The church a body - vital principles

Text 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 Time 23/03/14 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We looked last week at the opening 11 verses of 1 Corinthians 12. We made five main points.
1. Understand that pagans do not have the Spirit but Christians do
2. Realise that the one God gives his people different roles
3. Recognise that these different gifts are all for the common good
4. Think of the variety of gifts given but all by the one Spirit – some nine are listed here. Most of them are no longer in use.
5. Never forget that all these gifts are given by one and the same Spirit as he determines
Now the rest of the chapter (verses 12-31) covers similar ground, repeating and expanding on the points already made. What I have done is to isolate eight principles. If we can see and live according to the principle Paul gives us here then
1. The unity principle
The main illustration that Paul uses throughout this section is that of the body. This is not difficult to visualise as we all have one and are seeing our bodies every day. In verse 12 Paul says The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. How many bodies do you have? Just the one. How many parts does that body have? Many. There are arms, legs, torso, hands, feet, fingers, toes, etc. The body is a unit made up of many parts. So it is with Christ says Paul. There is one universal church and in each locale there is just one body of Christ, though it is made up of many parts.
Paul argues for our essential unity in verse 12 For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. $ He uses two pictures then – baptism and drinking. All of us here this morning, we were all baptised immersed by one Spirit into one body. Yes, we may be Jewish or Gentile, religious or pagan in background, rich or poor, black or white but it is the same Spirit who has baptised us all or to put it another way, we have all drunk the same water of life, the same Spirit of God and so we are essentially one.
We do not deny our clear differences. We do not pretend that they do not exist but let us remember that we are essentially one. We are united. Let us never forget the fact. What we do cannot be simply for ourselves or in light only of our own needs. Rather, we need to think of others and keep the principle of unity high in our thinking.
2. The belonging principle
So says Paul (14) Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. He then gives two obvious examples of how this works out.
15 If the foot should say, for example Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. No, the foot may wish it was a hand but it is not and though it may protest, it is still part of the body.
16 And if the ear should say, Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. “I'm fed up of listening, listening all the time” says the ear “all I hear is moaning and complaining. I'm fed up of it. I want to see the world. I want to be an eye. And if I can't. I'm off.” It will make no difference, however. It is still part of the body.
Do you ever wish you were someone else? I wish I was a deacon not an elder. I wish was an elder not a deacon. I wish I had teaching gifts rather than helping gifts. I wish I had helping gifts rather than helping gifts. So easily we can start thinking – I'm not great at witnessing so I'm not really part of the church, I can't preach so I'm not part of the church, I can't teach Sunday School so I'm not ..., etc. But the belonging principle says that we all belong though we have different roles.
3. The diversity principle
Having been a little surreal Paul carries it on - 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? Say all the parts of the body want to be an eye or an ear. Okay granted. If a body was one great eye it would be very good at seeing but no good at hearing! If it was one big ear it would hear very well but, again, it wouldn't see anything.
And so if we are all preachers or all helpers or all administrators – how can that work?
Say we decide the only gift any of us has is cleaning the church. So we all come and clean it on Saturday and we get the place spick and span for today and the place looks better than ever. And so we arrive and sit there. We need someone to start the hymns off. Will you do it? No, I clean the church I can't play the piano or start us off unaccompanied.
Or say we all decide the only thing we can do is give out tracts and so we all go up to Golders Green and give out tracts. Gilders Green doesn't know what's hit it. We give out 200 tracts and a number of people promise to come. But then who will preach? Perhaps someone tries to say something but they cannot preach ….
What a nightmare.
But that is not how it is thankfully in fact (says Paul in verses 18-20) God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
I don't think that this is a guarantee that we shall never want for a preacher or a giver out of tracts or pianist or someone to clean the church but it does mean that we should expect diversity. One will have this gift and one another. We will not all have the same gifts.
4. The interdependency principle
And so Paul says in verse 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, I don't need you! And the head cannot say to the feet, I don't need you! Again it is slightly surreal. The eye says to the hand I don't need you but how is it going to get those lovely grapes it has seen into the mouth without hands? The head says to the feet I don't need you but how will this brilliant idea you talk about of going to see the Mona Lisa in Paris or whatever it is if your feet don't take you?
And so it is great if someone can give out tracts or invite people to church but it is also a help if someone can clean the church before we meet. To have someone at the door to open up and welcome everyone is a great help too as is having someone organising the coffee afterwards. We don't need flowers I guess though it can be such a help and certainly someone making sire the heating on or off is important. Without a pianist and a preacher it is difficult to see how we are going to get anywhere. It helps to have someone on the PA too and someone to do the collection. And if we try and do all this and no-one prays it will be pretty useless and if we only manage to do Sunday things and never speak to each other or help each other outside that then it is going to be pretty useless too.
No the more you think about it the more you see how we all depend on each other. And in the church of Christ that is exactly as it should be.
5. The weakness principle
In verses 22-24a Paul uses a very bold picture I think and it answers a question that I think often goes through people's minds when they hear this sort of thing. He says to the idea of getting rid of certain body parts as not needed On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. He probably has in mind our private parts here. They are, says Paul, weaker, less honourable and unpresentable. Paul lied in a much more modest age than our own but we know how tender and vulnerable are certain parts of our body and we rightly do not want them to be seen. These parts we know have their important role to play and so we cover them up and take special care of them.
Now in a similar way we know that some in the body of Christ are very weak and appear to be able to contribute very little. They can't preach or be deacons. They can't easily do beach missions or children's work. They can't take the collection or make the coffee or clean the church. They can't visit others. They may not even be able to come on Sundays. And yet they can give and they can pray and they can say something encouraging when we visit them and so far from thinking they are useless or not part of the body we recognise that they are an essential part of the body too.
Let's never forget the weakness principle. It is a very superficial understanding of things that thinks such people are unimportant or that they count for nothing.
6. The sympathy principle
Paul goes on to develop this in verses 24b-26 But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
We are so familiar with this and it is so obvious that we hardly notice it. You hit your thumb with a hammer. Your mouth doesn' t say glad it was only my thumb and not the rest of me. No, your mouth says “ow!”, your other hand holds the thumb or puts the tap on to douse it with cold water. Your whole body is very eager to do what ever it can t help. Someone tells you bad news. It is your ears that hear this bad news but your whole body reacts. Your eyes may fill with tears and your hands may wipe those tears away. Similarly with good news, your whole body is excited. Your arm may do an air punch, your feet may lift you off the ground, your arms may wrap round someone near you. If a gold medal is put round your neck at the Olympics, your head willing bows to let the neck have its medal, your hand holds it up for people to see, etc.
