This week's lesson is on 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter, sandwiched between the chapter describing the nature of the gifts of the Spirit and the chapter describing their use in worship lays the groundwork for successful Christian ministry. In an astounding turn of events, I pretty much agree with the quarterly this week!
Regardless of how the gifts of the Spirit, the gifts of administration, and the gifts of operation are being used in your surrounding area, they will not bear fruit without divine love being expressed at the same time.
Gifts Without Love
Let's read the first three verses of 1 Cor. 13 to start things off.
Relationships Color Our Words
Paul leads off with a specific warning to the Corinthian church about being sure that love is present in the body, and not only is present, but is in active evidence. You see, without love, it doesn't matter what gifts of the Spirit you have been given. You will not have any desire to serve or to reach or bless others with the working of the gift.
If you don't have love, then pretty much any voice gifts you have (whether a message in tongues, an interpretation, a word of knowledge, or a prophecy, will not be received. Think about how you react to normal people around you. You can sense when people either actively dislike you are are ambivalent towards you. If they say something to you, then before they have even stopped speaking, your outlook and perception of what they are saying has already been tainted by how you feel they feel about you or how you feel about them at that point in time. What they say may be completely accurate, but if there is no love in the body, it will be dismissed or rendered at the very least less effective, simply because of the lack of love that stands like a wall between the two parties.
The second problem with a lack of love comes with follow through. God can speak to a person, or a church, or the entire Church if He so chooses. But if there is no love and harmony in the body (no matter how many members there are), there won't be a cooperative spirit in the people who receive the message to work together to bring about God's plans. There won't be any desire to reach out and give of ourselves to meet the needs of the body and those around us. (Reaching out to the lost or hurting does require that!).
The follow through is even more important in this busy age we live in. You can have many powerful gifts from God that He gave you to use. The thing is, it all takes time. A gift of healing may require you to get up in the middle of the night and go to the hospital to touch someone who has been in a car accident. A gift of miracles may require you to go to where there is a tragedy in the world and let God work through you. It is pretty easy to use the voice and discernment gifts they way they are mostly used today. It is harder to get up in the middle of the night and go give a word to someone God has laid on your heart. None of this will happen without love.
Think of Jonah for an example. He was an Old Testament prophet, and God told him to go speak to Ninevah. It was a really big city that was full of wickedness. Jonah 2:3 says the city was so large that it took 3 days to travel around the outskirts of it. My Dake's commentary says "It was about 18 mi. long and 14 mi. wide - much larger than Babylon. It had walls about 100 ft. high and broad enough to allow 3 chariots abreast on it; and there were 1,500 towers with arable ground between them. You can read the book of Nahum to get a better idea of just why God would be so upset with them.
The problem with Jonah the prophet was he didn't like the people of Ninevah very much. There was no love in his heart for their lost condition. They were enemies of the Israelites, and a wicked people so why should he lift a finger much less trouble himself to go out and try to get them to repent of their wicked ways. So, when God told him to witness to the city, he ran the other way. He eventually got cast into the sea, was swallowed by a great fish that God had prepared to save him, got his heart mostly in the right state, and went and preached to Ninevah when he was vomited up on the beach at God's command. What were the results? Because he was obedient, even if slightly delayed, the Ninevites fasted, and put on sackcloth, and were saved. God had already prepared some of their hearts to hear and respond. They just needed one person to reach out and speak the truth to them in love.
What Comes After the Follow Through
If you don't have love in your heart, then even if you do what God has asked you to do, your end results will not be as good as they could have been. You can look back to the last chapter of Jonah and his problems with the gourd that God raised up and then destroyed to see an example. People can readily see if you are doing something just because you have to. I don't have much talent for hiding my feelings about things. I should work a bit more on it I suppose, but people do know where they stand with me. Let me rephrase the above. I really do need to work on this.
If you don't do things out of love, but instead do them out of duty, it will show. It is an easy way for pride to creep in and end up tearing down everything that God has built up through the working of the gift. It is vitally important to keep love first, shared with humility, in order to not say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing after you have done some good work and destroy all that has been accomplished.
