It seems that nearly everyone is demanding to have the “last word”
The “last word” is an idiom that means “I’ve have won the argument…there is nothing more that can be added.”
Someone who is smug will think they always have to have the last word…we can all be smug at times.
Often when there is chaos, argument, and confusion…you have a number of people, at the same time…all trying to have the last word.
In marriages, or friendships where there is turmoil and separation rather than communication and relationship…two people are often trying to have the last word…even as one is talking the other is forming their own “last word” in response.
The last word could be synonymous with a newer idiom called the “mic drop”….boom… “you can’t beat that, don’t even try.”
But, of course, they do…they keep picking it up and dropping it.
Dallas Willard, a brilliant professor of Philosophy at USC, who is now with Jesus…was once challenged, in an erroneous way by a student at the end of a class.
Willard replied “That is a good place to end the class.”
-Then he dismissed them
When later asked why he didn’t “put the student in his place.” (he easily could have)
He replied “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.”
How would our culture change if everyone practiced that discipline?
The internet, news media, coffee conversations, the halls of congress…are filled with people all trying to have the “last word.”
This demand for the “last word” is shaping hearts AND flows from hearts that have been shaped.
Willard was practicing a heart shaping discipline to help him become WHO he wanted to be.
He didn’t just want to be a person who held his tongue, as important as that is…he wanted to be a person who didn’t need to have the last word…it just wasn’t in his heart anymore.
He had a vision for not just what he wanted to do or not do…but for what kind of person he wanted to become…and he applied certain means/disciplines to get there.
His was holding his tongue, because he was training his heart.
Let me give you three examples of last words…actual end of life last words.
First from Willard himself, they were simply this…“Thank you”
That’s it…as he died…after a lifetime of teaching, speaking, writing…he simply said “Thank you.”
Then from an infamous mass murder, I won’t glorify him by giving his name, or the exact words…because they are as profane as Willard’s are profound.
But in essence his words, as he was being put to death, were a vulgar, spitting in the face of those watching.
Both Willard and this twisted soul…ended their earthly lives with words that revealed what had been going on in their hearts over the course of their lives.
What they spoke with their mouths…came from how their hearts had been shaped over time.
This is true for all us…that can be a sobering thought…think about all you have said this past month or year…and that it came from how your heart has been and is being shaped.
Now for our third example…this from John’s historical record of Jesus’ life.
Jesus said, “It is finished.” Then he died.
What was finished?
The word translated “it is finished” is an accounting word that means a debt has been paid in full.
What is finished…is his work to pay our sin debt.
But this is not just a matter of cosmic accounting…what Jesus did in his life, death, resurrection has paid our sin debt…and that, of course, is huge.
But what has been finished…is both a payment of a debt and a restoration of life in the Kingdom of God…starting now, not just when we die.
The Kingdom of God is a life lived under God’s loving rule…where joy, peace, love…reign in us and flow from us in increasing fashion…or at least they can…its now a possibility.
What Willard experienced was the application of Jesus’ last words “it’s finished” to his own life.
And it resulted in him becoming a man who didn’t just mouth the words “thank you” but a man who had become grateful…even as cancer ended his physical life.
Both the murderer and Willard…from the overflow of their hearts…they spoke.
Jesus…from the power of his life…from his authority…eternal and awesome authority…he spoke…he said “It is finished”
Now, whoever is willing…can have that finished work applied to their own life.
And they can, we can, have our lives changed…starting now and extending into eternity.
Today, on this Easter Sunday we are in 1 Corinthians 13.
One of the most beautiful and famous chapters written by anyone at anytime.
Paul…much maligned, much critiqued in “modern” times (and his own time)…was one of the most brilliant people who has ever lived…and that includes as compared to people alive now.
It’s important to not put him into some odd category like “Bible writer”…as opposed to a writer of human life, and psychology, and relationships, and resilience.
He is, as compared to any writer of anytime…brilliant, smart…we do well to read him as such.
LET’S STAND AND READ THIS GREAT CHAPTER TOGETHER…we don’t stand because of Paul’s brilliance but because it is God’s word given to us through this man.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Let’s walk through this passage:
If you have been with us this year you might recognize, in those first 3 verses, some of the problems in the church at Corinth being addressed.
This immature church, nestled in a deeply immoral and broken culture…prided itself on external shows of spirituality and displays of human wisdom.
So, after addressing in practical ways the childish, immature manner in which they had behaved towards one another…he gives this powerful, poetic “set point” for their lives and ours.
