There were many groupings in Jesus’ day about which we hear a lot but know little.  There were the Pharisees, a group who traditionally had saved the people from secularization by protecting the law from overly-liberal interpretations that took the power away from it.  During Jesus’ day, however, they had taken their protection of the law too far and had begun to follow and worship the law rather than the God who gave it.  There were the Zealots, a group of Jewish extremists who used politics and even what today would be deemed terrorism to fight the Roman oppressors.  There were the Anawim, the “pious poor” who spent most of their time at the temple praying for and awaiting the coming of the Messiah to turn the tables as it were and humble the rich and elevate the poor.  And then there were the Sadducees, who focused not on the oral interpretation of the law like the Pharisees but on the written law itself.  They had come to dismiss the spiritual realm, angels, and even the resurrection of the dead.

With the communal wealth to be free from work and have time to spend all day listening to new ideas, the Corinthians had obviously heard about the beliefs of the Sadducees and this belief had crept into the new Church.  And so for the next few days, Paul will be addressing this group in the church who didn’t believe in the Resurrection of either our bodies or Jesus.

Paul begins with logic, saying that if these Sadducee-wannabes didn’t believe in any kind of resurrection, they couldn’t believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This was because the resurrection of Jesus WAS the entire gospel.  If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then His death was in vain, we are foolish to believe in Him, and we are still in our sins and so subject to hell as are those who have died in the faith.  So Paul makes the case for a literal resurrection of the dead.

We state a belief in resurrection but do we really believe it?  Has our scientific culture really invaded our faith so much that we can’t believe unless we see for ourselves?  Is this why we obsess over stories of those who have died and returned, so much so that there are shelves of books by these people?  Can we simply believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and, because of that, our own resurrection?

The Apostle Paul describes “orderly worship” and it makes me drool.  As a worship leader myself, I don’t long for a little more order in worship, but for participation as Paul describes it here.  Paul’s problem is that when everyone brings their gifts to worship – words of knowledge, prayers, prophecies, hymns, prayers in tongues and interpretations of them – they are all so eager to share them that they are paying no attention to one another and just speaking right over the top of the others.  Someone is sharing a word from God and another begins their hymn right in the middle of the message.

Would that this was our problem!  The more common problem in the church today is that one will be sharing a message – the exact same one every time, by the way: we call her “pastor” – and someone might begin not singing but snoring.  People today don’t come to worship with something to share, or the expectation of hearing a prophecy of God, or a message from the Lord for the congregation.  And if they did, we would not trust that it is of God but would deem them “out of order” and tell them to stop and never do it again.

We have turned worship into a spectator sport.  Modeling it after both a college lecture – but with elementary school lessons: more on that later – and an entertainment event, whether sports or concerts, we have lost sight of the true method of true worship.  Someone once said of football that it is, “220,000 people who desperately need exercise watching a workout by 22 people who desperately need rest.”  Has our worship become the same thing?

What if this week your personal goal was to listen to God until you had a word for your congregation, or a song to edify them, or a prayer for their strengthening, and then brought it to worship?  You would have to be triple sure it wasn’t just a word from your own opinion, or a song you just like to sing, or a prayer to make a point.  But if we all came with pieces of worship to share, how would that change our worship?

Walt Muller, president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU), spoke at our Covenant Midwinter pastor’s conference a few decades ago.  What I remember most from his discussion was the fact that, “media is both mirror and map.”  This means that as we look at movies, television, music, and any other modern day media, we know that it directs and guides our teenage (and adult!) culture.  We think what we think because of what we see and hear.  We wear what we wear because we see others wearing it on TV.  And everything from our fashion sense to our belies systems are guided by our media.  Media is, in this case, a map guiding us to what is “groovy, hip, cool, in, hot” or whatever means “socially acceptable” in today’s culture.

But it is also a mirror.  It reflects what is going on in the culture.  Why did superhero movies become such a hit after 9/11?  We needed heroes to help us feel safe in a suddenly unsafe world.  If we want to learn about our culture, watch some media for a while.

As such, our media has changed over the years to both guide and reflect the culture around us.  We moved from “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie” about family values and togetherness, to “The Simpsons” and “Friends” about family dysfunction and friend groups closer than family.  We moved from Batman and Superman, heroes who stood alone against the universe, to The Avengers and Justice League, where the collection of individuals formed a team to work together.  The group is more important than the individual.

This is Paul’s message here in 1 Cor. 14.  The gift of tongues is good, but it is a gift for the individual.  It does not edify the body.  Better is the gift of prophecy, which is not for the individual but for the body.  The group is more important than the individual!

I wonder if we are in a time in history where this kind of message, the message of the gospel that has not changed through the years, might ring truer with the world around us.  Self-sacrifice, unity in community, the group worth more than the individual… might these themes speak to our world now in a way they haven’t for the past century?

Today we are reminded of the gospel message: God knows us, God loves us, and that love will remain.  Notice there isn’t the usual focus on our behavior that most gospel messages begin with.  That’s because behavior follows belief, and belief follows belonging.  This was the difference Jesus brought to the “gospel” of the OT.   Jesus’ message was “God knows you and God loves you” (you belong to Him).  Only then did He focus on the beliefs of the people, which then led to their behavior.  Beginning with behavior (“you must stop sinning”) puts the cart before the horse and leads to Phariseeism and a works-based righteousness.

Ps. 139 is the most beautiful and oft-quoted poem about God knowing us.  God knows us now, knew us before we were even born, and knows us completely.  This is a deep comfort for those who love Him, but for those afraid of a wrathful God, this promise is terrifying.  “He knows where I am no matter where I run,” sounds more like a horror plot than a promise if the one who knows is an enemy.  But quickly, Ps. 139 makes sure this is a message of hope, of a loving God seeking us to our benefit.

1 Cor. 13 is the most beautiful and oft-quoted poem about God loving us.  God loves us with a perfect love and we aspire to love like that as well.  And even here, this loving God knows us fully.

But finally, it is three things that will remain: faith, hope, and love.  Yet once God redeems this world, faith (trust in what we do not know) and hope (believing in something we do not know) will also cease, for we will finally know God as He knows us.  But love, the love God has for us, the love we have for God, and the love we have for each other, will remain.  So let’s live for that which lasts, love, rather than for the things of this world that don’t.

20 years ago at my first church, a local Assembly of God pastor declared to his church that anyone who did not speak in tongues was not “filled with the Holy Spirit” and therefore could not be in leadership.  Half the church left in protest, and a great majority of them joined our church.  This influx of charismatics could have threatened the very culture of our church had our congregation not welcomed them with open arms and open minds.  We did not turn Pentecostal, but we did try to make them welcome with a freer mood in worship.

Spiritual gifts have been one of those topics in modern American church history that has divided churches and even caused denominational splits.  Which gifts were gifts and which weren’t, how many there were, and how they were ranked caused untold arguments.  And in some circles still do today.

This listing, along with others in scripture, was not meant to be an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts, but rather a sampling of gifts that God has given His people.  Music can be a spiritual gift, as can carpentry and stage presence.  Yet none of them were mentioned in Paul’s list.  Why?  Because what makes a gift spiritual is not the gift but the source and use of it.  Any ability given by God and used to build up the Kingdom is a spiritual gift.  And since all good gifts come from God, the real issue at hand is how a gift is used.

One person is excellent with numbers, but uses that ability to make themselves money for their own comfort and security.  Not a spiritual gift.  The same person using that gift for a church or to make money for charity is expressing a spiritual gift.

What gifts do you have?  How are you using them; for God and His people, or for yourself?  How might God be calling you today to use one of your gifts spiritually?