Characteristics of Love
The middle section has been preached on so many times, I don't feel I really have much to add. I would like to read Dake's commentary on these verses, and leave it at that.
Gr. agape, spontaneous and divine love. It is more eternal than gifts
9 ingredients of divine love:
- Patience - love passive: no hurry; suffers long; bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things (v 4,7)
- Kindness - love in action: never acts rashly or insolently; not inconsistent, puffed up or proud (v 4)
- Generosity - love in competition: not envious or jealous (v 4)
- Humility - love in hiding: no parade; no airs; works then retires (v 4)
- Courtesy - love in society: does not behave unseemly; always polite; at home with all classes; never rude or discourteous (v 5).
- Unselfishness - love in essence: never selfish, sour, or bitter; seeks only good of others; does not retaliate or seek revenge (v 5).
- Good temper - love in disposition: never irritated; never resentful (v 5)
- Righteousness - love in conduct: hates sin; never glad when others go wrong; always gladdened by goodness to others; always slow to expose; always eager to believe the best; always hopeful, always enduring (v 6-7)
- Sincerity - love in profession: never boastful and conceited; not a hypocrite; always honest; leaves no impression but what is strictly true; never self-assertive; does not blaze out in passionate anger, nor brood over wrongs; always just, joyful, and truthful; knows how to be silent; full of trust; always present.
Gifts are Temporary, Love Endures
The gifts of the Spirit are given to help us in our daily walk and to help guide others to Christ.
Their Eternal State
After Christ's second coming, many of these gifts will not be needed. Some writers suggest that we will either have a common language or will be able to understand each other in whatever language is spoken, thus removing the need for the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues. English is already a widely used second language, so this isn't that unbelievable. If there is a common tongue and all who are left after the Tribulation have accepted Christ as Saviour, then the tongues as a sign to unbelievers would have no purpose.
Likewise, Christ will be ruling from His throne, and words of knowledge will be less needed as His will is made clear to all. The future will certainly be clearer reducing the need for prophetical words.
Moving from the millennial reign to the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:1), Revelation says that in heaven, there will be a tree of life, yielding fruit every month, whose leaves are for healing the nations. The gift of healing may no longer be needed either (Rev. 22:2). The curse will be gone (Rev. 22:3) so there may be no need for miracles either. God will still provide for His children.
Paul's commentary on these end times in 1 Cor. 13:8-13 reflects this reality. He categorically states that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will be made useless or void, abolished, vanish away, be put away or done with eventually. He indicates that when we are children we understand some things, but as we grow up we understand fully. Likewise, he says in verse 10 that when Christ returns ("when that which is perfect is come") that these devices we have relied on will come to an end. He says that our knowledge will be increased since now we see only dimly those things of God ("see through a glass, darkly") but will soon see as "face to face" and things will be clear.
He does maintain that the graces of faith, hope, and charity, will continue forever. And he goes on to say that of these three, the greatest is charity (or love).
An Application To Today
The Wonder of It
It is also very important to pay attention to the three gifts of the Spirit that are mentioned here with respect to today. Even in a church where all 9 of the gifts of the Spirit are used as needed, some of the gifts (like miracles and healing for example), don't necessarily have an application every time the body meets. Granted, in a large enough body of people, this may not be true, but for smaller numbers everyone might just be healthy or not need a miracle in a particular week.
Discerning of spirits should probably always be used when received as a gift. You always need to have your sensors up about what you are hearing from teachers, preachers, or reading on the web. This gift should always be in operation. But the thing is, unless something goes wrong in the service, it may not be visible to anyone in the audience.
Unfortunately, sometimes churches (like the Corinthian church) can get hung up on some of the other gifts. They get used to messages in tongues or prophecies. The danger is that people become complacent. For those of you who have grown up in Pentecostal environments, can you tell me what the last message to your church was (given as either an interpreted message in tongues or a prophecy)? Can you even give the gist of what it was about? If you had one this Sunday did you remember it by the time you got home from church and had lunch or do you feel like since it didn't hit you on the head it wasn't worth remembering?
