Dr. C. S. Lovett's
MARANATHA FAMILY NEWSLETTER
"Apostle Paul" Painting by L. Lovett © 1995
WHEN SPIRITUAL GIFTS ARE NOT ENOUGH
The apostle Paul honored the gifts of the Spirit and was passionate about them. They were essential to his ministry. In fact, in his first letter to the Corinthians, he devoted all of Chapter 12 to the operation of spiritual gifts. However, no matter how exciting and beautiful those gifts are in operation, they are useless unless they are ministered in love. The apostle was passionate about that too.
He was so committed to the ministry of the gifts in love, he devoted Chapter 13 of his great letter to that very thing. Some have called this the greatest, strongest, and deepest thing Paul ever wrote. Having told the Corinthians he was going to show them something higher than the gifts, he plunges directly into this powerful chapter.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3 NASB).
Don’t think the apostle is moving away from the subject of gifts with this chapter, he isn’t. He is simply taking a moment to emphasize that love is more important than any of the gifts and without it—the gifts are themselves valueless. If we don’t keep in mind that he is still dealing with the problems at Corinth, we’ll miss the point of this chapter. The misuse of the gift of tongues, the jealousies, and divisions as well as their behavior in public meetings, were terrible abuses that disgraced the Lord.
DOES PAUL HAVE A PARTICULAR GIFT IN MIND?
It is clear the apostle was referring to speaking in tongues, the gift so highly prized by the Corinthians. Why? Because it was so spectacular. This practice led to all sorts of abuses.
We may understand this gift as working in two ways:
1. Speaking in languages one has not learned, such as occurred at Pentecost (Acts 2:4).
2. Ecstatic utterances of unintelligible sounds, which people blurt out in moments of spiritual excitement—or in moments of prayer (1 Cor. 14:2).
We find both of these modes in operation at Corinth. The fact that the apostle mentions communicating with angels opens this passage to considerable speculation. No one knows what Paul meant by his reference to angels, but it is probably connected to the ecstatic utterances. This may explain why some today think of tongues as a “heavenly language”—and would explain their fascination with them.
The phenomenon of ecstatic utterances was apparently limited to Corinth. None of the other churches seemed to have this problem. In any event, Paul says they are worthless apart from love. This is likely why he doesn’t list tongues as a gift of the Spirit.
IT CAN ALL BE MEANINGLESS
If the gifts of the Spirit are not exercised in love, says Paul, then they are obviously being used for self-glory. There may be ego satisfaction derived from displaying the spectacular gifts, but God, Who gives those gifts, derives no benefit from them. The loveless speaker really gains nothing. No matter what great insights he might have, and what powers he might display, as well as a dedication so great he would be willing to be burned alive—there’s no profit for him in any of it—unless he uses it in love.
Having shown that love is clearly higher than all of the gifts, the apostle goes on to extol the virtues of love:
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant” (vs. 4).
First Paul notes that love is not touchy, but slow to wrath. It’s hard to provoke the one who loves, for he reacts with kindness toward those who abuse him. He keeps no record of the injuries inflicted on him, but forgets them, retaining no memory of them. Since boasting doesn’t benefit others, the one who loves never brags about himself. He doesn’t get puffed up no matter what gift he might possess.
“Does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered” (vs. 5).
Paul’s point is that love avoids a whole range of unkind acts and attitudes, to the place where even the highest gifts avail nothing without it. Seeking one’s own interest is destructive, and the Corinthian church was shot through with this sin. Apparently, some in the church were puffed up because of their gifts, and it resulted in divisions. That’s when a gift becomes destructive. Others were exhibiting their gifts even when it didn’t profit the rest of the congregation. Paul says love would never do that.
“Does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (vss. 6 & 7).
The reason love can stand up to anything is because it is resourceful and inventive. This love is active and figures out ways to draw on its resources in the Lord. Love refuses to be defeated, knowing there is always hope as long as there is life. Beyond that, love knows that God has set boundaries beyond which testings and trials are not allowed to go so that we can handle it. In 1 Cor. 10:13, Paul guarantees these Corinthians that God will always provide a way of escape from any temptation beyond their ability to endure. That’s why love can endure so much.
