Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, and various kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:27–28)This week, I want you to ponder what Paul wrote next. Read it over and over again until the full weight rests upon your heart as it is upon mine right now.
“All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. 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 Corinthians 12:29–13:31).
Is this really true? We regard apostles and prophets so highly— pastors and teachers too—those who can do miracles and those gifted with the ability to heal. We would pay to meet them. We look at tongues as a supernatural phenomenon; and, frankly, despite Paul’s warning to not overly emphasize or desire tongues (see 1 Corinthians 14, particularly verses 4 and 19), we often do just that, elevating them to the status of the must-have sign/gift. Incomprehensibly, some churches even say that one must speak in tongues as proof of one’s salvation! Paul must be turning in his grave.
According to Paul, the greatest, most miraculous, most supernatural gift was NOT tongues, nor was it any of the other sign gifts; rather, it was for God’s love—in a fallen, self-centered human being—to be present once again in the way we relate to each other.
Recently I spent some time discussing the hot topic of Christian perfection with a dear friend. The subject is so mired in religious abuse and misunderstanding that it’s hard to talk about it honestly. We all think people are saying things they are not. I guess that, for me, the real question surrounds altruism. Is altruism even possible among human beings? Is self-centeredness just something to be managed, or can it actually be reversed?
Are altruism and love even possible for humans? Can we live for something greater than ourselves, the gratification even of our own needs. Is God’s love strong enough to awaken genuine Love in the human race once again? These are the questions worth pondering.
“Unselfishness, the principle of God’s kingdom, is the principle that Satan hates; its very existence he denies. From the beginning of the great controversy he has endeavored to prove God’s principles of action to be selfish, and he deals in the same way with all who serve God. To disprove Satan’s claim is the work of Christ and of all who bear His name.” (E.G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), p. 154.
I’m going to close this week with my favorite passage of Scripture—1 Corinthians 13—taken from Peterson’s The Message:
“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always ‘me first,’
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”
I wish you God’s best this week.