If one of us asks someone to come to church and they come then we are all glad, if one of us gets a positive answer to prayer we all rejoice, only one may preach but we are all glad if it helps a believer or if an unbeliever is converted. And when anyone of us suffers or is disappointed we all sympathise in that too. Their loss is our loss, their failure is our failure, their trouble is our trouble. That sympathy principle should be prominent in all our church life.
7. The variety principle
So says Paul to the Corinthians (27) Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. He then again lists some of the gifts of the Spirit. There are eight items this time and although some of the gifts mentioned before are mentioned again some are not and others are introduced. He has mentioned already prophets .. workers of miracles … those having gifts of healing … and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. He introduces apostles … teachers … those able to help others and those with gifts of administration.
One of his aims here is to put gifts in some sort of order. He begins with apostles and prophets teachers. Miracle workers and healers come after these. Those speaking in different kinds of tongues a gift highly prized by most of the Corinthians he deliberately puts last behind those able to help others (deacons and such like) and those with gifts of administration (those able to lead the church).
Using the list he asks (29, 30) Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret? (another gift mentioned early in the chapter). He misses out helpers and administrators as being gifts less likely for people to covet.
As we suggested last week prophets ... workers of miracles … those having gifts of healing … and those speaking messages from God in different kinds of tongues are gifts only known in the New Testament era and not something we should expect today. This would be true of Apostles too – though the need for church planters or missionaries continues. There are still teachers … those able to help others and those with gifts of administration today.
These verses remind us what a variety of gifts the Spirit has given to his church. The lists are not exhaustive and no doubt other gifts could be mentioned such as those in Romans 12 which include serving, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others and showing mercy.
We do not all have the same gifts but what gifts we have must be used in different ways to serve others.
8. The ambition principle
Finally, Paul says (31) But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way which leads into Chapter 13. There is more to say on this subject, certainly but it is right to eagerly desire the greater gifts. What are these gifts? First, missionaries, church planters, those who can teach, then those able to help in different ways or with gifts of leadership. Elsewhere Paul says it is good to desire to be an elder. We are not all elders and deacons but it is right to aspire to such tasks. 8 principles then: unity, belonging, diversity, interdependence, weakness, sympathy, variety, ambition. Keep the m in mind.

The One Holy Spirit and his many gifts

Text 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 Time 16/03/14 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Around this time last year we began a series of studies in 1 Corinthians. By the end of November I'd preached 30 sermons covering the first 11 chapters. We've had a break since then and what I want to do today is to pick up where we left off.
In the first 6 chapters Paul talks about what he wants to raise – their unacceptable divisions, their toleration of the man guilty of incest, their taking each other to court and their misunderstanding of Christian freedom. Then at the start of Chapter 7 he says Now for the matters you wrote about and begins to deal with those things. Chapter 7 is on marriage and divorce, etc. In Chapter 8 he begins to deal with the matter of food sacrificed to idols and the need for brotherly love and not standing on your rights, which goes on into Chapter 9 and then Chapter 10 which is full of warnings from Israel's history. Chapter 11 is famous as the first part is about maintaining differences between men and women – the hats passage some call it – and the second part is about the Lord's Supper.
When we come to Chapter 12 Paul starts on a new subject. He says Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. Back in 1:7 he has told them you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed but this is the first place where he really takes up the subject, which was clearly causing tensions in Corinth.
One of the Corinthians problems was their spiritual pride. All the way through this letter Paul is seeking to slowly let the air out of their puffed up balloon. At the beginning of Chapter 8 he says Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. Before that he has been digging away with his Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? (3:16) Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? (5:6) Or do you not know that the Lord's people will judge the world? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19)
We get it again in 9:13 and 24 Don't you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?
Ringing the changes in 10:1 it is For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea and here again (12:1) it is Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.
In each case Paul is really covering Christian basics, things that the Corinthians should surely know by this stage. So what we want to say this morning is quite basic. If you are a Christian you should know these things. These are basic.
1. Understand that pagans do not have the Spirit but Christians do
Paul begins by reminding them of their past (2) You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. This applies to the Gentiles in Corinth but even the Jews were like Gentiles influenced and led astray to mute idols. The influence that guided their lives was a pagan one, demons led the way. Outside of Christ, that is all there is. If you are not a Christian, you will be led astray and worship created things rather than the Creator.
But, of course, a great change had come in the lives of these Corinthians. This change was something that the Holy Spirit brought about. Verse 3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. Paul perhaps when he was a persecutor of Christians would try to get them to say "Jesus be cursed," but he now knew that those with the Spirit would not say it. Conversely, without the Holy Spirit we cannot honestly say that Jesus is Lord that he is God. It is only as the Spirit works in us that we come to know the truth.
Here is something vital to begin with. The only way any of us can honestly say that Jesus is Lord is if the Holy Spirit enables us. We need him at work in our lives. Is the Holy Spirit at work within you? Can you honestly say Jesus is Lord? If not, pray that God will give you the Holy Spirit. Once he enters into your life then you will be a Christian indeed.
2. Realise that the one God gives his people different roles
That's the first thing to get then. But then the next thing Paul wants us to see is that although it is the one Holy Spirit who works in all believers yet he does it in different ways. In a very Trinitarian series of phrases Paul says in verses 4-6
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
It is the same Spirit who works in all Christians then but the gifts he gives them differ. Every Christian acknowledges that Jesus is Lord but they do not all serve him in exactly the same way. God works in all of his people, though in different ways.
Think of a rugby team. They all wear the same colour shirts and play for the same club. They have the same manager, the same captain, the same fans. However, some are tall slim men, some are huge wide men. All shapes and sizes play. Some are forwards, some are backs; some are gifted kickers, most are not. Now among God's people, something similar goes on. As the Spirit works in each one he gives them different gifts and so they are enabled to serve the Lord in different ways.
Or think of a workman with his toolbox. When he is doing a job he selects the right tool for the right job. He uses a saw to cut wood, a plane to plane it. He uses a hammer to put in nails, a chisel to create a recess in the wood. There is one toolbox and one craftsman but many different tools.
So, if you have the Holy Spirit do you realise that he has gifted you to serve Jesus Christ as he intends? Do you realise that God is at work among us all, although in different ways in different people?
