APC 5th July 2020 “Love is not selfish”
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our Sunday Morning Worship. Today I want to continue with the second part of our new series that will take us through July and August online and in church once we reopen on 26th July. This series is about the most important thing in all of our lives and especially if we call ourselves Christian. What I’m referring to is ‘Love’. Over the next two months, we will be digging deeply into what real Christian love looks like using St. Paul’s description that we find in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13. Initially while we are still only online, we will consider some of the more difficult aspects of this subject. Later when we return to church, we will look at the more easily understood sides of love because our services will be shorter and geared to all ages. Today I want us to consider what Paul means when he says that ‘love is not selfish’ and to help us to understand some of the background to what was happening in the Corinthian church that prompted Paul to write these words. But first, let’s take a moment to talk to God, let’s pray…
Eternal and gracious God, we come before you in the name of Christ, setting aside time and space in our lives to reflect on your greatness, to rejoice in your goodness and to respond to you with gladness.
We come in awe, in wonder, in reverence and humility.
We come with praise with thanks, with joy and celebration.
We come to share fellowship, to make our confession to you and to each other, to pray for ourselves, our world and our loved ones, to offer you our service.
We come gladly, obediently, hungrily, confidently.
We come seeking your presence, your guidance, your strength and your mercy.
Loving God, we are here before you in the name of Christ. Receive our worship. Receive our faith. Receive ourselves.
And help us to receive all you would give us and teach us in these moments through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
1 Corinthians 13 The Importance of Love
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 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 the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Philippians 2 v 1-11 Imitating Christ’s Humility
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
Reflection “Love is not selfish”
A doctor, a lawyer, a little boy and a priest were out for a Sunday afternoon flight on a small private plane. Suddenly, the plane developed engine trouble. In spite of the best efforts of the pilot, the plane started to go down. Finally, the pilot grabbed a parachute and yelled to the passengers “You’d better jump!”, and he himself bailed out.
Unfortunately, there were only three parachutes remaining.
The doctor grabbed one and said, “I’m a doctor, I save lives, so I must live,” and jumped out.
The lawyer then said, “I’m a lawyer and lawyers are the smartest people in the world. I deserve to live.” He also grabbed a parachute and jumped.
The priest looked at the little boy and said, “My son, I’ve lived a long and full life. You are young and have your whole life ahead of you. Take the last parachute and live in peace.”
The little boy handed the parachute back to the priest and said, “Not to worry Father. The smartest man in the world just took off with my back pack.”
We can all laugh at this story, and it’s good to laugh at ourselves. I would hope that if we ever found ourselves in such an unfortunate situation we would offer our parachute to the little boy. Like the priest, there are many examples throughout history of remarkable examples of self-sacrifice and selflessness. I’m sure all of us can recall times in our own lives when we have genuinely put the needs of other people before ourselves at home, in school, at work, in our neighbourhood and in church.
But this story also highlights something that lies within the hearts of all humanity, including those who are well educated and deeply respected in society. I’m talking of course about selfishness.
Selfishness can express itself in so many different ways. It can raise its ugly head at any time and in many different aspects of our lives. At home it can show itself in expecting someone else to always empty the dishwasher, walk the dog or wait for the TV remote.
At work it can mean rushing to get our holiday dates in first, leaving others to do work which should be our responsibility, calling in sick just because we’ve been out late the night before, or always organising meetings at a time that is convenient for us.
In our leisure time, it can involve rocking up weekly to a sports club without ever volunteering to help out, or block-booking a tennis court even though you know there will be weeks when you won’t be using it, and using whatever influence we have to make sure our child makes the team.
In church it can involve enjoying all the activities on offer without ever rolling up our sleeves to help out or without contributing as generously as we ought. It can include not being willing to celebrate and interact with styles of music that are outside our own personal preferences, parking in a disabled spot or grabbing all the best sandwiches first.
On a world scale we are selfish when we care little about the impact our personal lifestyle choices have on people in other parts of the world. Whether that involves the number of flights we make, constantly buying things that are new, the amount of plastics and water we consume, or the companies that we invest in.
