Aug 3 - Attitude Is Everything

Attitude Is Everything

August 3, 2014

1 Corinthians 12 - 14

August 3rd, 2014
1 Corinthians 12:31b-14:1a

1 Cor 13 is probably one of the most-read and most-loved passages in the Bible, and is a favourite at weddings.  It is also one of the most beautiful and powerful chapters in any of Paul’s letters. 

However, what is often overlooked is that Paul wrote what he did in response to individual who defined their spirituality and godliness by the use of the spiritual gifts, in particular the gift of tongues or languages.

So Paul is not writing about the beauty of romantic love.  Romantic love comes and goes – we fall in love and out of love.  Romantic love is fickle.  It does not endure.    

What Paul is really speaking about is a particular inner attitude toward others that motivates and guides us in our interactions with them.  Perhaps that inner attitude can be described as a genuine caring disposition toward others, one that moves us to act according to what is in the best interest of another person.  Words like charity, benevolence, beneficent, and big-hearted come to mind to describe this inner disposition. 

It would almost be better to translate the term “love” as “loving attitude,” or “loving disposition,” or “a compassionate attitude,” but if we did so, the chapter loses some of its beauty, even if it gains in clarity.

So in his discussion about the use of spiritual gifts in the church, Paul now points out that “love” or a “loving attitude,” or “loving disposition,” is more important to God, more fundamental in the church, more demonstrative of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, than spiritual gifts.  The sign of true spirituality is not this or that spiritual gift, but the inner attitude, which he calls the fruit of the Spirit in his letter to the believers in Galatia.

However, when we look at the world, this loving disposition seems an elusive dream:

With what he writes, Paul does not want to minimize the use of spiritual gifts or to deny their validity.  Rather his concern is to bring proper prospective in their use.  He wants the believers in Corinth to continue to desire and pursue spiritual gifts, but he wants them to do so in the most excellent and worthwhile and beneficial way.  

1. Without An Attitude Of Love, The Use Of Spiritual Gifts Is Meaningless    (13:1-4) 

1 If I were able to speak in human and angelic languages (lit. tongues) but I did not have love, then I would be (nothing more than) a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  2 Or if I were able to speak prophetically and knew all secrets and had all knowledge, or had the kind of faith that moves mountains, but I did not have love, I would be nothing.  3 Or if I give away all my possessions, even give my body over so I can boast (or: so that I can be burned), but did not have love, I would have no profit from it.  

In these verses, Paul is telling his readers that if they use the gift of tongues or prophecy or knowledge or faith or giving without a loving attitude, then, even though these activities may be good in themselves and beneficial for others, … those who use them ultimately are accomplishing nothing of worth for eternity, they are nothing when it comes to where God would have them be, and their activities profit them nothing in the eyes of God.  Their lives before God add up to zero, because what’s most important to God is what is inside of us.

In other words, while what they do is of importance, who they are is infinitely more important.  Inward reality, more than outward performance is the sign of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  

The question that came to my mind as I read these verses is whether or not Paul was simply throwing out a hypothetical situation that would never occur in real life.  After all, which Christians would give up all their possessions for the poor if they weren’t motivated by love? And didn’t Jesus say that people are known by the kind of fruit they produce, good and bad?

But the truth is, that believers in fact can serve others in a self-centered way.  In other words, they may do something for someone but only for show, without real concerned for the people they are helping.  

Perhaps they are motivated by the fear of the potential negative consequences should they refuse to help.  Someone will be mad at them if they don’t buck up.  

Or maybe their acts of service are part and parcel of what they get paid to do at work.  Deep down they might hate their job and begrudge those they are helping. 

Or maybe they are forced by another family member do to something for someone else, but deep down they resent it.  

Or maybe they want to derive some personal benefit from their good actions – being nice and helpful in the attempt to con the person into sleeping with them, or in order to dupe them out of money, or in order to get an inheritance from them.

Or maybe they serve because of their desire to be in the spotlight, to be admired, to be needed, to be noticed, to be praised, all in the attempt to feel good about themselves.  In the church in Jerusalem, Ananias and Sapphira sold their house and brought a part of the profit to give to the poor, claiming it was the whole selling price, lying about it in order to look good in everyone’s eyes.  Their motivation wasn’t good and you can read in Acts 5 if you’re interested what happened to them.  

As most of you likely are familiar with, we can be truthful but unloving.  We can speak the truth vengefully, hatefully, arrogantly, jealously, harshly, and purposely to hurt, injure, or ridicule.  This is why we read in Ephesians 4:15 that we ought to speak the truth in love. 

If the motivation is wrong, an outside smile may only mask a negative or uncaring attitude on the inside, in which case, the most amazing acts of service are worthless in God’s eyes.

Our while acts of service and sacrifice for others, including the use of our spiritual gifts, are generally wonderful things, when we do them and our hearts are not in the right place, they have little worth.  