WILL THESE GIFTS LAST FOREVER?
“Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (vss. 8-10).
Again, the apostle has made it clear that even the highest gifts are useless without love, but now he goes beyond that to point out that the gifts are temporary and meant for a limited time only. In comparison to what awaits us, they are childish. That puts a different light on the gifts. They are simply tools the Spirit is pleased to use for the time being and should not be viewed as more than that. Those who seize upon these gifts as a way of exalting themselves, overlook the fact that they are focusing on elementary stuff and not acting in love.
The Corinthians were like children playing with toys, often trading away the future for the present. The gifts of knowledge, prophecies, and tongues belong to this age, serving only a present need in our day. Love, on the other hand, is not limited to this age at all. It is eternal. The moment this age ends, the gifts will vanish, but love won’t.
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (vss. 9 & 10).
WHY THE CHILDHOOD EXAMPLE?
The apostle cites the example of childhood versus adulthood to put the gifts of the Spirit in proper perspective. Children start off life with their toys and playthings but abandon them as they reach maturity.
In this way, Paul likens the gifts of the Spirit to children’s toys which believers should abandon upon reaching a more adult stage of their development in Christ. The final stage is reached when we meet the Lord in the sky. Believers will then function at an advanced level, learning such things as traveling at the speed of thought. Who needs tongues when you can communicate mind to mind?
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (vs. 13 NIV).
Faith and hope are both temporary. Faith won’t be needed when we’re face to face with Jesus. Hope will be totally unnecessary as well, for we will already have what we’ve hoped for. Paul says, “Hope that is seen is not hope” (Rom. 8:24). Even when the millennial kingdom is over, and Jesus has delivered up His Sonship to God, love will remain the essential character of eternity (1 Cor. 15:28).
Paul has completed his discourse on why having the gifts is not enough. Why did he bother? Because this church he is trying to help is plagued with a serious problem which they never should have had. There was contention among them because they were comparing their gifts and envying what each other had—particularly the gift of tongues. He has explained that the gifts have nothing to do with one’s spirituality or closeness to God or even how good or bad he is, and that the Holy Spirit awards them according to His own plan.
Any gift displayed in pride and not for the benefit of others is an abused gift and can be damaging to the fellowship. The furor over tongues, which appears to be particular to the Corinthian church, would end immediately if Paul’s teaching in these chapters were taken to heart and applied. But we know they were not applied, for when we go to Second Corinthians, we find Paul still challenging them to grow up.
I have tried to present the problems Paul faced in trying to help his beloved Corinthians. He loved them and took great pains in trying to deal with them by letter. Surely God planned it this way, that we might have the benefit of the apostle’s. . .
WISDOM IN WRITING.
C. S. Lovett
Copyright © 2018 Personal Christianity
Are you prepared to meet the Lord? How do you prepare yourself and those you care about? Dr. Lovett’s book The Prepared Life can help you do just that. Topics include heaven, the Holy Spirit, prayer, witnessing, spiritual gifts and more. The book sells for $13.99 and is available on Amazon.com HERE. You may also be interested in the newly-revised 2018 version of Dealing with the Devil also available on Amazon.com HERE.
SINCE YOU ASKED!!
Question: “Around the holidays, many Christians are lonely, sad, and hurting. They see others with families and gatherings, having a joyous time. It’s a joyless time for them. They even contemplate suicide, and some, unfortunately, do take their own lives. Can a Christian commit suicide and still go to heaven?”
Answer: The answer is yes. Why? Because suicide is a sin and there is no sin that cannot be forgiven except blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Suicide is as forgivable as any sin. What a person does, cannot change who he is. Consider the illustration of a mother with two sons. One is a killer and sent to prison for life, the other is a doctor and a great blessing to humanity. Is the doctor any more his mother’s son because he is a doctor? Is the criminal any less his mother’s son because he’s a murderer? What a person does cannot change the fact of his birth, any more than a leopard can change his spots. Christians are born of God. The only way one can become a Christian is by being born into God’s family. Once he is, nothing can change it. There may be some consequences for his misdeeds, but that is another matter.
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