During December a number of things caught me by surprise. A family issue saw me dropping things to take my son on a mini road trip through our Snowy Mountain regions. Lack of cash over the Christmas period got me thinking and praying about paid employment and the need to provide more for my family; and a opportunity came up to apply for the position of a paid community chaplain in a more affluent area – a position which kinda got me extremely excited about.
However, a few weeks later and 2 days into the new year, I have come to the understanding that under God, I am in the right area where he wants me to minister. I love this area and I love the people I have come to call friends in this area. Certainly it can be a rough area. My peaceful time of relaxation in my lounge room on New Years eve afternoon was shattered through the sounds of angry voices reverberating from the bus stop across the road. A couple were fighting and yelling at each other. She louder then he. It didn’t take long to see that alcohol was the culprit, and most likely compounded by a cocktail of drugs. So my wife and I quietly stood on our porch praying for God to reveal his love to them and cover them with a blanket of peace.
That afternoon I read a friends status on Face Book saying he was a bit low, so I went and visited him. His youngest daughter came out to us as we were chatting and placed a young puppy in my arms. I continued to pat this little bundle of joy, pulling on his little ears, playing with his chin as I listened to my mate share not only about his struggles of life; but also his plans for the new year to put his family first. Today I visited another friend, whom I gave a lift into town. He is a rough man. Some would call him violent; though he has shown me nothing but respect. I would hate to walk in his shoes. Many of his experiences stem from life choices. But many of them stem from many life experiences which he had no control over either.
What is remarkable about both these men is that they are men of faith. Granted their faith is showing forth like a small seedling emerging from the compost heap of life. There is need for much healing. There is need for much growth. And indeed they have grown heaps. 18 months ago when I first met them, they wouldn’t say anything at our men’s meetings. They wouldn’t share about the scriptures we were reading. They wouldn’t join in with prayer. But for what ever reason it was – mostly to do with unconditional love and acceptance of them, they continued to come. Now, they are men who are less reticent to talk about faith. They are more willing to pray with us and for us as a group. They are more willing to read the word of God in private.And one can see a change of hope and purpose in their lives.
These guys are but a representation of the people in this area I have come to love. And so the other night I shared with my other friend about God putting on my heart to up the ante a little bit more and start meeting more regularly as a church. This is something he is interested in also. I keep reminding myself that the people Jesus gathered around him to become his first church planters were a odd and rough bunch of people. They were not the elite of society. They were not that respected within society. And so, if that was good enough for Jesus to send this bunch of people he loved into the world to tell them about him… I am more than happy to rub shoulders with those the Holy Spirit has brought my way to make his name known in this area also.
As for the need for finances…God knows all we need and promises to provide all we need as we go about doing what he has called us to do. And so once again, instead of thinking of lack – my faith abounds and peace and hope is the result that indeed, God has it all under control. And indeed, when ever I look back over my life, he has never let me down – even if I didn’t recognize it at the time.
I observe that Christians of the conservative stripe, who really care about not losing truth and sound doctrine tend to downplay it. In fact, I think in some cases there is this fear that if we talk about love too much it will somehow unravel our theology. If we let love be our motive that somehow propels us into liberalism. Why is this? Why do we fear losing something of sound theology if we talk about love too much?
Dave Black contributes some excellent thoughts to this discussion from 1 Thessalonians
The Good News we brought came to you not only with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with complete certainty. In the same way you know what kind of people we were while we were with you and the good things we did for you.
Did you see that? The good things we did for you. I’m haunted by the idea that God is not so much asking us to tell people what a friend they have in Jesus as in showing them what a friend they have in us. Paul’s mission was show and tell. From beginning to end, 1 Thessalonians is an epistle of sacrificial love. God’s love for the lost. Paul’s love for the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians’ love for their Macedonian neighbors. The letter virtually shouts: Love others! Love them until they ask why!
Within the scope of this conversation I am mindful of the need to always check our actions and thoughts about love with Scripture, and in this case, 1 Corinthians always has some good advice as to what love is.
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.
I read this quote this morning by Gustavo Gutierrez, who is a Roman Catholic theologian working with the poor in Lima. He says.
Because sin is radical evil, it can be conquered only by the grace of God and the radical liberation that the Lord bestows.
Sin is radical, of that there is no doubt. It’s radical because there is nothing we can do to stop it. It’s invasive. It’s destructive. It’s poisons all it touches.. and yet often its a slow release poison, one that slowly kills us because we get use to its effects. Sin renders us helpless. It renders us helpless as individuals and society. For all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
And yet, despite our sin and our helplessness; God wants us to reconcile to him. He has done it through Jesus, who was born as one of us. And through his love, we have radical liberation from the evil of sin. And slowly through his love, we conquer sin, and liberate the captives from it. This has to be good news for each and all, both as individuals and society.
In this essay I look at the pastoral implications of 1 Cor 13:13 and why it is that love is considered greater than faith and hope. I did this this by reflecting on the history and background of the Corinthian church and showing how they and our modern era have much in common. I critiqued the idea of biblical love being separated from our emotions, and the idea that faith, hope and love are separate stand-alone virtues. Finally I showed how love is not only “the” intrinsic foundation to hope and faith it is also deeply embedded and entwined within the two and therefore love is the greatest.