3. Recognise that these different gifts are all for the common good
Verse 7 takes the argument on a little further Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. Every Christian has at least one gift. This comes with conversion and does not require some second blessing to gain it. Of course, a person may have more than one gift and it may take a little while before that is apparent. The gifts of the Spirit are not given to make us feel good about ourselves or to increase our assurance or in fact anything to do with ourselves, as such. No all these gifts are given for the common good. These gifts are all intended to all of us good.
Think of the rugby team. They play in different positions but they all want to win against the opposition. Every point scored is for the whole team not just for the individual. It is the same with the workman and his toolbox. If he is making a cabinet, say, he uses whatever tool he needs to get the job done. It is all bent to the one end. Or think of an advancing army. There are different roles. Some are leaders, some are foot soldiers. They may have different pieces of equipment. They all work together though to overcome the enemy.
Is this how you think? Whatever gift you have or that anyone else has in the church, do you see that it is intended for the common good? Are you using whatever gifts you have for the common good? That is God's intention.
4. Think of the variety of gifts given but all by the one Spirit
In verses 8-10 Paul gives a list of gifts of the Spirit. He mentions some other things at the end of the chapter too. This is one of several places where Paul lists spiritual gifts. It is clear from these lists that none of them, or even all of them together, are exhaustive. Paul is merely giving us examples of spiritual gifts. One problem we have with these list is that it is not always obvious what is being referred to. Phrases like gifts of healing or miraculous powers are fairly obvious but what is the message of wisdom or the message of knowledge? Something like prophecy or tongues is open to some interpretation too. Another issue here is whether all the gifts Paul mentions are gifts that we can expect to see in operation today. A similar question would be to what extent these gifts are what we think of as supernatural or natural. If a person is healed by prayer we would see that as a supernatural thing, whereas if it was through the work of a doctor we would think of it as a more natural thing, although, of course, all healings are God's work not ours.
Whatever we say about the nine gifts listed here then we need to be fairly tentative to some extent. The list begins with references to people being given the message of wisdom or the message of knowledge and it closes with references (10) to speaking in different kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. These all sound like public speaking gifts as does prophecy but the other gifts in verse 9 (faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, distinguishing between spirits) are not of that order.
So let's think about these gifts. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit. This sounds like something supernatural and probably something largely confined to the New Testament period when there was no New Testament as such and so the need for a word of wisdom to guide or knowledge to inform was necessary. Even today we need people with knowledge, people who can teach us more deeply from God's word and with wisdom who when as a church we are facing difficulties can advise and guide us.
In verse 9a he says to another faith by the same Spirit. By faith here he cannot mean the faith that all Christians must have in Christ. He must have in mind wonder working faith of a very high degree. In 13:2 Paul refers to having a faith that can move mountains. No doubt there is a need for such people of faith today too.
9b to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit. We know that in the New Testament there were great gifts of healing. Paul and Peter and other apostles were able to do amazing things. Not that they could heal everyone necessarily. Paul talks about leaving Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). However, amazing miracles of healing took place that have never really been repeated since. Certainly there are cases where a person has been seriously sick and in answer to prayer they have been healed and I know there are people who claim to be healers but we are talking here about someone with the gift of healing.
Most miracles we read of in the New Testament were miracles of healing but we do read of others, miracles of judgement for example – blinding or even killing. So Paul adds (10) to another miraculous powers.
To another prophecy. Because there was no New Testament there would be direct revelations from God. There is no reason to expect these today because the Bible is complete. Preaching continues, however, and that ought to have a prophetic edge to it.
To another distinguishing between spirits. No doubt Satan was very quick to reproduce the things seen in the New Testament church, words of wisdom and knowledge, prophecies, and so on, for his own wicked purposes. Some misguided souls would simply pretend to be speaking in God's name. It was sometimes hard to know what to make of things. Some had the gift of distinguishing between spirits however and could reveal the true case. Of course, that gift too could be mimicked so it did not solve the problem but it enabled some progress to be made.
To another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. There is a psychological phenomenon called glossolalia. It enables some people in a state of ecstasy to speak in a way that sounds like a foreign language. Many people can do this I'm sure. Many Christians believe that is what Paul is talking about here. They also believe this gift continues today in one form or another. However, it seems to me more likely that Paul is saying that some people in Corinth had the ability to speak in quite uncommon tongues and were receiving messages from God in those tongues. Possibly they received messages in languages that they didn't understand but it is more likely to be something they understood. Prophecies came in Greek but there were also messages in tongues that few people understood. Now a tongue that most people can't understand is useless to most unless someone can interpret it. One thing I have learned about languages is that not everyone who speaks, say English and Welsh, has the gift of interpreting those languages. My wife as you know speaks Welsh and she sits down and translates things sometimes but it's hard work. Other people I know of can simultaneously translate as a person speaks – like in the UN. It is a gift.
In many missionary situations today people are only going to hear the gospel if someone goes to them, learns their language and translates the Bible for them and preaches to them. We need people like that.
So here are nine gifts – prophesying, speaking in an unusual language, being able to interpret such a language, a word of knowledge or wisdom, faith, healing, other miracles, distinguishing between spirits. Paul probably possessed most if not all of those gifts. It was more common to possess only some of them.
Today we should not expect to prophesy, speak words of knowledge or wisdom, have wonder working faith, heal people or do other miracles, distinguish between spirits or receive messages in other tongues or interpret such messages. However, how we need preachers, wise and knowledgeable leaders, men and women of great faith, healers of various sorts and people who do great things, discerning people and people willing to learn foreign tongues and how to interpret them. Pray for such people to be raised up.
5. Never forget that all these gifts are given by one and the same Spirit as he determines
The closing verse of this section is verse 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. Too often messages on this subject produce the wrong reaction. We either get steamed up about what is or what isn't a New Testament gift or focus on ourselves and our gifts. Rather the emphasis here is on the fact that All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, it is he who gives them to each one and just as he determines not as we think fit.
Give thanks that there is a Holy Spirit at work in this world today. If you do not have the Spirit, pray he will come to you. Pray he will come to your unconverted family and friends and to others too. Pray that he will give his gifts to the churches as he determines. Pray that these gifts will all be used to the praise and glory of God.

