Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Romans 12:6-8 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: What Would Wesley Say? | This morning we will be once again venturing into the world of the Reverend John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist faith. Yes, today we are going to ask the question, “What Would Wesley Say?” in regards to “The More Excellent Way” Now I must tell you that in his original sermon, Wesley only uses the 31st verse of the twelfth chapter of 1st Corinthians. I chose to expand the passage to cover verses twelve through thirty-one to hopefully add some additional information and context.
And I feel that Reverend Wesley would be okay with this decision if for no other reason than he spends a fair amount of space discussing the contents of these additional verses. He points out that Paul discusses the “extraordinary gifts” of the Holy Spirit including healing the sick, prophesying, speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. He also mentions how Paul explains these gifts to be desirable and are useful to both Christians and non-believers.
Wesley then quotes the Scripture passage writing, “Use your ambition to try to get the greater gifts. And I’m going to show you an even better way.” This Wesley interprets this “more excellent way” as being even more desirable than all the gifts of the Holy Spirit put together. And his argument for this more excellent way is that it will lead you to happiness both in this world and the next, where if you only possessed these gifts you could still experience misery “both in time and eternity.”
Wesley then goes on to point out something rather interesting. He claims that these amazing gifts of the Holy Spirit were only common in the church for about two or three hundred years. In fact, he claims that we don’t really hear of them after what he calls “that fatal period when Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian”. Because it was under the rule of Constantine that Christianity became the national religion and flourished greatly, even to the point of clergy becoming rich and powerful.
So, what happened exactly? Wesley claims that it was “the love of many” that was “waxed cold.” Essentially, he is saying that with these new Christians, they didn’t have any more of the Holy Spirit than non-Christians. He goes on to explain that when Jesus came to save the world, he could hardly “find faith upon earth,” which was the real cause of the gifts of the Holy Spirit no longer being found in the Church. Wesley says that it was because the Christians had again turned into heathens, so the gifts disappeared or were taken.
But Wesley hasn’t given up on Christians just yet. He goes on to point out the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit that may be even more useful in the current context in which he lived. He says in today’s world we should be coveting “’the gift of convincing speech’, in order to ‘sound the unbelieving heart’”, as well as “the gift of persuasion, to move the affections, as well as enlightening the understanding.” But he still comes back to his claim that “these gifts we may innocently desire; but there is ‘a more excellent way.’”
So, what is this “more excellent way”? Well according to Wesley, and I would have to agree, it is the way of love. “Of loving all men for God’s sake, of humble gentle, patient love,” which is what Paul describes in the next chapter of 1st Corinthians. He also points out that Paul makes note that without love, everything else including knowledge and faith and works and sufferings are all of little to no value to God. Wesley reminds us that without love, everything we believe and know and do will be meaningless when the last day arrives.
Let’s take a moment and think about that. Without love, everything else in life is meaningless and without value for God. But the Apostle Paul helps us understand this I think in his explanation of what love really is in that following chapter, number thirteen, especially in verses 4 through 8. “Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
That section of Scripture often is read during weddings, but it is important to note that it is not talking about the love between a couple, but rather it is talking about God’s love. It is still appropriate for weddings in that it is the kind of love that we as humans should aspire to, both for God and for our neighbors. But that is a pretty big definition to live up to, isn’t it? Can we, as humanity, really show and live this kind of love?
Wesley seems to admit that this is a challenge for humanity. And he also owns that if we do not, humanity will not fair too well. But he is also quick to point out that there is hope for humanity. Wesley reminds us of God’s grace, which helps us to know this love. It is God’s grace that shows us the path to this “more excellent way” of life and of being.
And Wesley calls the people out to remember that we are to follow this “more excellent way” in every aspect of our lives. Whether in how we conduct our daily business, or how we interact with people in the streets and shops – we must follow this “more excellent way”. It is how we should conduct all our worldly business, not just in worship or with our loved ones. To be authentic Christians, and therefore not just more of these “heathens” he references, we must follow the “more excellent way” throughout every part of our lives.