Before I became a Christian, I was searching for meaning of life and a purpose of being. Part of this search led me to being involved in a new age type three day seminar, where we were supposedly meant to gain some insights into our spiritual purpose for life. During one of the sessions, the participants had to sit facing each other, and ask one question of each other. That question was, “What do you want?” And each time we answered it, we would be asked again, “What do you want?” My final gut wrenching answer to this question was that I wanted love. Within this context of love, I am going to explore what are the pastoral implications for our modern church of love being the greatest of faith, hope and love, which is found in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians.
Corinth was originally a flourishing Greek city / state, which was destroyed by Rome in 147 B.C. and was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. as a Roman colony. It was a unique port city, built on a narrow strip of land, allowing it to control the trade between Asia and Italy. With harbours straddling both sides, it provided access to a number of major shipping lines. Therefore the city was well positioned to be became a financially, political and multicultural prosperous cosmopolitan within the Roman Empire. Unlike Athens, it was deemed to lack cultural finesse and was known for its licentiousness. Despite the lack, it provided the opportunity to partake in a number of diverse and significant religious practices towards a variety of deities, such as to Apollo’s and Asclepius, with the most significant being Aphrodite’ who overlooked the city from high.  No matter ones social standing, nationality, gender and background it was a city of opportunity for the political, business and the unsavoury savvy. To understand the city within our modern context it’s worth noting that Fee says it was a “combined New York, Los Angeles and Los Vegas of the ancient world.”
Against this backdrop, we come to the first Epistle to the Corinthians of which there is little dispute about its authorship and is most likely Paul’s third letter to the Corinthian church. Paul founded this fellowship around AD 49-51 and is notable for his lengthy stay, Acts 18. A few years later, he writes another letter from Ephesus, 1 Cor 5:9, which most likely dealt with the issue of fornication, idolatry, covetous, and robbery. This letter therefore is an occasional letter addressing issues that have risen from previous communication; both from the already mentioned letter exchanges as well as some verbal communication from Chloe’s household. Fee believes there are some pastoral tensions which Paul must address: The first is how he can maintain the essence of servant imagery while correcting false theology and behaviours that threaten to destroy the Gospel integrity; the other is to reconcile where bad blood had previously developed with a church that opposed him. Witherington disagrees with this later thought, and instead he draws from Ch. 13 where Paul holds himself up as an example to the church, and that the Apostle is still in good relationship with them, and on that point, I believe that Witherington has the better of the argument. Within a rhetorical framework, we discover that Paul begins to persuade his listeners with the propositio for all within the church to be in agreement with each other on essential matters of faith and practice.
Corinth had an aura of dog eat dog, independence, the haves and the have nots along with the lure of becoming self-made. Not surprisingly this attitude permeated through the church, where there were factions, jealousies and the sense of a completed realised eschatology in the now.
 Gordon. D. Fee, “The New International Commentary on the New Testament”,The First Epistle to the Corinthians, ( Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987),1.
 Norman Hillyer, “1 & 2 Corinthians” in New Bible Commentary 3rd Edition, ed. D. Guthrie (England, Intervarsity Press, 1970),1049. Athens was highly regarded for its contribution to the arts, theatre and philosophy.
 Ben Witherington 111, Confilct & Community in Corinth, A Socio- Rhetorical Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians,(Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans,1995),12. She was the goodness of love, beauty and fertility and was also considered the patron saint of prostitutes and the goddess of seafaring. It could be therefore that the tradition of Aphrodite’ becoming the patron of prostitutes and the goddess of seafaring came about from Corinth being a major sea travelling destination, and a place of rest for weary sailors..
 Gordon. D. Fee, “The New International Commentary on the New Testament”,The First Epistle to the Corinthians,( Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987),3.
 Ben Witherington 111, Confilct & Community in Corinth, 266 & 96. Witherington says that within a rhetorical framework, it would be a bad strategy if Paul held himself up as an example, when he was not accepted and instead was opposed by the church.
There are days when we feel like crawling into a cave and not come out. There are days when we feel like curling up into a ball and disengage from the world. – If you feel like this, remember you are not alone.
There were times when Jesus had to just get away from it all and go into a desolate place. Elijah was a great man of God and he also found his cave in a time of despair. God never condemned him for it – he met him there.
If your going through such an experience at this moment, perhaps you too can ask God, to meet with you in your cave and know that he never condemns you, and therefore you too can accept yourself also.
I like to write my prayers. I find that writing my prayers helps me to think about what it is I am praying, how I am praying and why I am praying. This is the prayer I prayed and reflected on this morning.
Father God, you have set me free from the power of sin. I ask that you help me to walk in your truth. Help me to live as I should in the power of your spirit. You have called me to a life of love. Help me to truly love in thought, word and deed.
Help me to be a listener, open my ears so that I may hear. Help me to see, so that I many not ignore. Help me to act, so that I may not pass by those in need. Help me to be aware of those who need to be heard, who need to be seen and those who need to be helped.
I ask that you help me to replicate your ways towards me. For you never stop listening. You never stop watching over me and you never pass me by.