January 2014 Scripture of the Month
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3
31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling 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, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 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 profiteth me nothing.
You may be familiar with Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts and the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. In a nutshell, the apostle’s points in this chapter are these: 1) the Spirit gives many different spiritual gifts to all the members of the church; 2) the church is Christ’s body, consisting of many members each with special functions; 3) every member is necessary to the proper operation of the body; and 4) we ought to covet (better: earnestly desire) the best spiritual gifts.
We all know about spiritual gifts. This topic has been a source of much discussion and debate over the centuries of the Christian era. We debate whether some still exist, what is their purpose, what forms they take, when in life they are given, etc. Are we paying too much attention to this?
Looking at what Paul says next, it is apparent that maybe we are. Paul says that he is showing us “a more excellent way” to spend our lives rather than seeking and displaying spiritual gifts. We must keep our priorities straight. According to what Paul says in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13, this way of life is vital. All the spiritual gifts ever given are nothing if we do not have this key trait (vv. 1-2). Even the high calling of some to literally “lose all for Jesus” and become martyrs for Him (v. 3); even this is nothing, if we do not have this all-important quality of life. It is the feature that defines what our life as a Christian ought to be like.
The key word for this way of life is “love” (“charity” in the KJV). This “love” has a much different meaning than the way it is usually used in modern English. The Greek for “charity” throughout 1 Corinthians 13 and the majority of references to “love” in the Bible is agape. This type of love, one of four found in the Greek language, demands unconditional affection and benevolence. It often means giving people what they need versus what they want.
Agape is the type of love that no human has naturally. Eros, erotic love, is all too prevalent; Storge, family love, is probably the most natural love of all, since it is the first love any human feels; and even Phileo, which is important in the Scriptures, focuses on the affection involved in the love, rather than the decision to love. Any human can show affection. It takes Christ living in us to show true and unblemished agape love. Furthermore, because of the old man still living in us, no Christian is able show perfect agape love from day to day. This makes agape a very elusive goal. The Lord is calling us to this hope, to be perfect and complete in Him (Matthew 5:48). We will be fully completed and perfected one day when the kingdom of God is manifested in all its glory; but until then, we are called to continually be made more mature in Christlike love. There is always room for improvement. While the term “God’s children” is used often for Christians, the Bible never refers to “God’s adults”. We are growing up, but are never fully mature – that is, until we receive our eternal reward in the glorious day to come.