Today’s selected reading continues in the first epistle of the apostle Paul which was written unto the Corinthian congregation, and more specifically, is found in the first five verses of the thirteenth chapter. The thirteenth chapter of the first epistle of Paul unto the Corinthian congregation is one of the most well-known and beloved chapters in all of Scripture. I would guarantee that if you ask any number of your brothers and sisters in Christ concerning this chapter they will almost immediately and without reservation speak of this chapter as being a chapter that is centered upon love. It’s actually quite interesting when you consider this particular chapter—especially when you consider it from the final verse of the chapter and then transition to the beginning. The final verse of this chapter reads as follows—“And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:13). What is even more telling is when you co snider the final verse of this chapter you find the apostle Paul speaking of three specific aspects of the Christian walk—faith, hope and chairty. It’s worth noting that in this particular passage of Scripture we find the apostle Paul proceeding to define one of these three aspects of the Christian life—that of love. If you read verses three through seven of this chapter you will find the apostle’s definition of charity, which some translations translate as the word “love.” Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul uses to set forth a clear definition of what love truly is within the life of a disciple and follower of Jesus—“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, goth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easil provoked, thinkers no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). It is within this particular chapter you find the definition of charity, which is also translated as love, while if you journey to the eleventh chapter of the New Testament epistle of Hebrews you will find the definition of faith—“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
It’s worth noting and mentioning that within Scripture we not only find a definition of love as set forth within the thirteenth chapter of the apostle Paul’s first epistle unto the Corinthian congregation, but we also find the definition of faith as it is set forth in the eleventh chapter of the New Testament epistle written unto the Hebrews. What I find to be so incredibly unique and powerful about this particular chapter within this first epistle written unto the Corinthian congregation is that the apostle does’t Immediately set forth to define love when writing unto this congregation. In fact, if you begin reading this particular chapter you will find that the apostle Paul doesn’t set forth to define love right away, but rather uses this time as an opportunity to emphasize the incredible importance of love. This is actually quite remarkable when you consider it, for I am convinced there are a lot of times when we allow ourselves to get caught up in and with the definition of love that oftentimes the importance and expression of love gets lost in translation. What I mean by this, is that there are men and women who might be able to define love as it is a part and expression of the Christian walk and life, and yet they know absolutely nothing about the actual expression of love. I can’t help but wonder how many men and women among us within our congregations and assemblies may be able to adequately and accurately define love, yet when it comes to actually manifesting, displaying and expressing it, they are absolutely and completely clueless. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—what good is it if you can define love with the best of scholars and yet you know absolutely nothing about the actual expression of it among those with whom you interact on a consistent basis?
If there is one thing we must recognize and understand, it’s that Jesus didn’t call or send us out as sheep among wolves to merely define what love is. If you read and study the four New Testament gospels concerning the life and ministry of Jesus you will find that nowhere within each of these gospels did Jesus ever send us forth to define love among those to whom we have been sent. I fear there are a number of men and women among us within this generation who may be expert orators and who know and understand how to define love according to Scripture, yet when it comes to the practical display and manifestation of love—both among the brethren, as well as within the streets—they fall considerably short. When you read the thirteenth chapter of this first epistle unto the Corinthian congregation you will find that the apostle Paul sets forth to compare and contrast love with various aspects of Christian ministry and service. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul writes in the first three verses of this particular chapter within this epistle—“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And th ough I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestowe all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). I would challenge you to focus on the final four words of the third verse of this particular chapter, for with those three words the apostle sets forth the true reality of Christian service and ministry absent charity and love—IT PROFITETH ME NOTHING!
