Today’s selected reading continues in the first epistle of the apostle Paul in the New Testament which was written unto the saints which were at Corinth. More specifically, today’s passages is found in the first eleven verses of the fourteenth chapter. When you come to the fourteenth chapter of the first epistle of Paul unto the Corinthians you will find the apostle Paul transitioning from writing and speaking about charity and its place within the body to the practice of the gifts within the body. If you read chapters twelve, thirteen and fourteen of this epistle you will find the apostle speaking to and addressing specific areas within the body of Christ. Within the first nine verses of the twelfth chapter of the twelfth chapter you will find the apostle Paul writing concerning the nine gifts of the Spirit which were given unto the body. As the chapter progresses, however, the apostle Paul transitions away from the nine gifts of the Spirit given unto the members of the body to the actual presence of the members of the body. I have previously written that the single greatest gift given for and unto the body is Jesus Christ who Himself is the Head of the Church, for He have Himself willingly as a sacrifice on behalf of it. Upon His resurrection and subsequent ascension and return to the right hand of His Father in heaven, Jesus proceeded to give something invaluable to and for the body—namely, the Holy Spirit who is the Comforter and Spirit of Truth. With Christ who is the head having already given Himself on behalf of the body and giving the promise of the Holy Spirit which is the promise of the Father, the Spirit then proceeds to not only give gifts unto the members, but also the members themselves.
I am convinced that it is by deliberate and intentional design the apostle Paul transitioned from the gifts of the Spirit to the actual members of the body, for as surely and certainly as the gifts were given unto the members, the members were given unto the body. The apostle Paul emphatically and without r derivation wrote that the body is not made up of a single member, but is made up of many members—each and every member having their own place within the body. Scripture makes it very clear that the Head of the Church has given each individual member to the body and has strategically placed each member within the body. When writing concerning this reality recently I presented question whether or not my readers were aware of the fact that they are a gift given unto the body for the sake of the body. We spend a considerable amount of time focusing on the gifts of the Spirit, and even upon the gifts of apostles, prophets, Evangelist’s, pastors and teachers, yet we rarely focus on the reality that the individual members of the body are just as much a gift as the gifts and ministers of the body. In fact, the apostle Paul goes on to write that the less honorable and less comely members of the body are given greater honor within the body than perhaps those who are in the spotlight and limelight. What’s more, is that we tend to focus solely on the nine gifts of the Spirit because more often than not they are more visible and vocal within the body, yet we fail to understand that there are gifts given unto the body that are neither seen nor heard which are more valuable than the gifts themselves.
Once the apostle Paul sets forth to explain and present the significance of the individual members of the body he immediately transitions to writing about the greatest demonstration among and within the members of the body—love. When the apostle Paul concludes the twelfth chapter of this epistle he sets the stage for his readers by revealing unto them a more excellent way. When you come to the thirteenth chapter of the same epistle you will find that it is possible for the gifts to be in operation without, apart from and in spite of love. As valuable as the individual gifts of the Spirit are, the apostle Paul sets forth the powerful reality that the gifts absent the demonstration and manifestation of love profit absolutely nothing. The apostle Paul writes that prophecy, faith, speaking in tongues or angels and men, and even giving of our goods to feed the poor at meaningless without love. The more I read the words of the apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter the more I am convinced that it is possible to minister without and apart from love. I am convinced there are men and women among us in the body who might very well be engaged in full time ministry and yet everything they do and nothing they do is from a place of love. There are men and women who mate even be good at ministry within the body, and yet their ministry is not, and perhaps has never been motivated by and from a place of love. Permit me to be bold for a moment and ask what motivates your ministry within and among the body. What is it that causes you to engage in ministry among the members of the body? I would dare say that ministry absent and apart from a genuine demonstration and manifestation of love might be nothing more than a clanging symbol and a noisy gong. What’s more, is I can’t help but wonder how much of the ministry we do in the name of and for Jesus who is both Christ and Lord is done from a genuine and authentic place of love. GIFTS ABSENT LOVE! I find it absolutely incredible that while the apostle Paul wrote concerning the gifts of the Spirit as being given unto the body, he proceeds to write that gifts absent love profit absolutely nothing. In other words—it is so easy to get caught up in the gifts that we lose the true spirit that exists around the gifts.
