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Saturday, November 20, 2010

A More Excellent Way

We now come to the conclusion of our lengthy study on miracles in a post I have titled "A More Excellent Way." Alas! It is not a phrase I invented. It comes from the first letter of Paul to the church at Corinth, as he discusses miracles (which obviously existed at the time) and introduces our text.

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 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.


(1Co 12:28-31)
Paul teases us here. He says there is something greater than knowing the Lord personally, in the flesh as an apostle, greater than being a mighty prophet or a wise teacher, greater even than working tremendous miracles! There is one way which lasts longer than miracles - it lasts longer than even faith! In 1 Corinthians 13, he tells us what this way is.
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.


(1Co 13:1-3)
The ability to speak miraculously without love is just annoying, Paul says. If we spout prophecy and are as wise as Solomon, so faithful that God would answer our every prayer, but lack love - WE are nothing. If we give every ounce of ourselves to other people and to good works, but do not do it because of love in our hearts, it is useless to us.

We then return to something which I have discussed before. It is hard to be a Christian. Paul says that we may have every outward appearance of power and piety - we can even do good works - but it is the state of our heart which matters. If my heart is cold and hardened - what of anything else? I must soften my heart to love and to pain so that I may truly give myself out, being transformed day by day in God's image. True Christianity is not a list of rules to be followed or tasks to be completed, the Bible clearly says here.

But when we have love, all of the rest of these things will come. While we are not gifted with miracles anymore, we may be filled with faith and the guidance of the Holy Spirit once we really love and devote ourselves to our Lord. Once we have love, we will naturally give our goods to the poor - because we love them. If we truly love those who are unsaved, of course we will be martyred if a seed in their heart might be nourished by our blood!

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


(1Co 13:4-7)
Love is patient, kind and not jealous! Of course love is patient, because it is considerate of others. Of course love is kind, because kindness is the natural fruit of caring. Note that jealous here is different than the word jealous used when the LORD says "I am a jealous God." The kind of jealousy here is really envy. I see that you have something and I want to take it from you and have it for myself. Love does not feel that way, because love is pleased when you do well. Love does not brag and is not arrogant because love is not concerned with itself. Contrasted with the modern doctrine "me-me-me," love cares more about others than itself, as God cared more about us than His own suffering when He died for our sins. Love does not behave unbecomingly or undecently - if by nature we are opposed to some decorum, but we have love, we will behave according to that standard so we will not cause another to stumble. If a missionary goes somewhere that a fork is rude, it is in love that he eats with his fingers, so he might become all things to all men. We are no different on the homefront. Love does not seek its own! What a terrible thing to say! Jesus put it differently, "If any man will follow me, he must deny himself." If I have the real love of God, I will not seek my own interests - but yours. Love is not provoked and does not take into account a wrong suffered. Why? Because love does not like being angry. Solomon warns us in Proverbs against associating with an angry person, because they drag us down into their anger. Someone complete (or perfected) in love will not let themselves be provoked and will not keep a record of what others have done to them, because it would only cause strife. There are time of just anger, but usually we get angry because it is pleasing to our flesh to tear others down. Love has no pleasure in such things. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. We might see someone else's sin and think that the greatest love for them would be to support them. The Mighty, Everlasting God disagrees. He who is perfect in love lives in the light and rejoices in truth, but shuns sin. That is why a God of love has a Hell. Because love cannot rejoice in things which tear down and love must also contain justice. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Because love does not seek to protect itself, love will tolerate abuse and will endure. Love will trust the Word of God and love will hope for all things, not falling into pessimism, because the power of love is that it believes.

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. 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.


(1Co 13:8-12)
Love is yesterday, today and forever, because God is love (1 John 4:8). Love is the one eternal constant. While miracles passed away with the perfection of the Scriptures, love remains. The miraculous events of the New Testament were the foundations of our belief, when our faith was still in its infancy. Now that it is complete - now that all we need is contained in the precious Bible, we are mature and come into love. To read our Bible and to experience the true kind of love Paul is talking about here is to see God face to face. No more does one person see prophecy and another have inspiration to write a book of the Bible, but we all have it all.

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.


(1Co 13:13)

With miracles passed, three supernatural gifts remain: faith, hope and love. We may only have these things by the power of God. In the present age, we have faith and hope because we have not seen Christ with our own eyes.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.


(Heb 11:1)
But when Christ returns, or we die and go into heaven, we will have the salvation we have hoped for and see Him whom we have believed. So, love alone never fails (1 Cor. 13:8). Even faith and hope will pass away. But before there were men, there was love. God has always been and always will be. When mankind was created, there was a need for faith and hope and shortly after, for miracles. The need for miracles has passed away and the need for hope and faith will pass away, but the need for love is eternal. The love here is not brotherly love or romantic love. The Greek word is different for each of those kinds of love. The kind here is agape - love that is perfect. It does not depend on the lovableness of the beholder and is unconditional. We might feel romantic or brotherly love based on the object of our affection, but the kind of love Paul has written about is strictly the product of God dwelling within.

True, Godly love has been described very plainly today. If you are not experiencing this supernatural gift, there could be two reasons. The first is that you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal saviour, so God has not indwelled you. Maybe you are trusting in your good works - but without the love that only God can give, it is nothing. You are, being sinful, too polluted for God to dwell within you. But if you trust in the Jesus who shed His blood for you (right now - no one ever promised you would wake up tomorrow), He will perform a miracle greater than any other - He will make you a new creature, freed and cleansed from sin, impossible to pollute ever again. There is no magic prayer to say, no set of words I can give you as an incantation to freedom. But talking to God like you would talk to anyone else, admitting you are a sinner and asking for Him to forgive you through Jesus' death and to help you turn your life around is enough. Your soul will be remade and will wait only the day when your body is repaired like your soul when the Lord returns. You can then use the love He has given you to perform good works and study His Word (the Bible) to mature in Him and slowly deepen the control this love has over your life as you learn to have dominion over self and over sin. It is a lifelong journey, but the love will motivate it all.

The second possibility is that you have had simple faith in Christ, but have hardened your heart and shut out your love. Indeed, this probably describes every saved person to some degree. The difference between the backslidden Christian and I is a matter of degree, not of kind. If this describes you, you have to repent. Jesus says that lukewarm Christianity is so disgusting He will spit it out of His mouth. If you are not going to church every time you are able (not just Sunday morning), it is important and you need to. If you are, but your heart is not in it, you must pray for God to break you down and build you back up again as sensitive to His will. If you are not praying all the time, relying on God, start and make your first prayer that He would help you remember to pray and teach you how. If you are not studying your Bible every day, 4 chapters will get you through the entire thing in a year. The Bible is a book God inspired to talk to you. Really think about that. The God who spoke the universe into existence wants to talk to YOU and you may not even be spending a little time in it every day. Lastly, if you are living in sin - run from it. Salt water and fresh water cannot come from the same spring. How can you pray to God with the same mouth that spits profanity, give to His church with the same money that buys booze and porn and do His work with the same hand that strikes someone in anger? You have to stop some things, just as surely as you have to start others. If you want spiritual health, start by being alive. Jesus will help you carry the load.

In conclusion:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.


(1Jn 3:14-20)
Until the next time, may God protect you and provide for you and may you share the gospel this week with someone who will die and go to Hell if you don't bother.



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