It is not enough in Wesley’s eyes to kind or friendly, but we must be that good neighbor that Jesus has taught about. We must lead our lives with love, a love that is more like what Paul has written about and less like what we may be inclined to mirror from the world around us. But Paul never talks about how difficult this might be for humanity. Paul never speaks to the reality of just how challenging it is to live up to this “more excellent way” for humanity.
But could there have been reason for such omissions? Surely Paul wasn’t trying to simply teach the Corinthians about God’s perfect love, shoving in their faces their inability to live up to such high standards. Well I personally do not believe that would be his plan or motivation. Rather I think that Paul knew the people would come to understand their shortcomings as humanity but would put their trust in God.
The love that Paul talks about is God’s love. It is God’s grace. It is the perfection that only God can offer and be. But that doesn’t mean that humanity should just give up on living into this “more excellent way”. Jesus is that “more excellent way” because Jesus is love. And we need to not only own that challenge, but every day we must attempt to live into as best as we can.
Towards the end of his sermon, Wesley offers a challenge to his listeners and readers, and it is one I would like to raise to all of you. He says, “let your heart answer to the call of God, ‘From this moment, God being my helper, I will lay up no more treasure upon earth: This one thing I will do, I will lay up treasure in heaven; I will render unto God the things that are God’s: I will give him all my goods, and all my heart.'”
Can we do that? Can we let our hearts answer to the call of God? Can we give to God all of our very being, and all of our hearts? Can we live into a “more excellent way”? Can we follow the example of Jesus and love God and our neighbors in a “more excellent way”? Can we love ourselves and allow ourselves to become a part of this “more excellent way”?
Now those may be hard questions for some of us – really all of us to be honest. Those questions may even seem unfair, or like they are easy to answer because we know what the answers “should be”. But these questions aren’t asked to hear lip service or what God “wants to hear”. That’s now how it works with God. We cannot lie to God. We cannot hide from God. Anything that we feel or think when presented with questions like those are known to God before we even fully form them.
But regardless of what answers we might say or be thinking or feeling, God still takes the “more excellent way” when dealing with us. God still leads with love. God still shows us patience. God still show us and gives us grace, freely to every single person in the world. God loves God’s own creation and sent Jesus to show us the “more excellent way” that we might have an example to live up to and mirror.
A more excellent way. A way of love. The way of Jesus Christ. That is what Wesley was talking about. That is what the Apostle Paul was talking about. And that is what all this past year I have been talking about with you all. When I talk about the parable of the Good Neighbor – that is love. When I talk about taking divine detours or seeing the world through the lens of compassion – that is love. Any time we speak about Jesus Christ and the life he lived – that is love.
And God has called us to live into that “more excellent way”. Jesus has called us to love the Lord our God and our neighbors as ourselves. The Apostle Paul has called us to see the “more excellent way”, the perfection of love that he describes for us. Wesley calls us not consume ourselves only with the pursuit of spiritual or ordinary gifts, but to first work towards living into the “more excellent way” of love.
Just imagine how amazing our world could be if we all made a true and concentrated effort to live a life that is inspired by and directed by the “more excellent way”. Imagine what the world would look like, what the world could become if we all, and mean all humanity, could lead their lives with love. That would be the closest thing to heaven on earth that we might ever witness.
But we know that could never happen, right? There are too many people who are hateful or mean or confused. So, if others cannot live into the “more excellent way”, why should we? It’s not really worth all the time and effort, so let’s just forget it. God will understand, right?
Well I cannot personally speak to what God’s response to such an attitude would be, although I imagine it would sorrowful and pained. Because it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or not doing. What matters is what are we doing? What are each and every one of us doing in our lives? And you know why that matters? Because we know what God has called us to. We know about the “more excellent way” that we are meant to mirror and follow.
And it will be through our words and actions in trying to live up to that “more excellent way”, that others will come to know about this “more excellent way”. It is through how we love God and love each other that those who have yet to know God might come to know God. We need to stop worrying about what other people are doing and first worry about what we are doing. Are we living into that “more excellent way”? Let’s start today and lead with love in every crevice of our lives. Amen.