When seeking to understand that which the apostle Paul is wiring in the fourteenth chapters, I am convinced that it is necessary for us to examine specific key verses within these three chapters. In the opening verse of the twelfth chapter the apostle Paul writes “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (1 Corinthians 12:1). In verses four through seven of the same chapter we find the following words written by the apostle “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which workers all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). In the eleventh verse of this same chapter we find these words written by the apostle “But all these workers that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will” (1 Corinthians 12:11). In verses twelve through fourteen we find a powerful description of the placement of the individual members of the body: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Corinthians 12:12/14). In verdes eighteen through twenty we find the following words “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleaded Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:18-20). In verses twenty-two through twenty-seven we find the following words “Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant Ho our; and our unconditional parts have mot abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Corinthians 12:22-25).
In the twenty-seventh verse of the twelfth chapter we find the apostle Paul declaring “Now he are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Verses twenty-eight through thirty of this same chapter we read the following words concerning the body of Christ and ministry within the body: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:28-30). The apostle Paul truly sets the stage for what he writes within the thirteenth chapter with the final words of this chapter found in the thirty-first verse: “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). The question we must ask ourselves when reading this particular passage is what is this more excellent way? The apostle Paul had just spent a considerable amount of time writing concerning the gifts of the Spirit, as well as the placement of each individual members within the body. The apostle Paul had just spoken concerning apostles, prophets and teachers as being set within the church, and then certain gifts of the Spirit—i.e. miracles, gifts of healings, helps, governments and diversified of tongues. Immediately following this the apostle Paul goes on to further reveal the diversities within the body as not all share the same office or administration, nor even the same gifts, and yet there is one factor that unites each and every member of the body regardless of gift or office. In all reality, I am convinced that this reality alone could have been the underlying reason why the apostle Paul referenced a more excellent way, for there as one thing that each and every member of the body could each share—love. While it is true that each and every member of the body does not and will not share the same gifts, or even the same office and administration, they can, however, and do ultimately share the common denominator which is love.
The more excellent way which the apostle Paul wrote about could be referenced as such because of the diversities of operations, because of the diversities of gifts, and because of the differences of administrations. I am convinced that one of the things that makes the body of Christ so unique—in addition to it being comprised of various nations, various tongues, various languages and the like—is the diversities and differences what surround and center upon the different gifts and different offices. It is true that we each have our own place within the body of Christ, and within the church, yet there is one thing each and every one of us can demonstrate and manifest, which is love. There would be those within the body of Christ who would boast concerning the various spiritual gifts they may be permitted to steward, yet I cannot help but wonder how many men and women boast of the ability to engage in, demonstrate and manifest love for and toward the brethren. It is very easy to boast of the office we might be permitted to steward within the body of Christ, however, we were never given the ability to serve within an office to boast of our position and/or rank. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—when was the last time you boasted of your ability to love? Please note that what I am speaking of is not necessarily your ability to love, but rather of your willingness to love, and the absolute joy and privilege you have to love others. I am utterly and convinced that one of—if not the most rewarding opportunities we as the members of the body of Christ have is to exercise, demonstrate and manifest love one toward another. The apostle Paul recognized that we don’t all share the same gifts, and that we each have our own unique role and place within the body, yet regardless of what place we are within the body, we can walk in this more excellent way. The ability to walk in and demonstrate love is not exclusive to any specific office, nor any specific administration, nor any specific gift that one might be privileged to steward but to and for all members of the body.