Perhaps one of the single greatest questions we must ask ourselves when reading a passage such as the one that is before us today is how much our Christian “service,” and how much our Christian “ministry” is actually profiting us. What’s more, is that we must also ask ourselves whether or not our Christian service and our Christian ministry is profiting those around us whom we have been called to. It’s actually quite remarkable that within these first three verses the apostle Paul speaks of four distinct acts that are demonstrated, manifested and displayed within the Christian life—speaking in tongues, the gift of prophecy, the manifestation of faith, and the bestowing of all our goods to feed the poor. In the previous chapter the apostle Paul set forth the nine gifts of the Spirit of Christ among us in our midst, and of those nine gifts we find speaking in tongues, we find faith, and we find prophecy. This is actually quite astounding when you consider this entire passage, for in the previous chapter the apostle Paul set to bring the Corinthian congregation into a place of understanding concerning the gifts of the Spirit which were manifested among them in their midst. The apostle Paul spoke of diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; differences of administrations, but the same Lord; diversities of operations, but the same God which worketh all in all. The apostle Paul would go on to declare that the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal—in other words to prophet not the individual with whom the gift is manifested, but the entire body and congregation of Christ within the earth. If I am being honest with myself, as well as with you, I would emphatically state and declare that the gifts of the Spirit that might be manifested and evident within your life have absolutely nothing to do with you. There are and there have been a number of men and women who have engaged in Christian service and ministry as though the gifts are somehow about them rather than being about the body of saints which are around and before them. Such men and women are no different than that servant who was given one talent from his master, and rather than putting that talent to work as the other servants did, they instead chose to bury that talent in the earth until the master returned.
UNEARTHING TALENTS! UNEARTHING BURIED TALENTS! This particular parable is actually quite astounding and remarkable when you consider it, for it is within this particular parable where we find one of these three servants taking that talent which was given to him, and rather than putting that talent to good use in order that it might yield and bring forth fruit and a harvest, he chose to bury it in the earth. When the master returned and the time of reconciling was at hand, the first servant who had been given five talents not only brought forth the original five talents he had been given, but also presented five more talents which were earned as a result of the first five talents. The second servant also likewise brought forth the two talents which he had been given, but not only brought forth those two original talents, but presented two more talents which were earned as a result of those original talents. The third and final servant, however—instead of presenting the original talent he had been given, as well as a potential second talent which had been earned as a result, unearthed the original talent that was hidden and buried within the earth and presented it to the master. This servant was entrusted with something which his master had given him, and yet instead of taking that which his master had given him and immediately putting it to work, he chose instead to bury it within the earth until the time of his master’s return. When the day and time of reckoning and reconciling was at hand—instead of this servant presenting the power of hard work and multiplication, he instead presented that which had been hidden and buried. It’s actually quite remarkable, for when you consider the fact this servant buried the talent he had been given from his master, you get the sense that that which his master had given unto him was of little value or worth to him. If this servant had cared anything for his master’s possession, and even for the tremendous responsibility he had been given, he would have taken this talent and put it to work as did the other two servants. This servant chose to take that which his master had given him and bury it in the ground, thus hiding and concealing it from those around him. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder how long this talent remained buried in the ground—and not only how long this talent remained buried in the ground, but also how this servant proceeded to live after he had finished buried the talent.
I am convinced there are a number of men and women who will find themselves scrambling in the day of the Lord’s appearing to unearth that which they had been given, and that which had been bestowed unto them. I believe there are going to be a number of men and women in that day who instead of presenting their hard work and effort with which which they had been entrusted with, will unearth that which they had been given, and essentially presenting it to the Master. What we must recognize and understand concerning this particular servant and the talent he had been given is that the master wasn’t so much angry with what he did with the talent, but with the simple fact that he did absolutely nothing with the talent. When speaking to this wicked and lazy servant the master of how this servant could have at the very minimum taken this talent and put his money to the exchangers, and then at his coming and return, he would have received his own with interest. That which angered the master the most was not necessarily what he could have done with the talent, for he presented him a possible endeavor this servant could have engaged in with that which had been entrusted unto him. That which angered the master the most was the fact that this servant did absolutely nothing with that which had been given unto and entrusted unto him. It was the simple fact that this servant chose to do absolutely nothing with that which had been given him by his master that caused his master to be so incredibly angry. What’s more, is that there is a part of me that can’t help but consider that instead of this servant engaging in that which would have served his master, he chose to instead do that which pleased and served himself. There is not a doubt in my mind that it took this servant little to no time to bury this talent in the earth, and once buried in the earth, this servant went about living his life as he desired. I can’t help but wonder if this servant wasn’t afraid of duty, hard work, and responsibility, and as a result of this fear, chose to bury and hide his master’s money in the earth until he returned.
