have so much faith that they could literally move mountains, and none of it would matter. None of it matters without love.
Did you ever wonder why that is? I mean, we just kind of take it for granted sometimes, don’t we? We hear that, and we think, well, of course none of that matters without love. But why not? Why do prophecy or evangelism or even faith not matter without love?
I mean, suppose that I was a really great speaker and evangelist. I know that’s quite a stretch, but just suppose it. And suppose I was also a real jerk. Maybe that’s not as much of a stretch, but again, just suppose it. If, by my great speaking ability, I was able to bring people to Christ, why would it matter that I was a jerk? Why would it matter that I was doing it for personal glory or for fame or for whatever reason? As long as I was able to get someone to accept Jesus as their Savior, why would it matter what my motivation was for doing it?
Paul answers that question. He says, basically, that that’s the way children think. And he’s right. Kids will say, well, as long as I do what I’m supposed to, it does not matter why I’m doing it. But parents, you know better, right? You’ve told your kids to do something and seen that look on their face. You’ve seen them trudge slowly out to do what their supposed to do, like a condemned person walking the last mile. And you don’t like it very much, do you? And you say something, and the kid says, “What’s wrong? I’m doing what you told me to do?” Children think that our motivation does not matter. Adults know that it does.
Paul also answers the question in another way. He answers it by saying that love is the only thing that will never pass away. It’s the only thing that will never fail. There will come a time when all the great prophecies will cease and pass away. There will come a time when all the collected knowledge of mankind will cease and pass away. There will come a time when all the greatest speakers will pass away and their words will be gone forever.
And besides, while we’re on earth, none of our prophecies, none of our knowledge, none of our speeches, will really be full and complete the way they’re supposed to be. He says that, while we’re trying to see God’s kingdom, but we can only see a reflection of it in a dim and cloudy mirror. We can only get a vague glimpse of God’s kingdom while we’re on earth, and that’s going to show up in all of our prophecies, and all of our knowledge, and all of our speeches. None of them are going to be accurate or true. The only time they will become accurate and true is when completeness comes, when the Lord returns and, as Paul says, we can see clearly, face to face.
The gifts of the spirit that we’re given are important. I’m not saying they’re not, and Paul did not say that, either. And as Paul says, we should work together to develop them as much as we can to serve God.
But no matter what gifts we’re given, and no matter how hard we work to develop them, they’ll never be quite right. We will never be able to develop them completely while we’re on earth. And ultimately, they will all cease and pass away, just as we, ourselves, will all cease and pass away from the earth some day. The only thing that will remain, the only thing that will never fail, is love.
Think of it this way. Think of a teacher or coach you really liked. Do you remember specific lessons they taught you? Or do you remember that they cared about you and wanted to help you do the best you could? Think of a pastor or a Sunday school teacher who made an impression on you. Do you remember specific things they taught you? Or do you remember that they cared about you and were there for you whenever you needed them? If you grew up in a loving home, think of your parents and grandparents. Do you remember specific things they taught you? Or do you remember that they loved you and cared about you and that they’d be there for you no matter what happened?
Love never fails. The things we do without love eventually will always, inevitably, fail. But the things we do with love will live on. In fact, when we do things out of love, the love we show will love on long after the specific thing we did has been forgotten.
That’s why the gospels, and the letters, and all of the New Testament emphasize so much that God is love, and that what we’re supposed to do is love God and love other people. We talk sometimes about the things God has done, and God has done great things. God created the world out of nothing. God created everything we see, every tree, every rock, every plant, every animal, every bird, every insect. God created you. God created me. And God is still creating. And it’s awesome what God has done and what God continues to do.
But imagine if God had created all that without love. Can you even imagine that? I’m not sure I can. What would the world be like without love? What would God be like without love? What would you and I be like without love? It’d be terrible. No one would want to live in a world like that, and no one would want to worship a God like that. I really cannot imagine it and I really don’t want to even try to imagine it.
And praise God, we don’t have to. Because God did create us with love. And God created the world with love. Because God is love. And when we show love to someone, we are behaving in as much of a God-like manner as it is possible for humans to behave.
It’s important for us to work together to develop the spiritual gifts God has given us. But it’s more important for us to use them with love. Love is the most excellent way. Love never fails because God never fails. And God is love.