The Dragon, The Woman, Her male child

Text Revelation 12:1-5 Time 08/12/13 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We're coming into the Christmas season and so I thought it might be good to look at something in keeping with that theme – but something less obvious. A few years ago a Roger Ellsworth book came out called Christmas Pictures. It contains five Christmas meditations and the first is on Revelation 12:1-5. As he says there, sometimes people ask what Christmas is all about and one of the answers is found in these verses. Christmas for the Christian is about Christ and how he came and particularly about how he came to redeem his people. So we can say Christmas is about redemption and this is what this passage is really all about.
You can think of Revelation 12:1-5 as a little drama with three characters. The drama represents the complete history of redemption in a very simplified from. We will begin by identifying the three characters and then move on to looking at the drama itself.
1. Consider the three important characters portrayed here
1. Consider the dragon, which points to Satan
3, 4
Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.
He is the easiest to identify. It is spelled out for us later in verse 9
The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
This is Satan, then, the Devil. We don't know his history that well but it is clear that though God created perfect he rebelled and fell from heaven, taking other angels with him and so becoming God's inveterate enemy. He will ultimately be destroyed in hell but meanwhile he does what he can to oppose God and his rule.
2. Consider the Child, which points to Christ
She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
This is not too difficult either. This is clearly a reference to the Son of God, to the Messiah or Christ, the Lord Jesus himself. In Psalm 2 we read of God the Father and his Messiah or Anointed One. Messiah says
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.
3. Consider the woman, which points to God's people
1, 2
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
This is a little more difficult. Here is a woman who is both beautiful and glorious and who gives birth, crying out in pain. Satan seeks to devour her child, which we have said stands for the Christ.
Is it Mary? The language is really too extravagant for that and it must be a wider reference – to the people of God as a whole, glorious in God's sight, to whom the Son is born and that is in labour pains until that time.
So here are three characters or entities that we ought to be aware of in our thinking – Satan, the Son of God and the people of God, the church. Many people assume that there is no personal devil and that there is no Messiah and so they have no time for the idea that there is such an entity as the people of God. Those are big mistakes to make.
2. Consider the important drama presented here
As for the drama itself we learn here about a number of things.
1. Learn about Satan and his antagonism towards God's people
Everything we are told about Satan here should alert us to the fact that we have a strong and powerful foe who is bent on our destruction and the destruction of all that is dear to God. He is
  • enormous This speaks of the huge and widespread nature of his power and opposition
  • a red dragon This speaks of his rapacious and murderous, his monstrous and supernatural opposition
  •  with  seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads This speaks of his perfect power and pride
  •  His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth This speaks of his original rebellion when perhaps a third of the angels followed him on his dangerous and desperate rebellion against God that led to his fall from heaven
  •  The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born This speaks of the special focus of his rabid opposition - God's people and especially the Christ or Messiah.
  • We must not forget the opposition of Satan – even at Christmas. Satan will do all he can to destroy the work of God. Never forget that.
    2. Consider Satan's antagonism in the Old Testament period of gestation
    We can consider the Old Testament period in at least two ways
    1 Consider that time as a time of looking forward
    We read of man's fall at the hand of Satan and his temptation as early as Genesis 3. No sooner do we hear of this than we also hear that God has a plan to put things right in the person of his Son. Genesis 3:15 is sometimes called the protevangelium – that is the first announcement of the gospel or as it has been put the first glimmer. God says there to Satan
    And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
    I've not seen Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ but I understand there is a scene where Christ prays in a garden and stamps on a snake. That is a reference back to this verse, which speaks chiefly of how Christ would defeat Satan (crush your head) but by dying on the cross (you will strike his heel).
    Even back near the beginning then it was clear that there would be continuous enmity between Satan and his offspring and the woman and her offspring but God says that Satan's head will be crushed by Eve's offspring even though he himself will suffer in the process. The story of the Old Testament is partly the story of how the Old Testament saints from Adam and Eve on looked forward to the coming of the Son of God who would crush Satan's Head.
    2 Consider that time as a time when Satan raised great opposition
    Besides this, of course, there is also the long story of Satan's opposition and we especially notice those times when the opposition almost succeeds (or so it seems to us). Obvious examples would be
    • Opposition before the Exodus in Egypt when Pharaoh held power. You remember how in Exodus 1 we are told of the opposition of Pharaoh to the Israelites who were his slaves. When he decreed that all the baby boys should die it was not only the nation itself that was put in grave danger but the coming of the promised Messiah. Thankfully God raised up Shiphrah and Puah the Hebrew midwives who were more than a match of Pharaoh and his wiles. Moses parents were also wise (as was their daughter Miriam) and Moses survived too and became a temporal saviour to his people in due time.
    • Opposition in the time of the kings when Ataliah held power. Perhaps we are less familiar with that story from 2 Kings 11 and 2 Chronicles 22 and 23. if you remember it begins with Jehoram King of Judah marrying a daughter of Ahab of all people. This was Ataliah who went on to put all the sons of the king to death but one who was rescued by his mother. That one – the boy Joash - was kept hidden in the Temple for six years until it was possible to produce him again and Satan's plan was thwarted.
    • Opposition in the time leading up to the exile when the Babylonians held power. This was another time when all looked grim and without hope. Interestingly the last chapter of 2 Kings (25) ends however on a word of hope (28-30) In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honour higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king's table. Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived.
    • Opposition in the time of Esther in the exile when Xerxes held power. This is another situation where the Jewish people are nearly wiped out entirely yet they live on and so the birth of Messiah is possible.
    How we should give thanks to God for these innumerable kindnesses and deliverances.

    3. Consider Satan's antagonism when Jesus Christ was born
    And it is not as though with the dawning of the New Testament period after 400 years or so without revelation that the opposition comes to an end. Satan doesn't decide to give up.
    You have those wonderful announcements to Zechariah and to Mary at the beginning of Luke and to Joseph at the beginning of Matthew but the next thing we know is that Herod is trying to deceive the wise men in order to kill the new born king and having been foiled he launches a violent and evil campaign inspired by that dragon Satan against all the babies under two years of age in the Bethlehem area, hoping again to destroy Messiah. It was Satan inspired malice.
    We can learn lessons from this.
