1 Cor 13:1-3
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 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, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (NKJV)
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes nine supernatural gifts of the Spirit. In the following chapter, Paul seems to interrupt himself, and speak about love for several verses before continuing his discussion on the technical usage of spiritual gifts.
Often it is easy for us to take 1 Corinthians 13 – the ‘love chapter’ out of its contextual fixture (the discussion of spiritual gifts), and attribute to it some secondary perspective. How often this passage is read at weddings, and to commend the order of love in situations of tension, or friction between people.
Now, let me point out that those are [generally] not misuses of the passage in question, as it is about love, which is applicable everywhere, all the time. It is the primary basis for the Christian faith, and it is [almost] ALWAYS appropriate – even as the passage, itself, says: ‘love never fails,‘ (13:8) and ‘And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love‘ (13:13)
Yet, let us not fail to consider this – the well known ‘love chapter’ would never have been written had Paul not given his exposition on spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12-14). It was not written in the context of his teaching to married couples, it was not written in the context of teaching on church government, it was not even written in the context of accepting the gentiles (the issues of racism, and religious law). You see, love is applicable in all of these situations (and in many more); Paul discussed all of these issues in his letters (and many more), and yet nowhere else does he go on a chapter long tangent about the merits of love. Is that interesting? Have you ever considered that?
This love chapter seems so tainted by its setting to those who deny spiritual gifts, that it must be (by them) used to deny the spiritual gifts. But isn’t it interesting that this great central teaching on love was written ONLY in the context of the usage of spiritual gifts? though this chapter is the very heart and vitals of the teaching Paul wrote us about the gifts!
I think it is worth our time to examine the question: ‘Why is the ‘love chapter’ written in this context?’
Let’s look at the verse following the love chapter.
1 Cor 14:1
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
Follow the way of love. Love is the crucial essence of operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Remember that God is love (1 John 4:8 & 16). The Holy Spirit gives us gifts of love.
Operating in spiritual gifts is MINISTRY. They are for the purpose of… what? Let’s consult Paul, lest I simply make up a reason:
1 Cor 12:7
But the manifestation of the Spirit [in this case, specifically the ‘gifts’ of the Spirit] is given to every man to profit withal.
The gifts of the Spirit are given in order to profit EVERYONE. They are not given for the benefit of aggrandizement. They are not given so I can show off how spiritual I am by given words of knowledge to everyone in the church service. They are given for real, practical benefit.
Have you ever known someone who was sick (or been sick yourself)? Would it be nice if we knew someone who had gifts of healing? God cares about the sick! He LOVES them – that’s why there are gifts of healing!
Every gift of the Spirit is given for the purpose of profiting EVERYONE. Do you have a spiritual gift? Follow the way of love.
This directive is the basis for lawfully operating in the gifts. What else is the point of these things? Do you want to get anointed and sport a red-hot prophecy that will shoot you to the cover of Charisma magazine, or something? Do you want to work powerfully, and get recognized in your church? Not operating in love.
(I may also warn you, for those striving for more of God in this way: it has been my experience (and it is the plain teaching of scripture) that when someone begins operating in real supernatural gifting is when they start really having difficulties, persecutions, and resistance. Operating in the anointing will necessitate that you take up your cross. You may find yourself attacked and rejected by even the most spiritual people you know. Its not really as pie-in the sky as it seems for people who operate in these things for real – pray for those bold enough to operate in spiritual gifts – and love them. Believe me, they need it.)
Follow the way of love. Read through the Gospels sometime, and pay attention to how many times Jesus did something for the people because He was: ‘moved with compassion’ for them. Jesus’ ministry worked on the basis of love. He healed the multitudes because He loved them. He taught the ignorant because He loved them. He spoke directly to the hearts of people, revealing their sins because He loved them. None of that was to show off how spiritual He was. I have no doubt if that was His intention, He’d have done lots more!
One day He will return, and we will see the full manifestation of His power in the fierceness of wrath. You’ll be impressed then, I guarantee it. Yet even that is for what? Love! He will come and deliver His beloved children from the oppression of wicked men, and the empire of Satan – like a father who breaks down the door wielding a baseball bat to save his daughter from an abusive boyfriend. Its not because of hate for the fiend that’s hurting his daughter, but because his love has so overtaken him that he will not stand one more moment and allow harm to come to the one He loves!
All ministry – whether it appears gentle, or strong – must be out of the compulsion of love.
Consider the often quoted story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30-36. A man is mugged, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Two MINISTERS pass on by (a priest, and a levite). These are, surely, busy about their liturgical duties. In the context of Jewish law, it makes sense that they would not want to stop. If they touch a dead body, they will be unclean and will have to set aside time become purified again before they can minister. It would be a great inconvenience for them, and interfere with their ability to minister… but here is the error: WHAT IS THEIR MINISTRY IN THE FIRST PLACE?! How much good are they doing, if they refuse to help a dying man? Their ministry is not compelled by love, but by ritual!
So Paul inserted the love chapter as the spine, squarely between the two shoulder blades of the technical aspects of ministering in spiritual gifts.
Here is the central element of the story of the good Samaritan:
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
Two men had passed before, two spiritual men who had understanding in all the technical aspects of deep spiritual ministry. Maybe they prophesied. Maybe they had a big important spiritual ministry. They had no love for a poor desperate man by the side of the road.
But the Samaritan… now he was busy too, wasn’t he? It says he was on a journey. He was trying to get somewhere. We don’t know where, its not important. The point is he was busy, perhaps more busy than the two ministers who passed by, he wasn’t near home, he was out on the road.
The Samaritan saw the man and was moved with compassion. Follow the way of love.
His compassion moved him to stop what he was doing, and help the man. He was a better minister than the priest and the Levite, wasn’t he? The pagan Samaritan was closer to the heart of God – who acts because of love (John 3:16)!
So it is with spiritual gifts. Eagerly desire the greater gifts. The more spiritual gifts you have, the more you will be able to benefit others in their situation. Have you ever been in a situation where there seemed no hope, and you didn’t know what to do? Would it be nice if someone who loved you was operating in the word of wisdom right about them, and could give you the Word of the Lord, and turn your situation around? I’ve seen the word of wisdom work that way – reveal the perfect supernatural wisdom that no one else thought of, and turn the situation around entirely. Guess what? That’s the purpose of the gift. Because God loves you – He wants to help you.
Try to get spiritual. Try to learn everything you can about the supernatural workings of God. Pray and seek to obtain more, and greater spiritual gifts. But do all that because of love. Do it that ye may be equipped to ‘profit everyone.’
Follow the way of love.