So what are the gifts Paul is writing about here?  He couples the gift of human tongues and angelic tongues.  Some commentators think that the human tongues refer to actual languages inspired by the Spirit but unknown to the speaker, similar to the gift given at Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.  The tongues of angels, then, is referring to language that is not spoken by any human tribe and therefore a heavenly language (Fee p.630).  

When we tackle the next chapter, we will find out that when the Corinthian believers spoke in tongues they were voicing an indistinct sound that others could not understand, so that Paul encourages the one with the gift of tongues to pray for the gift of interpretation so that they can speak intelligibly to the congregation.  In other words, the Corinthian believers were not speaking another human language, but were sounding out unintelligible words.

Prophecy, insight into spiritual mysteries, speaking a word of knowledge, all are teaching gifts that allow a person to give a message from God about what ought to be done, what ought to be undone, and, potentially, what the future holds.

Faith, is the ability to believe in God, and thus in oneself and others, to bring about great things.  

2. An Attitude of Love Is The Better Way     (12:31b; 13:4-7)

Paul now describes a loving attitude.

12:31 I will show you now an even more excellent way (than simply using spiritual gifts). …
13:4 Love is patient.  Love is kind.  Love is not envious.  Love does not boast, it does not make itself important.  5 It does not act in an unbecoming way, it does not seek out its own advantage.  It is not easily angered and does not harbour resentment.  6 It does not rejoice over injustice but rejoices over the truth.  7 It always bears up, always believes, always hopes, and always endures.  

If we are the body of Christ, then, as important as they are, the spiritual gifts aren’t the most important thing, but our concern and care for each other is.  The same holds true in a family.

15    Descriptions Of A Loving Attitude: Love is …

1.         Patient
2.            Kind
3.          Content (therefore not envious)
4.         Self-assured (therefore not bragging)
5.         Humble (therefore not self-important)
6.         Well behaved / gentle (not rude, crude, belligerent, etc.)
7.         Giving (therefore not out for one’s own  advantage)
8.         Calm 
9.         Forgiving
10.         Just 
11.         Honest
12.         Caring
13.         Trusting
14.         Hopeful
15.         Lasting 

This list is by no means all-inclusive.  

In his letter to the Christians in Galatia (Galatians 5:22-23), Paul’s list of the so-called fruit of the Spirit items such as love, patience, and kindness, as he does in our passage.  But Paul also adds other items such as joy and self-control.   There are a lot more fruit of the Spirit that are not listed in 1 Cor 13 or Gal 5.  

[A Loving Attitude Is …

1. Patient:  A loving attitude makes room for human fallibility. While a loving attitude doesn’t excuse everything, it does give the benefit of the doubt.  It shrugs off idiosyncrasies, it doesn’t get bent out of shape because another person doesn’t live up to all its expectations.

Patience means that I retain my cool if the other person doesn’t react the way I want them to or even if circumstances aren’t perfect.  A patient person is one who thinks you’re a good egg even though he or she knows that you are slightly cracked.

Old Jewish saying: One who looks for a friend without faults will have none.

A loving attitude is …

2. Kind.  A person with a loving attitude demonstrates kindness toward others.  Kindness is looking for ways to show mercy and goodness toward others.  Kindness encourages instead of demoralizes.  It listens and sympathizes.   Kindness tells others they are loved and appreciated.  

A loving attitude is …

3. Content.  A person with a loving attitude is genuinely happy for others and what they have and what is good in their lives.  A loving attitude does not envy; it isn’t jealous.  Those with a loving attitude are content.  They don’t have to harbour resentment toward those who seem to be doing better than themselves.

A loving attitude is …

4. Self-assured.  A person with a loving attitude doesn’t have to brag because he is happy with who he is.  He doesn’t have to call attention to himself.  He doesn’t have to be cool.  He doesn’t have to be the center of attention.  He doesn’t have to insist that he’s smarter or better than others.  He doesn’t have to show off.  In order for me to have a loving attitude, it might mean overcoming my insecurities so I don’t have to overcompensate.

A loving attitude is …

5. Humble.  A loving attitude is not proud, or arrogant, lit. puffed up.  While being genuinely happy about myself, having a loving attitude also means having a realistic self-image.  If we have a loving attitude, we will have the ability to be honest about our strengths and our weaknesses.  It is the ability to admit mistakes and say we’re sorry.   If we help someone, we don’t do it to show what great people we are, but we consider ourselves as God’s humble servants.  

A loving attitude is …

6. Well behaved.  A loving attitude is not rude; it does not behave shamefully or disgracefully - i.e. toward another person; If someone has a loving attitude, they will not be disrespectful, rude, lewd, offensive and won’t act inappropriately.  Someone with a loving attitude will treat others properly, fittingly, with decorum and respect and good manners.  Calling people names, tearing them down, demeaning them, or mistreating them in any way shape or form is wrong.