    1 Satan is still a furious dragon and we need to take to ourselves the whole armour of God.
    2 Satan still uses deception and violence. Expect it.
    3 Never forget that Satan is not equal to God. He cannot win.
    4 Remember that all God's promises are absolutely sure and are indestructible. They cannot fail.
    4. Consider Satan's defeat when Jesus Christ was born
    Not only did Satan not win the victory when Messiah came but he also suffered defeat and we are left with (using Ellsworth's terms)
    1 A Wonder to behold. She gave birth to a son, a male child.
    The story of Messiah's birth is a wonderful one indeed and one that we should never cease to wonder at. How well do you know it?
    First, Mary is told that she will give birth to a child, even though she is a virgin. Joseph, her betrothed, is also made aware of the situation. Far away in Rome the powerful Emperor Augustus decides on a massive census of the whole Empire. In this census everyone will be required to register back in their home town. The timing so transpires that Mary is heavily pregnant when they arrive in Bethlehem, Joseph's town and, of course, David's, and the very place it was prophesied that Messiah would be born. There are so many people in Bethlehem because of the census Mary and Joseph can only find shelter among the animals and so when the baby is born he is placed in a manger. Mary wrapped him in strips of cloth she had prepared beforehand as poor people often did. While they are still in Bethlehem wise men from the east arrive with precious gifts. The next thing they know they had to flee from Herod and spend a short time in Egypt as refugees. They eventually move to Nazareth in the north of the country where Jesus grows up and is known as Jesus of Nazareth. We ought to know the story. Each detail is full of significance. What a wonder that God's own Son should be born a human being here on earth.
    2 A Saviour to receive. In Luke 2:11 the angels tell the shepherds Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
    Praise God it is so. A Saviour, a Champion and Provider has come for us all, one who despite Satan's efforts is the Saviour of all men and especially of those who believe, those who put their trust in him. Are you trusting in him tonight?
    3 A Victor to admire. Back in Revelation 12 there is that reference to Psalm 2 - who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.
    That little baby was weak and helpless and often Jesus seems to be meek and mild and defenceless. He is indeed the lamb of God who lays down his life for his own. Yet he is also the Lion of Judah, the one who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre. No-one can withstand him when he comes with power as he will one day soon.
    4 A Ruler to whom we must submit. Finally we note how her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
    Where is Jesus now? He has been snatched up to the throne of God. Yes, they put him to death. But death couldn't keep its hold on him. He was raised from the dead and then ascended into heaven where he is now at God's right hand praying for his own. Is he praying for you? If you have submitted to the Lord of all then he is. You can be sure of it. Humble yourself before him tonight. Trust in him.

    Love - The greatest of all

    Text 1 Corinthians 13:13 Time 12/10/14 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
    My wife, as many of you know, is one of three sisters. She was talking the other day about other families she knows where there are three sisters. Our old next door neighbours were a family with three girls, for example. Perhaps the most famous three sisters in history were the Brontes (Charlotte, Emily and Anne).
    We have five boys so I know nothing about bringing up three girls but I do want to introduce you to three famous sisters today, who are really well worth knowing. The seventeenth century Puritan Thomas Adams called them the Divine Sisters. Their names are Faith, Hope and Love (or Charity).
    If you read through Paul's letters in the New Testament you will see that on several occasions he talks about these three graces or virtues. Sometimes he mentions one of them on its own; sometimes two are mentioned together and sometimes we get all three of them - faith hope and love.
    So for example he speaks of
    • Faith on its own (Romans 1:16, 17) Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed - a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
    • Hope on its own (Romans 8:24, 25) For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
    • Love on its own (Romans 12:9, 10) Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.
    • You get faith and hope in Galatians 5:5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. Also in Colossians 1:23 Paul talks about continuing in your faith, established and firm, and not being moved from the hope held out in the gospel.
    • Faith and love come in Ephesians 1:15 and Colossians 1:4 where he talks about their faith in the Lord Jesus or Christ Jesus and their love for all God's people.
    • All three are found in
      Colossians 1:5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven 1 Thessalonians 5:8 and 13 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. … But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
    They are also here at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 - And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
    1 Corinthians 13 is a wonderful chapter about Christian love. We have looked at most of the chapter and we have seen that
    1. Love is absolutely essential – no gifts from God or any zeal for him can possibly ever compensate for a lack of love. It is vital.
    2. Love itself is not a vague thing but something definable. We are told that it is patient, … kind. It does not envy ... or boast, it is not proud ... or rude, ... self-seeking, … or easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It takes no delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
    3. Then, thirdly, Love never fails. Whatever it is prophecies, they will cease ... tongues, they will be stilled ... knowledge, it will pass away and so on. Love, however, never fails. It continues.
    Paul now wants to pull together what he has been saying before he goes on in what we call Chapter 14 to tackle the specific problems they were having in Corinth over gifts. So we want to say
    1. There are three things that always remain – understand what they are and the importance of developing them
    So Paul says And now these three remain then lists them - faith, hope and love. These are the three principal gifts that the Holy Spirit gives and their outstanding quality is that they remain. This is true of all three of them not just of love. Some do suggest that when Paul says they remain he means only beyond the time when the supernatural gifts (prophecy, tongues, knowledge, etc) cease. As we said last time, however, that does not seem to be what Paul is talking about here. What Paul is actually saying is that all three go on beyond death and beyond Christ's coming and exist even in heaven.
    It is difficult to see at first blush how faith and hope can continue in heaven, where to some extent hope is fulfilled and faith turns to sight. However, if you go back to verse 7, you will see that Paul says that love always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. If love exists in heaven, therefore, there must be a sense in which faith and hope continue as love always trusts and always hopes.
    So with that in mind let's define these three graces as Paul understands them here and talk about developing them in our lives.
    1. Faith
    When Paul talks about faith here he is not talking about
    • The supernatural gift of faith. In 1 Corinthians 12:8, 9 Paul says To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit. The gift of faith he has in mind there is no doubt a special gift of faith. He may be referring to it at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13 when he talks about faith that can remove mountains.
    • Nor is he talking about what we can call temporary or historical faith where a person professes to believe for a little while but then stops believing.
    • It is not mere assent to certain truths he has in mind either.
    By faith here he means a faith found only in the elect, the fruit of election and irresistible grace. It is something that we know is the gift of God, brought about by the Spirit. It is the twin sister of repentance. It is the grace that, to paraphrase one old writer (Gill), enables a soul to do six things – to see Christ, to go to him, to lay hold on him, to receive him, to rely on him, to live on him. Such faith never dies. It remains.
    In Hebrews 11 you have a whole gallery of examples of people who put their faith in God and who were rewarded for it, people like Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Jacob and so on.