The reality is that as well as the good within us, there are areas in all of our lives which are deeply selfish and which we are often blind or oblivious to. While having God in our lives can certainly help us to be more considerate of others, we would be unwise to think that as Christians we are completely immune from acts of selfishness.
Reflect In what ways, at home, at work, in church and in the world do you act in selfish ways?
Unfortunately a spirit of selfishness was permeating the church in Corinth that St Paul founded and kept in touch with through correspondence. In his letter of 1 Corinthians we discover that sadly many of these Christians were acting in extremely selfish ways. In particular, they were using their God-given spiritual gifts for their own pleasure and to parade their own spirituality, rather than out of a desire to be an encouragement and blessing to the other people in the church.
Paul mentions how some people in the church who had gifts of prophecy or the gift of speaking in other world or even angelic languages were exercising their gifts in the middle of church services without any thought for how it was impacting on the congregation or on people who were visiting. It seems that some of these people were getting up in the middle of the church service and speaking in unknown languages without allowing time for someone else to use the gift of interpretation to explain what had just been said. Others were getting up and prophesying, bringing a message from God without running it past the leaders or even while another prophet was already speaking. This, as you can imagine, was causing chaos, confusion and great disruption within their worship services. It was creating tension, anxiety and division within the church.
These people were being deeply selfish and their actions and attitudes were having an extremely negative effect on the whole congregation. The saddest thing is they seemed to be oblivious to this reality.
Hearing what has been going on, Paul writes to them and says – “However spiritual you think you are being, whatever great gifts God has given you, and as important as the exercise of those gifts are, you have forgotten the main thing. The most important thing for any church and any Christian is love. Loving God and loving each other. That means considering others and their needs and feelings even more than yourself.”
The word Paul uses here to describe Christian love is the word “Agape”. It is actually a word that the writers of the New Testament had to invent to describe the love that Jesus displayed. The word ‘radar’ was similarly coined to name a new reality that previously did not exist. Even though Jesus was God, the Creator of the universe, He left the splendour of His heavenly home, He took upon Himself our full humanity and He entered our world so that He might be with us and teach us and show us what God is like. Ultimately He died on a Roman cross to take the judgement that we deserve for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God. This complete disregard for oneself, this sacrificial love for another person even though they don’t deserve it, is how God has loved us. This is “agape”. This is God’s love and this is how God calls us to behave towards one another.
Above all other things, this is God’s vision for our church family her in Arklow. We are to ‘agape’ God and we are to ‘agape’ one another. Over the next number of weeks, we will discover that like a cut diamond or crystal, this agape love has many different sides. Today Paul reminds us that at its very heart, Christian love is not selfish.
In case you think I’m overemphasising the importance of not being selfish or the seriousness of the consequences of not loving each other, let me tell you what Paul says to this church who were not loving and who were being selfish and inconsiderate in their interactions with each other.
He says, “No matter what else you do if you don’t love you are just like a clanging cymbal”. What does he mean?
Corinth was famous for its bronze which is an alloy of copper and tin and which, like Coca Cola, was manufactured to a secret formula. It was locally produced and used in the pagan cults and processions. During worship services in pagan temples and during pagan processions in the streets, these large bronze cymbals would be struck making a dull, tuneless metallic sound. For the uninitiated, this sound would have been as annoying as a continually barking dog.
What Paul says to us this morning is highly significant. He says, “It doesn’t matter what amazing programs we run, it doesn’t matter how good our church facilities are, it doesn’t matter how wonderful our music is or how slick our online communications are. If we don’t love one another sincerely and deeply from our hearts and in our words and actions, we will simply put people off Christianity and Christ!”
You know, there is no greater sin! In fact, Jesus says elsewhere that if we cause anyone who believes in Him to stumble in their faith, it would be better for us to have a millstone cast around our neck and for us to be thrown into the depths of the ocean!
Paul goes on to say, it doesn’t matter what gifts we have, how wise and intelligent we are and even the magnitude of our faith. If we don’t exercise these things unselfishly and lovingly we are nothing!
All of us like to feel that we will leave a legacy, at work, in our family and as a church placed in this community. St. Paul reminds us that if we do not deeply love God and each other, we leave nothing of any lasting value behind us. Paul says that even if we should give everything we own to the poor or even end up sacrificing our lives for Christ, if our motivation and actions are not characterised by unselfishness and love we will gain nothing.
