He paused to gather his thoughts before continuing the letter. No other church had him shaking his head in quite the same way as the Corinthians. In one respect he rejoiced over them: they were so eager and enthusiastic about the transforming power of the gospel, so keen to learn more of Jesus and to emulate their teachers, and so rich in spiritual gifts and keen to acquire more. But in some ways they were like children let loose on a stall of toys: impatient to grab at the brightest and most appealing, but too soon weary of what they had grabbed, and reaching out for something else. And when the something was in someone else’s hands, they fell to squabbling about it. It seemed they could squabble about anything at all! He had already addressed their silly factions, “I am of Paul” and “I am of Apollos”. Didn’t they realise that they were all made one in Jesus?
He had dealt with some of the practicalities on their list of questions and comments, from issues of church discipline, to marriage and celibacy and even the perennial problem of the Gentile world, what to do when offered food which had been sacrificed to idols. Now it was time to return to the central issues of the faith, and, as he collected his thoughts, he felt the weight of the Spirit’s urgency. This must be understood properly, or everything else would be fruitless.
He started with the issue of the Lord’s Supper. Surely they understood that this was so much more than just an excuse to feed themselves irrespective of whether others had enough? Couldn’t they see that the very nature of Christ’s sacrifice, the whole point of the supper, was to recognise their unity together as the re-born people of God? Their way of approach negated the glory they were approaching!
He sighed and moved on. “Now about spiritual gifts ..” he began. How could he make them see that the gifts God gave weren’t status symbols but the tools of servanthood, that the same Spirit empowered the preacher, the healer and the one who washed their feet? They parts of the same body, just as vital and important to each other as ears and eyes are to feet and hands. They needed to understand that the important thing was not how large your gift was, but how lovingly you used it. Without love their tongues were clanging cymbals, and their self-sacrifices were worthless. It didn’t matter what miracles they could perform, or how much wisdom they possessed, without love it was all nothing. But these Corinthians, did they even recognise love when they saw it? Could they grasp what he was seeing so clearly?
“Love is patient,” he continued, “love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast ...” love was the exact opposite of their self-seeking self-glorification. It never fails. All these other gifts were for this world only, when they saw and understood fully, in the presence of Christ, they would not need these things any more. But love was for all eternity, in fact it was the very stuff and substance of eternity since eternity is the unveiled, unmoderated presence of God, and God is love.