There are men and women who have been given talents and gifts from the Master, and they have made such talents and gifts about themselves rather than about the Master. Instead of taking that which the master had given unto them and putting it to use to please the Master, they instead choose to bury that which has been given them by making it all about themselves. The apostle Paul spoke of the gifts as being about the body, and that the gifts of the Spirit were given by the Spirit to profit withal. The question I can’t help but wonder when considering this passage of Scripture is how many men and women may very well have been entrusted with one or more gifts of the Spirit, and yet rather than engaging those gifts within and among the body, they choose to keep those gifts to themselves. Such men and women treat the gift(s) of the Spirit which had been given unto them as a mark of their spirituality, and as a notch on their belt, and choose to do absolutely nothing with it for the edification and building up of the body. There is not a doubt in my mind that there will be a number of men and women who will in that present unto to the Master that which belonged to Him from the very start, and yet there will be absolutely no evidence of that which had been entrusted into them being put to any use within the kingdom. The gifts of the Spirit are given by the Spirit for the ministry of the body of Christ, and are given in order that they might profit the entire body of Christ. Oh, there are those among us who are taking that which we have been entrusted with by the Master and are putting it to good use within the kingdom, while there are others of us who are taking that which we have been entrusted with by the Master and are choosing to bury, hide and conceal it—out of sight and out of reach of those around us. Perhaps the best question that must be asked at this particular juncture is what you are doing with that which the Master has given unto and entrusted you with. Are you taking that which the Master has given unto and bestowed unto you and putting it to work and use within and for the kingdom of heaven, or are you choosing to bury it within yourself in order that it might be hidden and concealed from those around you? How many men and women will in that day return original treasure rather than presenting new treasure? How many men and women in that day will return original talent rather than presenting new talent? How many men and women in that day will return original gift rather than presenting new gifts?
In all reality, there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if we are not called and commanded to not only take what we have been entrusted with and put it to use, but are to take that which we were originally given and use it to build and obtain new talents, gifts and abilities, or to add to what we were originally given. There seems to be every indication in this parable that we are to take what we were originally given by the Master and use it to build, develop and grow more, above and beyond what we were originally given. In other words—is it possible that we are to take that which the Master originally gave us and to put it to work in order that when the Master returns, we might present him with more than what we originally received. It is not enough to merely put to use and put to work that which we have been given from the Master, but we are to take that which we have been given and to use it to obtain more. In case you haven’t noticed, the kingdom of heaven is about multiplication, fruit, harvest and increase—a reality many of us struggle with throughout our daily lives. How many of us are truly taking that which the Master has given us and putting it to use and putting it to work in order that we might present unto the Master more than what we were originally given? There is a tremendous challenge concerning responsibility within this passage—responsibility in taking that which we have been given and putting it to use within the kingdom of heaven. The question you and I must ask is what we are doing with that which we have been given by the Master—not for our own individual use, purpose and will, but for that of the Master. The tremendous danger that surrounds this third servant is that he seemed to show very little care for that which the Master had entrusted him with, as well as very little care or concern for the mind and will of the Master. Had this servant cared for the mind and will of his master, he would have taken what had been given unto him and put it to use on behalf of the master.
