Unleash your gifts with love
Reformed Church of Devonport
The author of Psalm 150 calls us to Worship God. He urges us to Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Greeting: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Amen.
Song/s of praise BOW 175 (Rejoice in the Lord always)
P&W 5 (Lord be glorified)
Confession and Assurance
Reading of the Law Luke 6:27-38 as a call to righteous living
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Confession of Sin -with Ezra in chapter 9 from verse 6 we can confess:
“O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. 7 From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great... 10 “But now, O our God, what can we say after this? For we have disregarded the commands 11 you gave through your servants the prophets... 13 “What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved... 14 Shall we again break your commands ...? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? 15 O LORD, God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”
Dear brothers and sisters with Israel of yesteryear we hear the assurance of Salvation in the words of the prophet Isaiah: Isaiah 54:7-10: “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer. “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
Song/s of Thanksgiving BOW 172:4, 5 and 6 (Thank you)
The Word of God
Prayer of illumination
Dear God, the prophet Isaiah teaches us that you don’t consult people to enlighten you. You don’t need us to teach you the right way. We did not show you the path of understanding. The opposite is rather true. We need you to enlighten us, O God, by your Spirit, in the understanding of your Word so that we can live according to your will. Grant us the grace to receive it in true fear and humility, that we may learn to put our trust in you. We pray that your opening of the Word will enable us to glorify your holy name in all our life. We pray that the knowledge we will obtain today will help us to yield you the love and obedience which faithful servants owe to their master and children owe their father. May you lord, grant that we may engage in considering the mysteries of your heavenly wisdom with really increasing devotion, this we pray to your glory and our edification. Amen.
Reading of Scripture Deuteronomy 10:10-21 and 1 Corinthians 12:31- 13:13 (someone from Devonport please)
Song BOW 422 (Love the Lord your God)
Sermon theme: Unleash your gifts with love
Brothers and sisters, about a year ago the world was stunned by the death of princess Diana. The world almost came to a standstill while England mourned the loss of their favourite royal personality. This week thousands of flower bouquets were put at the gates of the Spencer estate. People still remember.
Like most, I always thought that princess Diana was a wonderful example of someone who really loves people. She always tried to show that she really cared. Her love was her gift to the world. Although she had her faults and sins she indeed was very special. However, about the same time of princess Diana’s death another very remarkable woman died. I am referring to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was not royalty. She did not live in the limelight. But to the people of Calcutta she was a saint, because she dedicated her whole life to the poor and the homeless millions living in utmost poverty.
I do not know whether any flowers were put on her grave during this week. Maybe there were some, but it did not reach the outside world the same way the commemoration of princess Diana’s death did. Yet, I believe that she was the better contemporary example of living according Jesus’ principle of love. Her whole live was expressed through her giving with love.
Regarding this matter Mother Teresa wrote, “We must grow in love and to do this we must go on loving and loving, and giving and giving until it hurts, the way Jesus did. Do ordinary things with extraordinary love: little things like caring for the sick and the homeless, the lonely and the unwanted, washing and cleaning for them. You must give what will cost you something. This, then, is giving not just what you can live without but what you cannot live without or do not want to live without, something you really like. Then your gift becomes a sacrifice, which will have value before God. Any sacrifice is useful if it is done out of love. This giving until it hurts, this sacrifice, is also what I call love in action.” (Mother Teresa, A Simple Path, Ballantine Books, 1995, p. 99) Dear friends, this leads us to the theme I wish to elaborate and discuss with you this morning: Christians express and use their gifts with love.
My angle of incidence is expounded by the apostle Paul. You will remember that we talked about the fact that the church is the body of Christ and that every Christian has a specific function in the church just as every organ or limb has a function in our bodies. At the end of 1 Cor 12 Paul turns from defining the body of Christ and the proper use of our spiritual gifts to evaluating our motives in ministry: "And I show you a still more excellent way" (verse 31).
Brothers and sisters, Paul says that this more excellent way is the way of love. The agape love of God can flow through our hearts like a river if, for example, with pure motives we seek opportunities to express our spiritual gifts in the Spirit to one another and to those in need. This is love in action. And this is the challenge Paul wants to put before the Corinthians, where many were expressing their gifts among each other in the flesh. Paul clarifies a very important principle in the first three verses of 1 Cor 13. We can describe it as the principle that Ministry without love equals nothing.
Please read with me the first three verses of this chapter again. 1 Corinthians 13:1‑3: ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.’
Dear friends, in Greek there are a variety of words that are translated with love. The Greeks used the word philia to denote tender affection or brotherly love. They used the word eros to denote romantic love. And they used the word storge to denote the love that a mother will have for her child. Together with the other early Christian leaders Paul uses the Greek word agape to express the essential nature of God, "for God is love" (l John 4:8). This agape or sacrificial love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God is the source of this sacrificial love as expressed in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son...." He did so at great personal sacrifice. And Jesus died for all of us who were (and some of us who still are) dead in our sins. His love moved into our graveyard to announce that if anyone would place their faith in him as their Lord and Saviour, they would be raised from the dead and be given eternal life (Ephesians 2:1‑3).
Once we have been made alive in him, Jesus tells us, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself" (Luke 10:27).
We are called to respond to God's love by giving him our whole lives, and we are to understand that now by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit we are able to love ourselves, our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, our neighbours, and our enemies by doing good for them (Luke 6:27‑35).
The love of God has its perfect expression among men in the Lord Jesus Christ, for the apostle John wrote, "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him?" (1 John 3:16‑17). Paul states emphatically that Christian love is the fruit of God’s Spirit expressed through our lives by righteous acts toward others. In 2 Cor 5:14 he states: “Christ has died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” He reminded the Galatian churches that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness (Gal 5:22).
