WHAT GOD DOES WITH a new Christian is like what someone might do to an old, abandoned house that they just bought. They move in, but before the house is livable, they have to cut down the overgrown yard, fix broken windows, repair the roof, and paint and paint some more. When you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit moves in and takes up residence in you – and once inside, the renovation project begins. The Holy Spirit renovates for the rest of your new life, working it out into practical details.
The Holy Spirit does many things for us, but one of the coolest things He does is gives us gifts: ways in which we are able to supernaturally serve the church by Him living us. Different gifts are given to different people, helping each other trust in and follow Jesus, encouraging each other’s faith, worshiping together, serving our neighbors, and spreading the gospel. We get to do great, awesome ministry because of the Holy Spirit.
But, there is a danger here, and the danger is: You can accidentally love ministry more than you love people. You might think that love and ministry are one and the same, but they’re not exactly. You can’t love people without ministering to them, but you can minister to people without loving them.
Jesus said that loving God was the number one commandment, and the number two commandment was loving people – not ministering. If you’re loving people, you’ll be ministering to them, but we have a tricky way of slipping out of loving and just ministering. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 is all about correcting this.
Love Lasts – Ministry Does Not
“Love never ends”, but prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will come to an end (v. 8). Prophecy, tongues, and knowledge are gifts from the Holy Spirit, forms of ministry, yet they are only like pieces of a puzzle. When Christ returns and “the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (v. 10) – there will be no more piece-by-piece work because the puzzle will be done. All this ministry will, in some sense, pass away. That may be confusing to you, but thankfully, Paul explains what he’s saying with two images.
1: Childish Ways vs. Adult Ways
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (v. 11)
When we were kids, we spoke, thought, and reasoned like kids. And it was completely appropriate because that’s what we had to work with. But when we became adults, we gave up those childish ways of speaking and thinking, and in a way those things passed away. It’s not that we stopped speaking or thinking, it’s that we’re doing it in a whole different way now because we have a whole different level of understanding.
2: Reflection vs. Face-to-Face
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (v. 12)
We can see someone in a mirror, but it’s nothing like seeing them face to face. Similarly, what we’re doing with this ministry now, we’re doing with a dim understanding of God and who He is. It’s reflected through Scripture, but it’s not face to face. When Jesus returns, we’ll know fully and everything will change. Ministry will pass away and love will remain (v. 13).
We have no reason to be arrogant about our ministry, because one day we’ll look back on it like adults look back on their childhood. We understand so little of the mysteries of God and so our ministry is incomplete; but when we love, we’re doing something that’s whole and mature.
Discussion Starters (based on 1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
- What are some ways in which the Holy Spirit has gifted you?
- What is the purpose of these spiritual gifts?
- How might we get caught up in ministry and forget to love people?
- What does this look like?
- What is the difference between love and ministry?
- How are acts of ministry only so-called pieces of the puzzle?
- Why will ministry pass away?
- What are some differences between you as a child and you as an adult?
- What are some differences between seeing someone in a mirror and seeing them in person?
- How do these relate to ministry passing away?
- What are some things reflected in Scripture that we don’t fully understand yet?
- What is the love we have received from God through Jesus?
- Is this kind of love evident in your life?
- Does your ministry flow out of this love, or out of something else?
- If your ministry is without love, what steps might you need to take to correct this?