    What about you? Are you a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you trust in him? Is that where your faith is? If it is a real faith it will remain. We are not saying it will never waver. But if it is real it will remain.
    When the Lord Jesus Christ comes we will see him as he is and so there will be no need for faith in the sense that we often use the word but we will still put our trust in him if we are his. Indeed, more than ever, he will be the one we trust. At one point Jesus asks (Luke 18:8) when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? This could refer to the Second Coming or to other times of crisis or both. When Jesus raises the question of whether he will find faith on the earth he is not interested in whether there will be many or few believers at that time, as interesting as that question may be. The question is more personal. “Will you have faith when Christ comes?” Will you be found trusting in him? Believing in the Second Coming will not be at all difficult when it happens but trusting in Jesus will be the thing that makes the difference.
    And so we say not only have you seen Christ and gone to him? Have you laid hold on him and received him? But are you relying on him now living on him. Such faith never dies.
    2. Hope
    Hope again needs to be distinguished. We are not talking about some general idea of hope, the vague idea that may be it will all turn out okay in the end. No, we are talking about another gift of God's grace given when a person is born again. It is a quiet confidence that God is working it all together for our good and that we will in due time be blessed. It is this hope that enables Christians to endure, to keep going, especially when things seem to be going against them. Hope lives on God's promises and the righteousness of Christ.
    Its object is God and Christ not any worldly thing or anything we think we may have done to please God. Hope usually relates to things unseen, future, difficult, yet possible to be enjoyed. It is the grace that enables a Christian to wait for what is promised and rejoice in the prospect of glory and happiness.
    Again, people question whether there can be hope in heaven. As Paul says, Who hopes for what he already has? Yet there is a future in heaven and there is progress and so hope no doubt continues even there. Don Carson helpfully puts it this way
    “There is a sense in which hope is not merely the anticipation of the blessings to come, an anticipation no longer needed once those blessings have arrived, but a firm anchor in Christ himself. Our hope is in God, in Christ; and as such, hope continues forever, doubtless opening up an infinity of new depths of blessing, world without end”
    Perhaps an illustration is possible, though not the best. There is a phrase “The great white hope”. It is a racist term and it was used mostly for boxers but has also been used for Cricketers and others. Famous people to have borne the name are the American boxers James J Jeffries, Warren W Barbour and Jess Willard and the African born cricketers Allan Lamb and Graham Hick. Now my simple point is that though a boxer is dubbed the great white hope before he defeats the black man and becomes champion he is still the great white hope after he has won.
    And so just as Christians cast their anchor in Christ beyond the veil here on earth, when they are within the veil in heaven he is still their anchoring point. He is still their hope.
    So hope then. Can you sing truly “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness”. “We have an anchor within the veil, steadfast and true while the billows rage”. Is your anchor within the veil? Are you looking in hope only to him? We must be people of hope.
    3. Faith and hope distinguished
    Faith and hope always go together and are very similar in some ways.
    To believe is to accept something you cannot see or has not yet happened.
    Hope is to embrace or look forward to something you cannot see or has not yet happened.
    Martin Luther, writing on Galatians 5:5, helpfully distinguished them in five ways. $ He says they are like the cherubim either end of the mercy seat but there are differences. They are like the pillars Jabez and Boaz in Solomon's Temple. Differences then
    1. Where they rest
    • Faith rests, he suggests, in the understanding
    • Hope in the will.
    2. They differ in their office or work
    • Faith tells us what is to be done. It teaches, prescribes and directs
    • Hope, on the other hand, stirs up the mind to be strong, bold, courageous. It enables us to suffer and to endure adversity and wait for better things.
    3. They differ as to their object, where they look.
    • The object of faith is the truth. Faith teaches us to stay close to the truth and fix on the word and the promise in it.
    • Hope has for her object God's goodness and fixes on the thing promised in the word, that is, what faith teaches us to hope for.
    4. They differ in order
    • Faith is the beginning of life, before all trouble
    • Hope comes out of troubles.
    5. They differ by working in a different way
    • Faith is a teacher and a judge, fighting against errors and heresies, judging spirits and doctrines.
    • Hope is, as it were, the general or captain of the field, fighting against trouble, the cross, impatience, heaviness of spirit, weakness, desperation and blasphemy. It waits for good things even in the midst of all evils.
    Luther says it is like this. When I am taught by the Word and receive it in faith and so lay hold of Christ and wholeheartedly believe in him, then I am justified through this knowledge. Then along comes the Devil, that old schemer, and labours to destroy my faith by his schemes and tricks (lies, errors, heresies, etc). He has been a murderer from the beginning and is ready to use violence for his ends. It is here that hope wrestles, laying hold on the thing revealed by faith and overcoming the Devil who wars against faith. When we are victorious peace and joy in the Holy Spirit follow.
    I trust you see the difference. Not that we need to be too worried over this. Faith and hope, hand in hand must march on in our lives whatever else we do or do not have.
    4. Love
    As for love, we don't need to spend too much time on this as we have already spent some time defining this further Christian grace. We have said from this chapter that the love Paul is talking about here is not any sort of love that goes by that name but a distinct Christian love that has the characteristics he speaks about here.
    Positively, true love is marked by patience and kindness. Negatively, it does not envy or boast or get puffed up with pride. Nor is it rude, ... self-seeking, … or easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs and takes no delight in evil but rather positively it rejoices with the truth. Further It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres and never fails.
    Love is different to faith and hope, though it is a trusting or hoping sort of thing. It is by faith and with hope that we love God and that we love men and women. Christian faith and hope, if they are genuine will lead to love.
    If your faith and hope are real, they will be accompanied by love – love to God, love to fellow believers, love to your neighbour, even love to your enemies. We will say more about this in our second and final point.
    2. The greatest of these three is love – see why it is the greatest and what to do about it
    So these three remain – faith, hope and love. They are all central. More important than any other gift the Holy Spirit may give a person. But Paul adds, interestingly, the greatest of these is love. Now why does he say that? It's a little bit like a father saying here are my three wonderful daughters but the best one is not Faith or Hope but Charity or like an artist saying the three primary colours are red, green and blue or red, yellow and blue but the greatest of these is red.
    What can Paul mean?