The scary thing for me is that the history of the Corinthian church suggests that it is not enough just to hear these messages about love and to understand them intellectually.
After Paul’s initial letter it seems that Timothy brought a report to Paul in Ephesus that things were still not good in Corinth. So Paul made an impromptu visit to them. After he left it seems that he wrote a second letter which we do not have, probably warning the Corinthians that if they didn’t change he would not be back. The fact that Paul visited them a third time as evidenced in the letter of second Corinthians suggests that there was some change in the lives of the Corinthians. Sadly however, history suggests that this change was only shallow. 50 years later, Clement in Rome writes to the Corinthians telling them to renew their love for each other. Long term the church in Corinth never amounted to much and had no significant impact for good on its community. It seems that their lack of love for each other was a continued obstacle to the work of God among them and their community.
Look, what happened to the Corinthians can happen to us. It will not be enough for us to hear and understand these talks on the importance and the nature of love each week. We must get on our knees and ask God by His spirit to show us the areas of our lives where we are not acting in love. And when he shows us, we must cry out to Him for forgiveness and plead with Him to give us the courage and the power to change. It is only as we begin to love God and to love each other again the way that we should with unselfish, ‘agape’ love that we will achieve anything significant for the Kingdom of God now and in the future.
It is my prayer that each of us will take this seriously and may God have mercy on us all….
Loving God, you have called us to be your servants – to offer our service to Christ, to one another, to your church, to your world.
Forgive us that we have so often failed you.
Forgive us that so often we are concerned to serve only ourselves – our own interests, our own needs, our own desires, our own ends.
Forgive us that we have so often failed you.
Forgive us that we are sometimes more concerned with what we can get out of faith than with what we can put into it; more concerned with what you can do for us, than what we can do for you; more concerned with what we can receive from others, than what we can give to them.
Forgive us that we have so often failed you.
Teach us to serve, seeking no reward, to live without expecting love in return, to give without counting the cost, to follow without holding back, to live each day as your people, offering ourselves in glad and joyful praise.
Father we pray for those congregations who resume meeting for worship today with social distancing and other limitations to navigate. We ask that they will know your presence as they gather together again.
We remember congregations like ourselves who continue to worship digitally. Lord we ask that we too will continue to know you working in and through our online services while they remain physically apart.
We pray for everyone who has found lockdown exhausting because they have had to pick up extra responsibilities in their family or working life. Lord, please renew their strength.
We think of those who have found lockdown frustrating as they have been unable to work, have been unwell, or who have experienced the angst of waiting. Lord we pray that you will bring renewed motivation and re-energise their lives.
We pray for continued progress in stemming the spread of coronavirus through observation of necessary restrictions which remain. Lord, in your mercy spare us from local outbreaks or a second spike.
We thank you for all our government and health care leaders who have guided us up to this point. We give special thanks to you for the sacrificial work of Dr Tony Holohan. Please draw near to his whole family, particularly his wife in these days of very serious illness. May they experience your comfort, your strength and your love surrounding them and giving them courage at this time.
We pray for continued research into finding drugs to treat coronavirus and a for a vaccine. Father, please continue to use the gifts and skills You have given to scientific researchers to bring your healing and health to the world.
Take a few moments to bring your own prayers top God…
It’s been a joy and privilege to share with you again today. Thanks again for logging on. Don’t forget we are planning to reopen our church on Sunday 26th July. Over the next week or so we will be sending all of you a letter by email to let you know our plans, to enable you to sign our Covid 19 policy and to give you plenty of time to prepare for what will be a wonderful opportunity to meet together again for worship.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this first reflection on what it really means to love. Please do spend some time in quiet over the next few days asking the Lord to show you the areas of your life where you struggle with selfishness. I hope you’ll join me again on Wednesday as we reflect on another characteristic of true love. In the meantime, let me lead you in a benediction after which I invite you as always, to say the grace together…
Go into the world in peace. Be full of courage and hold on to what is good. Don’t pay back evil for evil. Strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak. Help the afflicted, honour everyone, love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of His Spirit.
And May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and for evermore, Amen.”
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