In the twelfth chapter of this first epistle of the apostle Paul written unto the Corinthian congregation we find the apostle Paul seeking to set forth truth concerning the gifts of the Spirit which were released and given unto the church for the profit of the entire body of Christ. What makes all the more intriguing and interesting is when you consider how the twelfth chapter concludes and how the thirteenth chapter begins. In the thirty-first and final verse of the twelfth chapter the apostle Paul writes the following words—“But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 13:31). The apostle Paul concludes this chapter on spiritual gifts and the ministry of the body with an admonition concerning coveting earnestly the best gifts, yet he would proceed to shew them a more excellent way. As the thirteenth chapter opens and begins, however, it doesn’t immediately begin and open up with the apostle Paul setting forth a clear definition of love. Rather than immediately setting forth to define love, the apostle Paul chooses to instead set forth love as it is directly connected to spiritual gifts, Christian service, as well as Christian ministry. The apostle Paul speaks of speaking with tongues of men and angels, and yet not having love. The apostle Paul speaks of having the gift of prophecy, and understanding all mysteries, and all knowledge, and yet not having love. The apostle Paul speaks of having faith so that we could remove mountains, and yet not having love. The apostle Paul speaks of bestowing all our goods in order that the poor might be fed, and yet not having love. The underlying truth which we must recognize and understand within this passage is that it is possible to engage ourselves in such manifestations within he body of Christ, and yet do so absent, without, and apart from love. I must at this moment emphatically and boldly state that it is possible to be actively engaged in Christian service and yet not do so from a place of love. It is possible to state that it is possible for us to be actively engaged in Christian ministry, and yet not do so from a place of love. It is possible to stand behind the pulpit each and every Sunday, and perhaps even during the week, and yet not do it from a place of love within one’s heart. It is possible to lead men and women in the worship of the King, and yet not do so from a place of love within one’s heart. It is possible to engage ourselves in spiritual gifts among the brethren, and yet not do so from a place of love.
The question I am finding myself asking right now is what motivates and drives you when it comes to Christian ministry and service. When you engage yourself in Christian service and ministry within your local congregation, or perhaps even within your community, neighborhood and streets, what is it that propels and drives you to do so? The apostle Paul declared that it was indeed and was in fact possible to speak with the tongues of men and angels, and yet live a life and life from a place that is absent charity and love. The apostle Paul wrote and spoke of having the gift of prophecy, and understanding all mysteries, and all knowledge, and yet having love. The apostle Paul spoke of having faith which could remove mountains—which as you will recall and remember was something Jesus Himself spoke of—and yet not having love. This concept of faith strong enough to move mountains, yet being absent love is actually quite astounding to consider, for the apostle Paul seems to set forth that although there abide faith, hope and charity, it is possible to have faith absent love. This is rather unique, for if you transition to the New Testament epistle of James, you will find James speaking of having faith without works, and how faith without works is absolutely and completely dead. Consider if you will the words which James wrote in his epistle which is found within the New Testament:
“What doth it profit, my brethren, thou a m an say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth I profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled with saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:14-26).
James wrote of faith without works, and would go on to write that faith without works is dead, and how it abides alone. In the thirteenth chapter of the first epistle unto the Corinthian congregation the apostle Paul speaks of faith, and faith which has the ability to remove mountains, and yet he declared that faith absent, without and apart from love profits us absolutely nothing. James emphatically, boldly and without hesitation and reservation declared that faith without works is dead, and the apostle Paul seems to write that faith without love profits absolutely nothing. In all reality, I would dare say that any faith which you profess to possess means absolutely nothing unless it can be demonstrated and manifested with and according to works. What’s more, is that any faith which you profess to have which is absent love profits absolutely nothing. It almost seems that even faith—despite the fact that the author of Hebrews states that without faith it is impossible to please God—profits nothing if it isn’t accompanied by love. I would dare say that the single greatest demonstration and manifestation of faith within one’s heart and life is not necessarily the removing of mountains from before us, but in the demonstration and manifestation of love. It is true that we are justified by faith and by faith alone, yet there must be an outward demonstration and outworking of that faith within our lives. I am convinced that this is what James was attempting to declare within his epistle—not that we weren’t justified by faith before God, but that our faith needed to be accompanied by so much more. You profess to have faith, and you profess to have faith that can even more mountains—that is great and that is fantastic, however, faith that is absent the display, the demonstration and the manifestation of love is absolutely useless and profits nothing. I am convinced that not only must our faith be accompanied by works, but our faith must be accompanied by love, for unless those words are performed with and from a place of love, they are absolutely and totally useless and unprofitable within the kingdom.
I feel it absolutely necessary to recount the words of Jesus which He spoke unto His disciples when they asked Him concerning the sign of His coming and the end of the age: “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before HImn shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:31-40). I would also add and include the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the twelfth chapter of the epistle which he wrote unto the saints which were at Rome beginning with the ninth verse: “Let love be without dissimulation. Ashore that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay saith, the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21).