The More Excellent Way
“But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a more excellent way.” 1 Cor. 12:31
Much of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, leading up to the end of the 12th chapter where I quoted above, is about correction. He confronts them about divisions within their group, about selfishness and abuses during their celebration of the Lord’s supper, and about their misunderstanding and misuse of the gifts of the Spirit., among other things. These corrections, warnings and exhortations lead up to Paul’s guidance to the Corinthians to make sure that they don’t lose focus of the main goal of Christianity: Love. That is, that they need to take on the true nature of love as exemplified by Jesus, and express this love towards God and towards one another, and express it by living a holy and righteous life..
We must understand that the famous “Love Chapter” in 1st Corinthians 13 is in the context this guidance. Paul knew that Christians have a tendency to focus on other things and lose site of the goal. He makes this very clear at the beginning of chapter 13:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor. 13: 1-3
Paul’s message is very simple and very clear: If you have the spiritual gifts but you do not have love, then the spiritual gifts are worthless and useless. Period.
Paul goes on to say that the gifts should be used to build one another up, and that the gifts that result in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching that will bring up-building, encouragement, and consolation, are the gifts to be most valued and sought after.
“So with yourselves; since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” 1 Cor. 14:12
There is a movement today within Christianity that promotes the manifestation of the Spiritual gifts such as healing, works of miracles, words of knowledge, and so forth. I am concerned about this teaching because it is not balance with the goal of love, as Paul has guided us in 1 Corinthians.
I am very supportive of the gifts of the Spirit and desire that God would manifest Himself in our midst. I also support miracles and healing. It is my belief though, that if we are pursuing the transformation of our own inner nature to become spiritual and to take on the very love nature of Christ, that the manifestation of miracles will be a matter of course.
Also, I would rather be amiss regarding my working of miracles when I stand before the Lord, than to be lacking in the area of love. As Paul says, in God’s eyes I would be nothing without love.
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from me, you evil-doers.'” Matt. 7:22,23
Maybe for some of the Christians seeking manifestations and miracles, they think that they already have been transformed and are walking in the spirit and in love. Even if this was true for them as individuals, what about the rest of the Christians that are being encouraged by them to focus on these manifestations and miracles with them? If the statistics that I have read about the various sins that exist in the current Christian churches are true, then the need for holiness and spiritual maturity, and ultimately love, is far greater than the need for miracles. I can only go by what I read, and the limited exposure that I have had to other Christians, but it would seem true that the Christian community is struggling with issues of envy, division, greed, sexual promiscuity resulting in adultery, divorce, addiction to pornography, and other similar sin that indicates that they are not walking in love. If this is in fact the case, then the Christian leaders should be guiding the Churches to focus on the goal of love, and correcting their immaturity, like Paul did to the Corinthians.
Remember that true holiness and the keeping of the Commandments of God are included in the definition of true love:
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:8-10
As for me, and I would encourage you to do likewise, I will focus on the goal of love. I believe that we can realize the type of love that Paul puts forth in 1 Corinthians 13. I don’t see it as some unattainable, far-reaching, aspiration that was only intended to keep everyone who reads it humbled . No, I believe that we can walk in the manner of love that Paul presents. I believe that we can walk in the same manner of love that Jesus walked, and it should be our realistic goal and focus.
“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 Cor. 13: 4-8
At the risk of being too repetitive in this blog, I say again that if we die to this world and set our hearts and affections in heaven, and if we store up our treasures in heaven, and consider ourselves citizens of heaven, awaiting the return of our King, we will transform our inner hearts and thinking, and this will give us the ability to walk in the spirit and walk in love, the same way that Jesus, the author and perfecter of this walk of faith, lived and walked when He was on this earth.
At one of my previous jobs, I wrote out the above quote from 1 Cor. 13, but added my name in the place of love (Jim is patient and kind….), and posted it on the wall of my cubicle. It was intended to keep me focused on this goal every day. One of my co-workers sarcastically asked, “What, are you trying to be like Gandi or something?” I said, “No, I want to be like Jesus.”