Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Most Excellent Way

If you are Bible quizzing this year, you probably know that I Corinthians 12 talks about spiritual gifts; Paul gives several examples of abilities that God gives believers: healing, teaching, speaking and interpreting tongues, prophecy, and discerning spirits, to name a few. He specifically points outs that just as a body has many parts that have different functions that are each necessary, the many gifts of the members of the church are all important, and should work together to form a cohesive whole. Paul goes on in chapter 14, explaining how tongues and prophecy are best used.

But wait; chapter twelve… chapter fourteen. What’s missing from this picture? Chapter thirteen, of course! EVERYONE knows I Corinthians 13 – the famous “love chapter,” that you’ve heard at every wedding you’ve ever been to!

Now, why would Paul put the love chapter right in the middle of talking about spiritual gifts? Maybe part of the reason is that, in the first place, the spiritual gifts are “given for the common good” (I Cor 12:7). We have them in order to build each other up, and bond us together; and what is more for the common good than to love each other?

But Paul goes beyond this: as he introduces the love chapter, he calls it “the most excellent way.” The reason he puts love sandwiched between chapters twelve and fourteen, is that love is a spiritual gift. Not only that, but he says love is the greatest spiritual gift. This was a revelation to me when I first read it. We don’t tend to think of love as a spiritual gift; in fact, just the word love gets so overused in our cultural, that it often gets overlooked altogether. Do we really think of love as "the most excellent way?"

We have a tendency to look at people with other gifts and think how spiritual they are; if you have ever heard someone prophesy, or heal, or know someone who has given everything up to minister to the unsaved in a far-off country, then you know how easy it is to look at that person and think, "Wow.  If they can do that... they must be right with God."

Skip to John 13:35 for a moment.  To set the stage, Jesus is at the Last Supper with his disciples.  He has just washed their feet, he knows that he is about to be betrayed and crucified. It's a critical moment; the words he chooses just before he gives his life will carry special weight when his disciples look back on it later.  "By this all men will know that you are my disciples," he says, "if you ___________________.” What?  Have perfect theological teaching? Demonstrate miraculous powers?  NO! "If you love one another."

And decades later, what does Paul say?  Paraphrasing, he says, "So what, if I could speak the language the angels speak? Or if I could understand all of God's mysteries, or if he gave me so much power I could lift a mountain?  Or, if I gave away every single thing I own... what good is it?  Unless I have love, it counts for exactly ...NOTHING!”

After a description of exactly how love looks, he concludes: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."  Why these three, and why is love the greatest? Because they are what is really necessary to be alive in Christ in this life, but only love will last forever:
  Faith is that we believe and trust without having seen (Heb 11:1); when we join the Lord, faith is no longer needed! 
  Hope, not in the sense that we wish for something to happen, but like a trapped man has hope when  rescue is coming  (Eph 1:18); in this life, we hope as we wait for the great promises God has for us -- but when those promises are fulfilled, our waiting will be over! 
  Love will continue to grow after everything else has been fulfilled.  In heaven, the love we experience from God and show towards others will be ever more perfect, building upon itself over and over for the rest of eternity.

This devotional was delivered by Adam Borries 
at the Oct 10, 2009 Bible Quiz meet.

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