A loving attitude is …

7. Giving.  People with a loving attitude are not self-seeking.  They are not focused on self.  Instead, they are focused on others, concerned about what is in the best interest of others.

The highest good in our culture is self. Our society as a whole is enamoured with self-gain, self-justification, self-worth.  

Many people in Canada approach their spirituality in the same way.  Spirituality is defined as “self-enlightenment,” or  “finding oneself,” or “finding our own inner deity.“  If there is belief in a personal God, he is often perceived as the great vending machine in the sky, and rejected if he doesn’t deliver what we think he should give us for our 5 minutes of prayer. 

… I don’t do good in order to derive some personal benefit or profit from my actions (NOT SELF-SEEKING)

A loving attitude is …

8. Calm. (Love is not easily angered)  Love keeps things in perspective.  This ties in to the first point - love is patient.  Love doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  Love is on an even keel.  It is not easily bent out of shape.  It does not allow itself to be provoked to anger by others.  As I was cycling to church yesterday, I pulled up beside a car at the four-way stop at Mt. Newton Cross Road and East Saanich Road.  I could hear the guy driving the car literally yelling at the person in the car on the opposite stop sign in frustration and anger to get going, and then, once the car went, to boot it through the intersection, obviously still angry.  Sound familiar?  … I am able to take set-backs in stride and don’t fly off the handle quickly because I’m in a bad mood (NOT EASILY ANGERED)

A loving attitude is …

9. Forgiving. (Love keeps no record of wrongs) Love deals with the past positively.  Literally Paul writes here that love does not reckon evil.  Likely that means that love takes no notice of evil, doesn’t keep track, doesn’t wait to settle the score.  So love refuses to bear a grudge.  There are some people who can recount every insult they ever received, can dredge it up and still get down about it.  Love can let go of past hurts.  Love can forgive.  Forgiveness is not forgetting, nor is it allowing oneself to be set up again to get hurt.  Trust has to be reestablished over time.  But forgiveness is letting go of the bitterness and resentment that can set in.  

If you let the past hold you back, you’re missing out on all the good stuff.
 … I am willing to let bygones be bygones without having to keep dragging up the past (NOT KEEPING A RECORD OF WRONGS)

A loving attitude is …

10. Just.  (doesn’t rejoice of injustice).  Those with a loving attitude do not delight in evil or injustice.   They aren’t happy when a person  They do not contribute to injustice … bullying, hurting, hitting … the hundreds of ways that we can treat another person in order to harm them in some way.  They expose what is happening.  
A person with a loving attitude grieves when something bad happens, injustice happens, to another person.  Now sometimes it’s easy to grieve with those we like, but what about those who have hurt us?  That’s hard.  One maxim I read this week went like this: “Don’t cry over anyone who won’t cry over you.”  That’s not what Jesus said. True Love is not happy when someone else falls, when someone screws up their life, when something bad happens to another person, even if that person has not been particularly nice to us.  If I have a loving attitude, I will take no joy in the misfortunes of others, even if I don’t see eye to eye with them on everything 

A loving attitude is …

11. Honest.  (but rejoices with the truth – using the same verb to indicate two opposite sides to the definition of a loving attitude).  I would not have listed injustice and truth in this pairing.  I would have contrasted falsehood and truth, or injustice and justice.  But keep in mind that a lie in court can falsely condemn or wrongly set free, whereas a truthful witness can lead to the innocent being set free and the guilty being punished.  

So a person with a loving attitude is genuinely happy when something good and right and just happens because the truth won out, even when I’m proven wrong.  

A loving attitude is …

12. Caring. (always bears up)  

13. Trusting. (always believes) 

14. Hopeful.  (always hopes). 
15. Lasting.  (always endures).  ]

So a person with a loving attitude gives genuine compliments and praises real accomplishments.
A person with a loving attitude doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful that they’re there.
A loving attitude doesn’t give, hoping to get something in return, giving even when there is no ability to receive anything back.
A loving attitude takes the time to hug the child or parent or spouse despite the many chores that are left to do.
A loving attitude makes a choice to refuse to let things bug it; it trains our minds not to overreact.
A loving attitude never misses an opportunity to say, “I love you.”
A loving attitude doesn’t expect life to be problem free.
A loving attitude keeps its promises.
A loving attitude allows others to be imperfect, but love also sets loving and reasonable boundaries.
A loving attitude speaks softly and encourages a sense of humour.
A loving attitude doesn’t let negative, stressful, condemning, angry, resentful thoughts fester and spoil the mood.
A loving attitude never takes loved ones for granted.  It treats them every day as if this is the last day we will see them.