As a comparison, how many of you can tell me what the gist of the last couple of verses of the Bible say? "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly, Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." is what my translation has. I would venture that some of you could even tell me what comes just a bit before that. "And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part of of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. So, we can remember something that was written over 1,900 years ago, but don't bother to remember when God speaks with us today!
Many have lost the wonder of this precious gift. When God takes time out of His busy schedule to speak to us, we should pay attention. As I mentioned last week, it would be good if every church started writing down such messages and distributing them to the world. We're lucky to have the Bible to read. It would be great to hear what God was saying to His church today as well. Oftentimes, messages seem too personal to share or may have a word of correction or rebuke that we don't want to pass on. Churches like to present this invincible - can never be in the wrong - face to the world.
I'm pretty sure the Corinthian church felt the same way. Yet we have a couple of Bible books laying out and dealing with their problems. Someone took the time to make sure that the letters that Paul wrote didn't pass away when the problem was corrected in order to present a we're perfect front again. They recorded them for posterity and we are the richer for it. If God tarries, then the words He is speaking to our churches today might be just as useful 2,000 years from now if they are made available. Considering how easy it is to record and publish today, we are truly without excuse when we neglect this.
Seasons of Drought
The other application to today comes about when periods pass when there are no messages in tongues, interpretations, words of knowledge, or prophecies being made. There are droughts when it seems no miracles happen and no healings are performed. Why does this happen? Well, these items are gifts of the Spirit. They are given to individuals to use. When people move out of town or go to different churches, they take their gift with them. Christ wants to raise up others in the church to take their place. Unless He finds a willing person, that particular gift will not be in operation until someone is willing to receive it. That is not to say that prayers will stop being answered... it only means that that specific way of meeting the people's needs may not be available for a time.
Even if the individuals with the particular needed gifts are still present, they may be resisting using the gift for whatever reason. (That love thing, along with feelings of inadequacy and burnout are prime examples of why this can happen). If there isn't a willing interpreter, there may well be no message in tongues given, even if God desires to speak with us. If there isn't a willing person to deliver the message in tongues, it may not matter if there is an interpreter. Why would someone not want to speak? Perhaps, for prophecy, God is laying a difficult message on their heart and they are afraid or embarrassed to speak. Perhaps they are in an environment where the use of the gifts is highly regulated or frowned on. Perhaps there are just people present who are opposed and it is difficult to use the gift due to negative peer pressure (in a church? - you bet). This covers only a small number of reasons why God's words might not be getting out at a particular time like He wants.
A last reason why these four gifts might cease for a time is more basic. Perhaps we haven't done anything about the last message we were given, and God is waiting till we get that one dealt with before giving us another. I suspect this happens more often than we think. We need to repent and get back in His footsteps instead of darting off on our own. He probably isn't much happier than earthly parents dealing with their children who get tired of repeating themselves over and over
When it seems God has moved, it is frequently the body of Christ that has moved (or hasn't kept up, or has simply stayed rooted in one spot) when compared with where God is at today. We need to let love be emanating from our core toward each other and toward the world. We need to get down and have a long prayer with God and make sure that there isn't anything we have done or are doing that is getting in the way of His work and His moving among us as He wishes. If He points out something, we need to correct it. Think especially hard about the last thing He told the church and pray to inquire if it in any way applies to you. That is the surest way to get back in sync with Him.
When times seem lean, love one for another will help us see each other through. When nothing supernatural is happening in the service, it is the genuine love for the sinner who comes in the door or who we are led to witness to, that will make the difference in winning the lost to Christ.
Truly, there is a world out there that needs to see Christ living every day in the people who call themselves Christian, whether they attend some church regularly or not. It doesn't matter how powerful a demonstration of the gifts of the Spirit is present when you are gathered together or when you are out operating on your own. If you don't have a genuine love for each other and for those seeking Christ, you will not have the success that God wants you to have.