Displays of power, wisdom, faith, even self-sacrifice without love…are nothing and gain me nothing.
It seems odd to include self-sacrifice because love and self-sacrifice are often one and the same.
This is a clue to understanding that this passage is not about just “doing stuff”…even sacrificial stuff…but about becoming a certain kind of person.
If I do stuff…even give my life away level stuff…but I am not becoming a person who loves…then nothing lasting has been gained…I’ve not been changed.
He is addressing people who were paying attention largely to externals and not to the heart.
This is not a command to do what love does, not a love “check list”…it is a description of what love is.
Look at verse 4.
4 Love IS patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, 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.
Again, this is not a do and don’t do…list.
“I need to be more patient and kind”
“I need to stop envying, boasting, being rude, angry.”
“I need to be more hopeful, more trusting.”
It would be good to do and not do those things…but that is not the point here.
Because we all know…it’s impossible to become more patient, or more kind or less proud…MERELY by just trying harder at these things.
How you ever tried harder to be more patient?
-It works, until it doesn’t
You can act with patience until something happens that overwhelms your current patience ability…and you act with impatience…it’s still there.
What about humility…ever tried to be more of that?
-You can start feeling really good about yourself for being so humble.
Paul is describing what love actually is.
Love…both here and elsewhere, in scripture, is a source of these kinds of actions and attitudes.
When love, God’s kind of love, is present in my life…the things that love does will be in effect as well.
I think some have come to see the Christian faith as hopelessly disconnected from “real life” and therefore it’s just not true…sometimes because of misunderstanding of passages like this.
They might see this as a nice religious poem…something the great ones aspire to (Monks and the sort)…but not for real people.
Because it’s utterly out of touch with the “real world”…no one can live this way in actual boardrooms, on factory floors, ER, combat zones…let alone in homes with annoying spouses, and teenagers.
“No one can actually do this…it’s all hypothetical…not real.”
Others, may believe this is true in some sense…but they are hopelessly unable to consistently flesh it out…so it may as well not be true…at least it’s not for them.
Because, for instance…they look at this passage…and they try to be more “patient, kind, less proud, etc.”
And they become exasperated by ongoing failure to see real and lasting change.
They spend years trying to be patient…only to “blow up” at certain times in spite of years of trying harder…this doesn’t work.
What is this other than either fantasy or evidence that I cannot live this faith out in my own life now?
So…this passage and others like it, become something that I hope happens to me in the “great by and by when I die.”
But, it ain’t happening now.
Now by all means…try hard…try to be patient, kind.
But this is more than that.
This, in fact is a description of the “real word”
“Not my real world!”
Yes, your real world and mine as well..
This is a description of what love actually is…in the real world…everyone’s real world.
Not a description of how I consistently live…but it is a description what love is.
Where you don’t see these things…you don’t see love.
Where you do see these things…you are seeing love.
And we can have this kind of love growing on our insides…producing the effects of love in our lives.
“No…Terry…the world is a mean place.”
Yes…the world is a mean place.
And yes…this is what love actually is…and yes it can grow in us.
Again, the gospel is not just about cosmic accounting…when you die…you won’t go to hell.
It is about eternal life, eternal life is not just more life when you die but a different kind of life.
A life that begins at conversion (we begin to change) and continues indefinitely…past death.
A life that can be, should be…increasingly more like Christ in real and tangible ways.
Eternal life in the Bible (and therefore in the real world) is about a different quality not just more quantity of life.
We enter the Kingdom of God at conversion.
In this Kingdom…who God is and what he wants for us can become real in this life not just in the life to come.
We, Paul wrote, in his second letter to the Corinthians “Are being transformed into the image of Christ…with ever increasing glory.”
This is happening…or it could and should be happening now.
Long term Christians do not have to continue to be angry, immoral, judgmental, petty, defensive.
We can be, we can stay those things…but the gospel good news is…we don’t have to be…change is real.
Paul is not saying here that we are to try to be patient, kind, humble, etc (though we should try)….but rather this is what love itself is.
When we love…our lives will look like this.
And we can, over time…grow in love.
Okay…count me in, what now?
Belief is always first.
Whatever it is…job, marriage, fishing…to start…you have to get some facts, true facts and trust them.
But remember, the goal of the facts…truth, is not just gathering information but heart transformation.