When you begin reading the thirteenth chapter of this first epistle to the Corinthian congregation you will find the apostle Paul as placing an extreme emphasis and importance on love in the context of the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, when you begin reading the thirteenth chapter you will find the following words written by the apostle Paul: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and or angels, and have not charity, I am become as wound it brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though 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 bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it orofiterh me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Within this context of spiritual gifts and the placement of the individual members of the body the apostle Paul speaks of the absolutely supremacy of love over and above the gifts of the Spirit, and even the offices and administrations within the body. We dare not seek to elevate the gifts of the Spirit over and above love, and even the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, I would dare say there is a powerful connection between Paul’s definition of love within this passage and the fruit of the Spirit. Consider if you will the words the apostle Paul uses to define love unto the Corinthian congregation: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind: charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seekers not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh 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: but where there are prophecies they shall fail; whether there He tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge it shall vanish away” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). These words are actually quite powerful, for the apostle Paul sets forth very succinctly and clearly that love triumphs over all and trumps everything. There would be countless churches and congregations that would emphasize the gifts of the Spirit, and they might even boast of the various gifts that are in operation in their midst, yet they are sorely deficient and lacking in love.
I have spent a considerable amount of time writing concerning this Corinthian congregation and how while it is true they were a congregation that did not lack in spiritual gifts, they were a carnal and divided congregation. With that being said I would also state that this congregation may very well have had the gifts in operation, yet they had the evidence and manifestation of gifts without and apart from the demonstration of love. Perhaps the single greatest question that is running through my mind right now is what ministry apart from love actually looks like. What does Christian service without and apart from love look like among us without our midst? What does that congregation look like that may have all the gifts I operation, yet they have no demonstration and manifestation or love. How many of us and how many times have we sought to engage ourselves in Christian service, and we have done so without and from a place absent love? I can’t help but wonder how many churches and congregations among us within this generation may very well have the gifts of her Spirit in full operation, and yet those gifts don’t flow from a place of love. I am convinced that it is possible to engage ourselves in preaching without and apart from prayer just as much as it is possible to engage ourselves in ministry without and apart from love. The apostle Paul places an incredible emphasis on love when he states that tongues, knowledge, prophecy and the like will all fade away, yet love will always remain. A question I can’t help but ask is whether or not there can be an individual congregation that might not have many, if any of the gifts of the Spirit in operation, yet they have on full display a powerful demonstration and manifest Jon of love. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—would you rather have a church and congregation that is absent the gifts, yet had a mighty and powerful demonstration of love, or would you rather have a congregation that has the various gifts of the Spirit, yet has absolutely no demonstration and manifestation of love?
As you read the words of the apostle Paul within these chapters you get the distinct impression that while the gifts of the Spirit are in fact given unto the members of the body for the purpose of ministry within the Church, those gifts must be tempered together with a powerful demonstration and manifestation of love. The apostle Paul emphatically and without reservation states that charity never fails—even when gifts, even when administrations, even when offices, even when individuals and members themselves fail, love never fails. This is actually the most wonderful news for how many times have offices and administrations—even within the Church and body of Christ—completely and totally failed? The apostle Paul states that prophecies can and will fail, that tongues shall cease, and that knowledge shall vanish away, but love will never fade away, nor will it ever fail. Pause for a moment and consider what a tremendous and powerful truth this actually is, for love is the one element or our Christian service and even of our relationship that will never fail. In all reality, I would dare say that where gifts might very well fail—regardless of how powerful they are—love can never and will never fail. Where offices and administrations might fail, the demonstration of true, genuine and authentic love can never and will never fail. Tongues and prophecy can and may very well fail as we attempt to engage in and endeavor in Christian service and ministry, yet love can never and will never fail. What’s more, is that I would state that there might very well be gaps that even gifts and offices and administrations leave in their wake, and yet love does indeed and does in fact fill in those gaps. When even the words we speak fall short and fail in the company and presence of others, true and authentic love that originated from the Father who is love will never fail.
