A More Excellent Way
I can’t help thinking of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” when I hear the word “excellent.” That word got so overused in the ’80’s. It became the slang word used for anything one might like or admire.
But the word “excellent” is such a wonderful word, and shouldn’t be emptied of its value by overuse or misunderstanding. Something that is truly “excellent” stands apart and suggests a standard to be aspired to and attained through diligence, admiration, and emulation. If something or someone is truly “excellent” then that is a reality to be celebrated and embraced!
In our Epistle Lesson this morning St. Paul uses this word in describing a “way,” THE Way. But that begs the question; the way to what and from what” A way suggests movement from one place to another; a journey, and a destination.
Look at 1 Corinthians 12:27-31; 13:1-8, and remember, all the chapter and verse divisions of our modern copies of Scripture are later additions and not original to the text. St. Paul is writing a letter to the Church at Corinth and he didn’t put in chapter and verse distinctions in his letter. To be sure, I am grateful to these “tool” in our Bible of today, but sometimes they break the flow of thought that might lead to confusion.
St. Paul tells the Church at Corinth that they ARE the Body of Christ, AND each of them is a part of the Body of Christ. Notice the power of this revelation. The Body of Christ is all of us together, not divided by time, distance, or even death. The Body of Christ IS One, AND the Body of Christ is made up of all kinds of gifted persons. St. Paul mentions some specific gifts in the Church that nourish the Body and all Her members. They are “first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.” 1 Corinthians 12:28
Now we could spend hours, days, talking about these giftings in the Body of Christ, and read libraries of books about each gift, but that isn’t St. Paul’s point or intent in mentioning these gifts here. No, he intends to show us “a more excellent way.” (verse 31)
And this “more excellent way” is the key to understanding just how a group of persons can be molded into the Church, the Body of Christ that isn’t (nor capable of being) divided by death, time, history, personal preferences, or any mundane “enemy” of peace and unity that Christ has already overcome in His death destroying resurrection and His continued Presence in His Church through the Person of the Holy Spirit.
First, this “excellent way” is a way that avoids the weakness of comparing ourselves to others. Not everyone has the same giftings, and that’s OK. A Body needs all kinds of “abilities” to function well. When we avoid comparing ourselves and our abilities to others, we are set free from both arrogance and despondency over our perceived strengths and weaknesses. We need each other to be complete and whole as the Body of Christ.
Next, St. Paul reveals why this Way is so “excellent.” He declares that love is the key to making all this unity and cooperation possible. But not some syrupy, sentimental view of Love. No, a love that is robust, serious, overwhelming to circumstances, and enduring. This love is “patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8)
Today, are you trapped in the dead end situation of comparing yourself to another – either good or bad? It is a deficiency of love. Are you struggling with getting along with others in the Church? It is a deficiency of Love. Are you fighting to discover your own purpose in the Body of Christ? Now that may be a challenge of both obedience or even finally admitting you need to be a student of yourself and your faith to discover your gifts. Love, authentic and robust love, gives an eternal motivation to the hard work of being one in Christ with the Church. And it is only this powerful “love” that can overcome our fallen tendencies to divide along ethnic, linguistic, social, educational, economic, or even national lines. The Church IS the Body of Christ, and you ARE members of this Body, and this Body needs all it’s gifted “members” to function as She should in a world so desperate to see how love can bring unity and peace and wholeness to such a fractured age.
So, today, “be excellent to each other!”