Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 13 - 14 ...
"LOVE" ... is the greater work of the Holy Spirit ... greater than any spiritual gift. Love is not a spiritual gift given to just some believers, but rather, is the fruit of the Spirit given to all who are in Christ Jesus (Galatians 5:22). John makes it clear in his first letter to the churches that those who do not love God's children do not know Christ. So what is "love"?
Many have attempted to answer that question, but all such efforts are destined to fail because you cannot improve on God's definition (13:4-7). The love Paul is speaking about is an internal compass that always points toward God. It is an inner motivation that compels us to act on behalf of God in the Church and in the world: "... the love of Christ compels us" (II Corinthians 5:14). Knowing God's love in Christ and being filled with His Spirit, believers overflow with Christ's love and become "agents of love." This inner principle to act in a loving way is the work of the Spirit. So Paul's opening words in Chapter 13, if I "have not love, I gain nothing!" (13:3).
Now, lest you and I fall into the temptation to make this love what so many do today ... a mere emotion to be poured like syrup over those with whom we come in contact, in the hope that we might make them "sweet" by our "sugary" disposition, this love is deeper and more intentional in its desire to serve Christ. It is expressed in relationships with others, particularly in the Body of Christ, where forgiveness is displayed and truth is proclaimed. Such love outlasts prophecies, tongues, knowledge and any other spiritual gift, because it forms the basis of life in eternity, in the new heaven and earth, in the presence of God, where we will love as we are loved. This kind of love is found nowhere but in the true Church, in those born again by the Spirit, those who are followers of Christ, because only we are united to Christ.
The context of Paul’s words in Chapter 14 goes back to Chapters 11 and 12. These are not general instructions for mankind, but rather, for those who know Christ and who are gathered together in one Body, living as God's family, and worshiping Him alone. We who are united to Christ must and will be concerned about what pleases God and not ourselves. So Paul states, "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy" (14:1).
What follows is a comparison of the value of speaking in a tongue or prophesying. Of course, we need to understand what speaking in a tongue and prophesying ARE! Based on Acts 2, I, and many others, are convinced that speaking in a tongue means the ability to speak a foreign language. Nothing Paul says in Chapter 14 would appear to contradict this interpretation. When he talks about "uttering mysteries with his spirit" (14:2), "speaking intelligible words" (14:9, 19) or some of his other phrases, the case he makes is that speaking in other tongues was "a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers" (14:22). The purpose of tongues was to enable someone to speak in a language unknown to them so that someone who didn't speak their language would be able to understand and be amazed at God's power at work in the speaker. When Paul says, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church," he is pointing out that only when a message is interpreted does it benefit those who hear it. Speaking in another language may edify the believer by confirming that the Spirit is at work within them, but it does not benefit others.
AND, what about the message? This is where the biggest problem has arisen in the area of spiritual gifts. Paul says, "If I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?" (14:6). Paul was speaking of himself as an apostle, and if we go forward to his second letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 12, verse 12, we read, "The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance.” In I Corinthians 12, verses 27-31, he states that not all are apostles or prophets or teachers, and that not all work miracles or have gifts of healing or speak in tongues or interpret tongues. So why do some today teach to the contrary?
Coming back to 14:6, Paul was cautioning the Church about listening to anyone without discerning where their "message" was coming from. In verse 26, it appears that everyone wanted to be heard and it was a "free-for-all," one trying to outdo the other. Paul gives them guidelines in verse 27 and says that even if someone is able to speak in another language, he should not do so unless someone else is there to interpret, to hear what they have to say - otherwise it does not build up the Church. It should be said here that "revelation, knowledge, prophecy and word of instruction" all refer to understanding of Scripture, not to some new revelation that cannot be confirmed by God's Word. In comparing speaking in tongues to prophecy, Paul says he would prefer that they all prophesy - rightly interpret God's Word. In fact, he says, "in the Church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue" (14:19).
Think about the CHURCH ... CHRIST's Church! HE makes the rules, He sets the guidelines. Paul speaks here and in I Timothy 2:11-12 about women not having teaching authority over men. God's Word elsewhere speaks of the equality of men and women in our relationship to Christ (Galatians 3:28). Having given the instruction, Paul writes, "Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored" (14:36-38).
Read these chapters again and listen to what God says about HIS Church and hear what HE says about what pleases HIM. How ironic that debates about the gifts of the SPIRIT should divide the very Body they are intended to unite. Pray that God would open your mind to LISTEN to the very words inspired by His Spirit. It's about the Church, Christ's Body, and the glory of the One who is its Head.
"Father, You sent Your Son to gather a people to belong to You and to glorify Your Name. By Your Spirit You empower Your people to live together in love and unity. Help us, Father, in this day, to hear Your voice and to edify Christ's body, so that the Church may be the beautiful bride Christ desires us to be. In Jesus' name, Amen"