    We have already said it is not to do with how long they last. All three remain to some extent. He certainly does not mean that love is the greatest in every sense. Without faith there would be no hope and love, for a start. No he means that, practically speaking, love is the greatest. $ So a man might say of his three piece suit that the trousers are greater than the jacket and waistcoat or a BLT sandwich that the bacon is more important than the lettuce and tomatoes.
    So in what sense is love the greatest? Firstly, as we have already noted love contains faith and hope to a certain extent, as it includes all that is good. Love always trusts, always hopes. In fact, faith without love is dead.
    James 2:14-17 What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
    Faith and hope are intended to lead to love. That is their great end. Don't forget how Jesus speaks when he is asked by the scribe that question about the greatest command. He says (Matthew 22:37-40) Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Paul takes that up in Romans 13 and says (8-10) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not covet," and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: "Love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.
    More than that we know from Scripture that God is love. We never read that God is hope or faith, of course, but he is love and those who know him must also love. To love is in some sense to follow God in a way that trusting and hoping is not.
    Then, further, there is the fact that to love is to be a means of blessing not only to oneself but to others too. It benefits more than one person. If I have faith and hope that is a blessing to me but if I have love that is a blessing to many others too. One writer (Barnes) says
    Love is more important than faith and hope, because, although it may co-exist with them, and though they all shall live forever, yet love enters into the very nature of the kingdom of God; binds society together; unites the Creator and the creature; and blends the interests of all the redeemed, and of the angels, and of God, into one.”
    As we have suggested, it is probably the usefulness of love that makes Paul put it first. In 14:5 he says that The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified. The greatness there is certainly to do with usefulness and that is probably the idea here too.
    So, is your faith and hope leading to love? Is love the chief thing about you in what ever else you do for the Lord? That is how it should increasingly be. It is not that faith and hope are unimportant. Quite the opposite. However, there must be love too. Indeed love must triumph. May it be so with us all.
    Let me give Thomas Adams the last word
    I should now tell you, that as these three fair sisters came down from heaven; so in a cross contrariety, the devil sends up three foul fiends from hell. Against Faith, infidelity; against Hope, desperation; against Charity, malice. He that entertains the elder sister, Unbelief, I quake to speak his doom, yet I must; "he is already condemned," He that embraceth the second ugly hag, Despair, bars up against himself the possibility of all comfort, because he offends so precious a nature, the mercy of God, and tramples under his desperate feet that blood which is held out to his unaccepting hand. He that welcomes Malice, welcomes the devil himself; he is called the envious, and loves extremely to lodge himself in an envious heart. These be fearful, prodigious sisters; fly them and their embraces; and remember, O ye whom Christ loves, the commandment of your Saviour, "Love one another!"”

    Love - it never fails

    Text 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 Time 05/10/14 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
    We are currently looking at one of the most wonderful chapters in the Bible – 1 Corinthians 13. So far we have looked at the first seven verses and we have said two main things.
    Firstly, that Paul is showing here that love is absolutely essential – no gifts from God or any zeal for God can possibly ever compensate for a lack of love. It is vital.
    Secondly, love itself is not a vague thing but something definable. In verses 4-7 we read that it is patient, … kind. It does not envy, ... or boast, it is not proud ... it's not rude, ... not self-seeking, … not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
    In some ways this defining of love is a digression because the main subject is spiritual gifts and the use or abuse of them, which he comes directly back to in verse 8. Here Paul makes a further statement about love - Love never fails he says. He then goes on to expand on that, saying that where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away and so on.
    Now it is still beautifully written but what does it mean? There have been some disagreements over it. So first I want to ask the question with you
    1. How should I understand what is said in 1 Corinthians 13 about when perfection comes?
    1. An obvious understanding
    Some have supposed that Paul must be talking about the coming of the Christ and the end of the world. What else could it be? When he says that prophecies will cease, tongues be stilled and knowledge pass away, he must be thinking of the end of the world. His when perfection comes (10) is a reference to the coming age when the new heavens and earth will be brought in. So we are now children but we will then be men (11) and our seeing now but a poor reflection as in a mirror will be replaced by seeing face to face and our knowing in part will be replaced by full knowledge (12) when the new age dawns.
    2. An alternative understanding
    Others have suggested that in fact what Paul is talking about is the cessation of the supernatural New Testament gifts – prophecy, tongues, supernatural knowledge, etc. Clearly there were certain gifts in operation in the New Testament period before the New Testament was completed that, I would argue, are not in operation today. When Paul says that prophecies will cease, tongues be stilled and knowledge pass away, he is talking about the time when the gifts would cease and the New Testament be complete. His when perfection comes (10) is when the New Testament is complete. So they were children then but now we are men (11) and their seeing then was but a poor reflection as in a mirror that has been replaced by today with the seeing face to face of the Scriptures and their knowing in part has been replaced by the full knowledge (12) of today.
    3. A third way to understand it
    A Presbyterian writer called James W Scott (WTJ 72:2) has looked at the chapter again more recently and he suggests that neither of these views is correct. Rather, he says, what Paul is writing about is the use of supernatural gifts in the personal experience of those who he is writing to. I think you can establish from the New Testament that the supernatural gifts of that time have ceased long before today. This passage, though sometimes used for the purpose, does not really deal with that issue. Rather its concern is to show that in the experience of all there will come a time when spiritual gifts of all sorts cease and when only love will remain – either at death or with the coming of Christ. This is what Paul wants the Corinthians and us to see. He is not really addressing the question of when the supernatural gifts might seem to operate.
    Now you may disagree with me on this but I want you to accept this morning, nevertheless, that the message of this section is that we should not put love above any spiritual gift but see that love goes on beyond them all. It is unfailing. If we do that we will give love the highest place of all in our thinking and that is how it should be. That leads me to say secondly
    2. See that love never fails and will remain when you die and when Christ comes again
    1. Realise that love always remains
    Paul's point is not that there will always be someone around who loves but that if you have true love then that love will never disappear. It will go on. The loving will continue. It will never fail. Other gifts of the Spirit will eventually disappear, including the gifts he mentions here - prophecy, tongues and knowledge, which we understand as a reference to the supernatural ways God would speak through individuals at that time - sometimes by direct revelations in a common language, sometimes by direct revelations in unknown or relatively unknown tongues and sometimes by revealing certain knowledge of what to do to individuals, knowledge they could not gain except by revelation. These three are representative all the supernatural gifts common at that time.