Paul wrote to Timothy:
“The goal of my instruction is love, that comes from a pure heart, clear conscience, sincere faith.” 1 Tim. 1:5
Couldn’t be clearer…the goal of teaching truth is that we would love…and that love would come from our hearts
Getting the facts right (truth) is the starting point…but the end goal is changed hearts.
BELIEVE: That the gospel is true (real)…true like gravity. (rocks fall down here and out there)
Gospel is a word that means good news…the life, death, resurrection of Jesus…the “it is finished” work of Jesus.
To believe this means to think/understand that it is real/true.
You don’t have to know all that could be known about this…no one does.
You just have to adequate and accurate information.
Enough, true information to shape your beliefs…to act on that belief.
To drive a car you don’t need exhaustive information (how to build a combustion engine)…you need accurate (true) and adequate (enough) information.
These children who were baptized have less information about God than I do…but what they have is accurate and adequate…enough for eternal life.
“I struggle to believe this stuff”
“I believe, help my unbelief was the honest cry of a man to Jesus”
But why do you struggle?
Is it because of misconceptions or misinformation like:
- Hasn’t science proven religion/Christianity is not real?
-No, and it cannot
- Isn’t faith weaker than facts?
-Everyone has faith in what they believe are the facts
-The evidence in favor of the gospel is compelling.
- How do I really trust Jesus?
-4 Types of humans
- Is the Resurrection real?
- Maybe you doubt because of your own inconsistently…it’s okay to doubt yourself…but you don’t need to doubt Jesus.
It is important to address doubts…but realize everyone lives by faith…everyone
The facts of the gospel are compelling…you can put your faith there.
So first, we believe. Jesus is who he says he is and he did what he said he did…it is finished.
Belief here is more than mentally accepting some facts…we transfer trust from self to Christ.
The gospel is something that we can think about with our minds…but it is also a spiritual reality
So the Bible says things like:
-passing from death to life.
-moving from the kingdom of dark to light
-becoming new creations
-Peace with God
Biblical belief is rational versus irrational…you understand and you believe.
But it’s not just human reason, it is a Spiritual act of God in us.
Belief…faith is faith in the facts is first…then surrender to the God of those facts.
Have you believed the gospel?…invite to commit.
Yes, I have but I feel like I am not growing in love and its effects in any significant way.
I would first say…that may not be as true as you think it is…growth in Christlike character and love is slow and we are often not that good at measuring growth in ourselves.
And we are prone to compare ourselves to others versus comparing who we are now versus who we were back then.
But let’s say it is true…and to a degree its true for all of us that we could move faster than we currently are in spiritual development.
Watch your heart.
Proverbs teaches us…that the heart is the source, wellspring of all of the rest of our lives.
What does it mean to “watch/guard our hearts”…and what does this have to do with “Value”
By value I mean what you are learning to hold most dear, what you are allowing your heart to wrap around…what is becoming or has become valuable to you.
You get to choose what you value/love by choosing where you make your best investments.
*What do you allow your mind to think the most about?
*What do you spend your resources of time and money and effort on?
If you love self, stuff, money, job, entertainment, pleasure…most…then it’s because you have invested in those things more than other things.
When God said “Have no gods before me”…it was a profound declaration of his great love for us.
Any other gods, if put before him in our hearts and lives…will ruin us.
In our three part strategy: Believe, Value, Do…I put “value” before “do”…even though they go hand in hand…
Because we are prone to move to “doing” in order to change without paying attention to the vital importance of what we are learning to hold most dear in our hearts.
If you allow yourself to love what you should not love…it is a matter of time before you will do what you should not do…and you will become what you do not want to be.
This is happening everyday, everywhere, for everyone.
If patience, kindness…have been absent from your life.
If envy, boasting, anger, record keeping, delighting in evil, failure to hope, endure…have been evident in your life.
Don’t merely “try” harder to be or not be these things…check under the hood.
These things are like the check engine lights…the problem is not the dashboard light but in the very thing that drives our lives…our hearts.
When we wrap our hearts around the Lord Jesus…we will grow in love…and what love is…will be who are becoming.
So, what choices can we make to wrap our hearts around Christ?
Have you seen the original Karate Kid movie, came out in 1984?
Christy and I had been married for a year when we saw it in the theaters.
Remember those things, theaters…it’s a place you used to go and sit with strangers and watch movies…weird huh?
Probably the most famous line from the movie is “wax on, wax off.”
It has become its own idiom…that means “This action doesn’t seem to correlate to a larger goal but it does”
Daniel asked Mr. Miyago to teach him Karate
What Miyago did was have Daniel go through a long series of repetitive actions like waxing his cars.