When you come to the end of the thirteenth chapter you not only encounter the supremacy of love and charity over gifts, over administrations, over offices, and the like, but you also see love and charity as set in comparison with faith and hope. At the conclusion of the thirteenth chapter of this epistle the apostle Paul sets forth charity, faith and hope as remaining and abiding, and yet the greatest of these is love. This actually quite astonishing and remarkable when you think about and consider it, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He proceeded to declare that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength. What’s more, is that Jesus proceeded to declare that the second greatest commandment is like unto the first, for the second commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest of these three is love and charity, for what is more powerful within the Church and among the members of the body of Christ than members who love one another and members who truly and genuinely love the Lord their God. Show me a church and body of believers that may not have all the gifts of the Spirit in operation but who demonstrate love one for another, and I will show you a body of believers that can and will change the world. We must remember that Jesus stated that men and women will know that we are His disciples—not only through our keeping His commandments, but also by the fruit we bear, and the love we demonstrate one to another. I firmly believe that tongues, that prophecy, that gifts can and will cease and fail and fade away, yet love can and will always remain and will always endure and outlast anything that comes against it. It is absolutely imperative that we recognize and understand what tremendous power love and charity have, for they remain and abide in the harshest of elements and when everything around is failing and fading away. Oh that we would read the words of the apostle Paul and that we would covet earnestly this more excellent way of love, which has never, can never, and will never fail.
When the fourteenth chapter of this epistle opens, it opens with the apostle Paul instructing the Corinthian congregation to follow charity, and to desire spiritual gifts. The apostle Paul would spend a considerable amount of time within this particular chapter providing instruction to this congregation on how to move and operate in the spiritual gifts which were given. I do not find it to be any coincidence that in between the description of the gifts and the instruction on how to move and operate in and with the gifts the apostle Paul wrote and spoke of love. I am convinced it is possible for men and women to move and operate in spiritual gifts and yet to abuse those gifts. I believe with all my heart that love must stand out at the forefront of any exercising of spiritual gifts for it is possible for men and women to use such gifts to achieve and accomplish their own selfish agenda and purposes. Much like Simon the sorcerer who thought he could purchase the gift, or the seven sons of Sceva who thought they could make a feeble attempt to operate in the gifts without and apart relationship with Jesus, men and women seek to misuse and abuse the gifts given by the Spirit. It is possible for men and women to use the gifts of the Spirit to manipulate those around them into giving money and finances or to do that which is unseemly and uncomely of them. There are men and women who would dare use the gifts of the Spirit as a means to elevate themselves within and among the body, and to turn a profit from the use of such gifts. The question I can’t help but wonder is whether or not men and women should even make an attempt to move in, operate in and exercise the gifts of the Spirit if they aren’t willing to walk in love and follow charity.
I believe the apostle Paul was emphasizing the fact that it is okay to desire, and perhaps even to covet the gifts of the Spirit, but to never covet or desire them above love itself. There are men and women who have coveted and have desired the gifts of the Spirit, and yet they have allies love to get lost in translation or thrust to the wind. There are men and women who may very well desire the gifts of the Spirit—much like they do the anointing of the Spirit—and yet they completely and ignore the overwhelming need for love to be evidenced, demonstrated and manifested within their lives. I am convinced that there has been much damage and harm that has been done when men and women have desired and coveted the spiritual gifts, and may even move and operate in them, and yet they throw love and charity to the wind as though it is nothing to be desired or attained. The sad reality is that there are countless men and women who are drawn to and impressed by gifts, and yet Jesus never declared that we would be known by our gifts. It was Jesus who declared that His disciples and followers will be known by their fruit, and yet countless men and women would seek to be known by gifts. I am convinced the only true way for the gifts of the Spirit to be properly in order and exercised within the body is when they naturally flow from love as men and women follow charity and walk in love. The gifts of the Spirit cannot truly work the way they are intended to if and unless men and women aren’t willing to allow those gifts to be demonstrated and manifested from charity and love. It wasn’t the manifestation of the gifts which propelled Jesus to heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cast out devils, but rather love, and charity and compassion. The gifts of the Spirit must be equally matched within one’s life and ministry with the fruit of the Spirit, for gifts absent and without fruit can never truly accomplish that which the Father, Spirit and Son desired them to.