Now let us examine our text. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." In this immediate situation the Corinthian Christians were being carried away emotionally when they used their spiritual gifts of tongues in their worship services. They were speaking out of order and displaying a superior attitude, resulting in self‑display, self‑edification, and self‑gratification. And they were trying to convince the other members that all should speak in tongues.
(Paul spoke to that issue in 12:30 when he asked, "Do all speak in tongues?" ‑ the implication being: of course not!) So Paul addresses this serious problem: "Let us say that I could speak in the tongues of men and even of angels. (Many Christians say that there is a heavenly language and an earthly language. However, all the angels that appeared to man throughout the scriptures spoke in the language of the people they visited. We have no scriptural knowledge of the language angels might speak. Therefore we cannot claim that the foreign tongues Paul referred to were heavenly languages.) It does not matter what language I speak. As far as God is concerned, if my heart is not filled with his love, I would continue to be only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. All my words will be meaningless. (Cymbals played a part in the Jewish worship service, but they played an even greater role in the heathen worship of the goddess Cybele and the god Bacchus.) I would be nothing but noise, metal against metal ‑ with no meaning, no understanding, no interpretation, no revelation, and no edification."
"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 have not love, I am nothing." Here Paul addresses the mind, the intellect, "Let us say just for the sake of argument that I have the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, and faith. If I could stand before God and his word and have the ability to fathom all his mysteries, and then have all the knowledge of heaven and earth, and live out my life with the faith to move mountains, to believe the possible in the face of apparent impossibility, yet I sought to express those spiritual gifts without the agape love of God, it would mean zero in his sight. I would be nothing." Why? Dear friends, Paul emphasizes the fact that our gifts, our skills, even our ministries are only instruments God gives us to express his love. They are all in the service of expressing God’s love.
That is why Paul can say: "If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have no love, I gain nothing.” Gifts without love equals zero.
Paul then addresses the will, "Just for the sake of the argument, let's say I have the spiritual gift of giving, and I give all I possess, all my foodstuffs and property, to the poor. Would that not be a great moment in history and a great example for everyone to follow?" Even this would mean nothing without love.
Francis of Assisi (1182‑1226 AD) gave up his rich inheritance to the poor and became a monk. This did not earn him a place in heaven. However, his love for God and his fellow men showed that he lived close to God. Even in the Jewish community giving to the poor was held in high esteem by the rabbis and thought to have gained great merit. But there were requirements prohibiting one from giving all of his goods; for example, in a year he was not to give more than 20% of his entire possessions. [F. Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, p. 431 (1980).] So even this giving without love means nothing.
But then Paul pushes the stakes as far as he possibly can and proposes that he surrender his body to the flames. Historically, the Romans did not begin to burn Christians at the stake until late in the reign of Nero (54‑68 AD). So Paul may have been thinking of a tomb he had run across in Athens just before he came to Corinth, called the Indian's Tomb, in which lay a man who had burned himself to death in public hoping to make himself immortal. [W. Barclay, the Letters to the Corinthians, p. 132 (1956).]
"How about if I went out into the public square and set myself on fire in the name of Jesus and then died? Even that act of ultimate self‑sacrifice would be viewed by God and men as of no value if I did it without the love of Christ flowing out of my heart, so that in the end God's children would be edified and encouraged, and God would receive the glory."
In an attempt to arrest the carnal activity of many of the Corinthians, who were expressing their spiritual gifts in the flesh, Paul has sought in these three verses to address their emotions, their minds, and their wills, by taking what they were trying to do to extremes of impossibility. He wants to show them that no matter how far they take their religious activity, if it originates anywhere but in the love of Jesus Christ in their hearts, it will result in just so much noise, an absolute zero, and will be without any profit on earth or in heaven.
Jesus confirmed this love of God when he looked over the city of Jerusalem shortly before his death on the cross. He cried out, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34).
Paul himself expressed this same love of God for the Jews who would not bow their knee to Jesus as Messiah: "I speak the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit, I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race...." (Romans 9:1‑3).
Dear friends, this is the attitude that God wants from us. God urges us through his prophet to make sure that our service to him and one another stems from this sacrificial love. In the same way as the author of the book Jude, Paul encourages us to ‘keep ourselves in love with God’ and then we will love our fellow men as well.
Through the ages many Christians like Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta maintained their joy in the face of despair because they saw the world through the spectacles of God’s love. Dear friends, when we love those who are different from us because they are different and not in spite of the differences, we have found the secret of agape love. When we reach out and serve those who do not deserve our service, we are practicing agape love. Yes, it is true a ministry without love equal nothing. But even the giving of ordinary thing become extraordinary and special when it is done with love. This is my prayer that we might express and use our gifts with love so that the ordinary can become extraordinary in our very midst. May we share Mother Teresa’s prayer: Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our fellow-men throughout the world who live and die in poverty or hunger. Give them through our hands this day their daily bread. Brothers and sisters may it be true that through our understanding love, God will give the people who surrounds us joy and peace. For this purpose he as placed us on earth. Amen.
The service of response
Creed and Singing of BOW 209 (Father, I adore you)
Prayer thanksgiving and intercession (Someone from Devonport)
Announcements (Duty elder)
Offering (Duty elder)
Offertory prayer - Heavenly father, together with the author of Psalm 116 we ask: How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. This we wish to do here today. Amen.
Song BOW 215 (Take my life that I may be)
Benediction: ‘The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ Amen
Doxology/Response/Song P&W 497 (He is ex