Daniel became exasperated because he saw no correlation between “wax on and wax off” and his end goal…which was to become skilled in Karate…actually Daniel’s end goal was to whip the local bully…and get a girlfriend.
Turns out that “wax on, wax off” was producing muscle memory that corresponded to a series of key Karate actions.
And, more importantly, Miyago was challenging Daniel’s values in the process…his motivation as to why he wanted to learn karate.
I know it’s a bit cheesy, and probably outrageous for real Karate experts…but the movie was a hit and is a classic and the principle behind “wax on, wax off” is sound.
To try and become patient by trying to be more patient…is to become exasperated.
In the case of patience in 1 Cor. 13…it is a word directed towards people.
Sometimes the idea in scripture is to become more patience with circumstances…that word is translated “endurance”
But how do you become more patient with people…do you “try to be patient”…what does that look like?
Wax on, Wax off…means that you pray for them, you read Scripture, you worship with them, you serve them, you sit in small group with them, you get to know their children, you let them serve you…you listen to them.
And you check your heart attitudes, you spend time with God reflecting on how patient he is with you…lots and lots of “wax on, wax off”
You do what Paul has been saying to this point…live as a body, putting each other first…not self first.
Same with kindness…and keeping record of wrongs…all the “love stuff”
The very things God has given the church to do…are perfectly designed to turn the church into who he wants them to be.
When the body, behaves like a body…as communicated in Chapter 12…the things love does, will be done.
When we defer to others on matters of preference, when we wait on each other in meals and worship, don’t fight and disrupt and demand our own ways of dressing and acting…we are doing the heart shaping things.
What is interesting and sad…is that the processes God has given his people to become more like Christ are turned into merely meaningless, mundane…wax on, wax off…with no correlation to real life.
So people check out of corporate worship…life in community in groups and one to one discipleship…because what difference does it make?
*This isn’t doing anything…I don’t feel any different!
We begin to see Bible reading, prayer…time daily with God as either a box to be checked…or something we can take or leave…because it’s just not that important…it’s really not shaping me…it’s just wax on, wax off…I’m not learning Karate here.
We watch whatever we want to watch…read and hear whatever we want to hear…because…we want to and because we can…never mind that is shaping us in ways that we would never want to be shaped.
We think that what we think about masks, or vaccines, or elections, or some piece of doctrinal minutia…are the vitally important things…and we fail to pay attention to how…
ALL THAT WE DOING AND SAYING AND THINKING IS SHAPING OUR VERY HEARTS.
Everything shapes us. Everything.
Let’s finish the chapter.
Remember that Paul is addressing a church that
-Believed wrong things
-Valued what was not valuable
-Did what was misshaping them.
-They were remaining…spiritual children.
His goal for them…and God’s goal for us…is the joy and power of becoming more mature in Christ.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Corinthian Bronze was famed the world over…some ancient Greek writers said it was more valuable than gold.
Likewise the Corinthian mirrors made from this bronze…were world famous
The images of Corinthian mirrors were actually pretty good(not as good as our glass mirrors)…but no mirror is like the real thing.
What we see now is but a reflection of what is coming.
The Kingdom of God is here, already…in part…we get to experience it if we move further into it.
This Kingdom…is not here yet in its fullness.
But we can know now…IN FULL…what will matter most then…we can grow now in what will last forever…love.
Let me paraphrase
“Look kids…the stuff you are enamored with…it will be gone. I too was once a child in my faith…and I spoke, thought, and acted like a child. But I’m grown up I’ve put childish things ways behind. But even as a spiritual adult…I still don’t have the full, clear picture(I’m grown up, but not fully grown up)…but someday I will. But I do know this for certain now. What matters most at the end matters most now. I know for certain, that what will matter most at the end will be love for God, love for others. That’s what matters most now.
What matters most at the end, matters the most now.
Love (for God & people) will matter the most at the end.
It matters the most now.
This is a certainty…don’t waste your life…spend it wisely.
- Apply Jesus last words to your life by faith…It is finished
-You can receive as a gift what you cannot earn…forgiveness, restoration to God.
- Apply Jesus last words to your life by faithful actions…it is finished
-I can live in the Kingdom of God now…increasing ruled by love not by self and selfishness.
“It is finished” is the language of the King who allows us to enter his Kingdom of life and light.
“Thank you” is the language of the kids of the kingdom who are learning to thrive under the loving rule of the King.