A loving attitude results in the positive emotional climate in which others can flourish.  It is the grease that makes relationships work.  It allows us to slow things down, lowers the noise level, increase respect and the willingness to sit and listen

People with a loving attitude can face anything.  There is nothing that they cannot overcome, nothing that will take away their hope in the future and their belief in the goodness of God.  

3. An Attitude of Love Is Not Bound By The Limitations Of Spiritual Gifts                (13:8b-14:1a)

8 Love never ceases.  Prophecies will end, speaking in languages (lit. tongues) will cease, knowledge will pass away 9 because our knowledge is limited, as are our prophecies.  10 So when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.  11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, judged like a child.  But when I became a man, I set aside my childish ways.  12 For now, we look into a mirror and only see things unclearly, but then (we will see) face to face.  At this time I know in part, but then I will know fully even as I am fully known.  13 But for now there remain these three: faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love. 14:1a Pursue love!

Why do you think that Paul writes that a loving attitude never ceases, never stops?  And why will acts of service using spiritual gifts like prophecy, a word of knowledge, and speaking in tongues?

For one, the attitude of love is part of God, part of Jesus, part of the Holy Spirit.  In as far as we carry that loving attitude within us, to that extent we take part in and reflect Him, the perfect One.  And as God’s loving attitude toward us is eternal, so our loving attitude toward God and others, follows us into eternity.  However, the spiritual gifts cease with our death.  We won’t need them in heaven.  

By the way, some believers will take these verses to argue that the gifts of apostleship and prophecy and tongues all ceased with the apostolic age, that is, once the original apostles died, they ceased to function.  However, that’s not what the passage is indicating.  In fact, Paul thought of forbidding the gifts as quenching the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 5:19-20 – do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophetic words).

Then Paul says that the spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues and knowledge are limited because we know so little about God who gives them.  We grasp just a portion of the will of God and relay it through prophecy to others.  

Paul refers to the limited knowledge that a child has in order to point out the limitations of spiritual gifts.  

When I went back to one of the houses we lived in during my childhood, I could barely recognize it.  It was a tiny bungalow with a one car detached garage and a small yard.  My memories were of a larger house with a big garden.  There are so many things that are vague and blurred.  My vocabulary was limited.  My insight into how things really functioned was small.  I was naïve and ignorant of so many things.  

As an adult, I think and act differently from when I was a child.  And just as I set aside my childish ways, so I will lay aside my spiritual gifts when I die.  They are no longer necessary in heaven because everyone will see God, hear God, experience God, know God in a way that simply is not possible this side of eternity. They will seem like child’s play in comparison to the truths and abilities we will possess then.  Then we will know fully, even as we are fully known, not just by God, I believe, but by others as well.

Then Paul refers to the image in a mirror to point out the limitations of spiritual gifts.  Mirrors back then were nothing more than polished metal that wasn’t 100% flat, so it did not produce a clear image like mirrors do today.

So the image in the sheet metal does not reveal a perfectly clear and undistorted picture.  Partial enlightenment may be found this side of eternity, as we study, dissect, meditate, ruminate, reflect, pray, become more aware, more self-aware.

So while the image of who we are, who God is, and what life is all about, what’s really important, may get clearer, full enlightenment is only possible in the life to come.  

But even this side of eternity, a loving attitude is superior to the spiritual gifts given to us for the benefit of others.  A loving attitude will keep relationships intact long after the most amazing spiritual gifts are used.  A loving attitude will impact lives long after the greatest sermon is forgotten.  

We can be gifted in so many ways, but if we lack a loving attitude we may not even use them.  And because this side of eternity we only know a part of reality, life, ourselves, others and God … because we only see a distorted reflection of what really is, … we can fall back into being selfish and self-centered – unless we have a loving attitude.  

At the heart of these verses is Paul’s main point - the spiritual gifts are inferior to a loving attitude because they are a passing phenomenon.  

And that brings us to the last verse in chapter 13 and one of the most difficult to understand.  Paul moves us back into the present situation of the church:

At the present time, faith, hope and love continue at the very center of the Christian life.  Faith in Jesus Christ, hope in an eternal life, and love, as the essence of the Christian life.  Of these three love is the greatest because only it remains.  Faith will be transformed into sight.  Hope will be fulfilled.  But love reigns eternal.   

Paul writes in 14:1 - pursue love, go after it, strive for it with all your heart.

The fruit of the Spirit, including the seed of a loving attitude, are planted in our hearts when we are saved.  So we have the choice.  We can consciously water that seed, fertilize it, water it, encourage it along.  In other words, we actively and purposefully pursue a loving attitude.  Or we can consciously ignore this seed implanted in us, neglect it, squelch it.  The question is, what are you and I doing with that seed?  Has it grown into a sapling?  Has it developed into a full-grown plant that is producing fruit?  Are we allowing the difficulties and joys of life to rob or encourage an attitude of love in our hearts?