    Now we would argue that these supernatural gifts ceased or passed away once the need for them passed, when the church was established and when the inspired New Testament was complete. Paul does not go into when they would cease or pass away altogether here, he simply asserts that they will at some point in the experience of those he is addressing disappear. Love, on the other hand, will continue. It will never fail.
    The words where there are prophecies, ... where there are tongues … where there is knowledge …. might be better translated if there are prophecies, ... if there are tongues … if there is knowledge …. Not everyone had these gifts even in Paul's day but if they did, they needed to know that such gifts of the Spirit would not last forever - but the spiritual fruit love, on the other hand, does.
    Remember that love always remains. This is another reason why we must have the very highest regard for it. It is essential; it is marked by patience, kindness, a lack of envy or boasting or pride or rudeness or self-seeking, constant protecting, trusting and hoping, etc, and it will never fail.
    2. Realise that though many things disappear, love remains even when perfection comes
    In verses 9 and 10 Paul says For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. Previously Paul spoke of prophecy, tongues and knowledge. A little later he speaks only of knowledge (Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known). He is narrowing down. Tongues is really a form of prophecy so he doesn't have to say here For we know in part and we prophesy in part, “and we speak in tongues in part”. His point is that although we know certain things and we have had certain things prophesied by the grace of God, not to mention messages in tongues, many things are still hidden from us.
    However, the day is coming when we will know fully and when the full picture will become clear. Perfection will come and the imperfect will disappear. Partial knowledge will be replaced by full knowledge. It is not that partial knowledge will culminate in full knowledge but that it will be replaced by it.
    Nevertheless, even when that perfection or completeness comes love will remain – even then. This underlines yet again the importance of love.
    3. Take note of these two pictures here to help us
    In order to help us grasp his point Paul uses two pictures, both fairly easy to grasp.
    1 The picture of childhood and becoming an adult
    First of all, in verse 11, Paul says 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.
    So think of a child. The child talks and thinks and reasons in a certain way. It can be quite funny sometimes – what children say, how they think and reason.
    A child says to his brother in bed one night “Tell me when you're asleep”. Another, seeing a passing funeral, says "I wish someone we knew would die so we could leave them flowers." An eight year old says "I'm glad I'm finally eight. This is the oldest I've ever been in my entire life!" A child watching fireworks says “mummy can you pause it. I need to go to the toilet.”
    A child overhears a conversation about a medical student being asked if he is a doctor. The student says “Yeah, I will be soon, I'm taking medicine now.” The child says, rather puzzled, “What kind of medicine do you have to take to become a doctor?”
    I noticed on Facebook yesterday someone we know saying her young son watched his daddy cutting his toenails and asked, 'Did your feet growed in the night Papa?'
    There was no sentimentality towards children in Paul's day, however. Childhood was something to survive and get out of. Certainly when you become an adult then as now you were expected to put childish ways behind you. It is not that everything changes at this point, of course, just as earthly prophecy and knowledge is real the child is still father to the man as we say, but great changes come about.
    2 The picture of a reflection and seeing face to face
    The other picture depends partly on a realisation that in the first century mirrors still only provided a rather hazy reflection. The silvered glass mirror we know today didn't come in until the nineteenth century. In Paul's day people used polished copper or bronze and so on. The difference then between seeing but a poor reflection as in a mirror and seeing face to face was quite a contrast then. Yes, the former is a true image and is dictated by the form it captures. However, seeing face to face is something much greater and corresponds to the perfection Paul speaks of. It also picks up on the idea in 1 John 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Also Revelation 22:4 They will see his face.
    Yet once again then, love never fails. It always shines through. The clearer things get the more love is seen to be essential.
    4. Realise that we now know only in part but one day we shall know fully
    So Paul he says Now I know in part; whether we live in Paul's day or our own but then at some future point I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. Just as God knows me in the fullest sense so in a very full sense, I will know God. This will come if I am alive when Christ returns and if I die before then at that point. Of course, the words know and love are intimately connected and so just as God loves his own, those he knows, so their love to him and to others must reflect that and never fail.
    Always keep in mind that at present we only know in part. Part of the arrogance of the atheist is that he says he knows there is no God but he does not know everything, no-one one earth does, and so he is foolish fore thinking that because he does not know God there is no God. We can make the same sort of mistake when we think we know everything. We don't. We know only in part. However, one day we will know as we are known. What a day is coming!
    3. See what a wonderful place heaven must be – a world of love
    Jonathan Edwards in his wonderful commentary on 1 Corinthians 13 writes of heaven being a world of charity or love and expounds this idea very powerfully. We can see what that means by asking a series of questions.
    1. What is at the root of the existence of love in heaven? Heaven is where God's throne is and as God is love, heaven is a place of love.
    2. What adds to this love in heaven? Of course, what adds to this is that all those in heaven are lovely or loveable by the grace of God, indeed perfectly loveable. All the loveliest things are there.
    3. Who is loved in heaven? Obviously because God is love, the Father has always loved the Son and the Son the Father and the Holy Spirit but that love is also known by all the citizens of heaven.
    4. What is this love like? Of course the love we are talking about is a holy and God-wrought love and a love that is perfect and without deficiencies.
    5. What else can we say about this love? There is no unrequited love in heaven. Rather there is mutual love everywhere. Envy and jealousy never raise their heads or anything of that sort. In this world our expressions of love are held back – some times for wrong reasons, sometimes for good ones but there, there will be nothing to get in the way. We are told too that in heaven there is no sea, which in part teaches us the end of troubles and the end of those external barriers that can often intrude – we know that long distance love is never easy. In heaven we will all be brothers and sisters and so we will all belong to each other and have a vested interest in each other's prosperity. There will be such prosperity too that nothing will hold back our expressions of love as they often do here. The most lavish gifts will be possible then. We also know that love in heaven can never end. There is no sorrow of parting to cast a shadow over it all.
    6. What does this love lead to? Obviously in such a relationship of love there can be nothing but good arising out of it. In heaven they only do good to one another. Further, it is a place of peace and joy. That is what love produces and that is what marks the character of heaven.
    Some obvious applications. If heaven is such a wonderful place, as we have described, and we are expecting to go there then we ought to love more and more. What a privilege to be going to that place and it is the case if you are trusting in Jesus Christ. If you do not trust in Christ then you are going to miss out on this wonderful indescribable place. But there is time – at least today. I urge you to repent and trust in Jesus Christ. You will never ever regret it. Quite the opposite.