1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. (vv. 1-11)
With this chapter we come to the beginning of a new division of the epistle. From verse 1 of chapter 12 to the end of chapter 14 the subject is the gifts of the Spirit, and the exercise of those gifts in the church, or the assembly of God. When the apostle gives instruction as to behavior in the church he means behavior in the assembly, and that takes in all who are redeemed, grouped into local assemblies.
In the churches of God there are spiritual gifts given for the blessing of all. In the epistle to the Ephesians we read, “When He ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (Eph. 4:8). The Lord desires that His gospel should be preached, that His Word should be expounded, that His people should be built up in their most holy faith, and to this end He has imparted certain spiritual gifts. He has not given the same gifts to everybody, but to all He has given some gift for the blessing of the whole company.
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.” You will notice that the word
gifts is in italics, and yet it appears farther down in verse 4, so we are perhaps justified in using that word. If it were proper to speak of “spirituals” in English, that would seem to be what he wrote in the Greek. The meaning is, concerning spiritual manifestations; there are different ways in which the Spirit of God is manifested, and we should not be ignorant of these. They are called “gifts” because they are given freely by the ascended Christ for the edification of the church and to assist in the proclamation of the gospel.
These Corinthians in their unconverted days knew nothing of this gospel. “Ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.” “Carried away” suggests satanic power, and there is satanic power behind all idolatry. “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to [demons], and not to God” (10:20). There is a terrible demon power working in every idolatrous system, and nothing can deliver from this power but the gospel of the grace of God. Our mission is to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” We do not go necessarily to antagonize people, we do not go to find fault with their religion, but we do go to preach Christ and Him crucified, and as the gospel is preached it delivers people from the satanic power that is working in these false religious systems. There is something that absolutely distinguishes them all from Christianity. They have no place for Jesus Christ, they all unite in calling Him, “Anathema,” accursed.
“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Thus the apostle marks the clear-cut dividing line between Christianity and every system of man’s devices. Christianity exalts Jesus Christ as Lord, these other systems deny His Lordship and rather think of Him as accursed. Even such a system as Islam recognizes Jesus Christ to a certain extent as a prophet of God, but sees Him as the accursed one, and so with every pagan system and so also with Judaism: it has counted Jesus Christ as an accursed one. Therefore the necessity of deliverance from those systems if people would know the truth. “No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” It is by the Holy Spirit that we recognize His Lordship. I wonder whether you have ever taken the trouble to go through this epistle to the Corinthians and count the number of times the apostle uses the title of “Lord” as applied to our blessed Savior. This is the epistle of the Lordship of Christ, and we are called upon to ever recognize His Lordship, that is, His absolute authority over our hearts and lives. When He speaks, we have only to obey. It is not ours to question, it is not ours to reason, it is not ours to ask why, it is ours to do what we are commanded to do, for we are His servants and He is our Lord.
We here read of the entire Trinity in connection with the giving and using of gifts. In verse 4 we have the Holy Spirit, in verse 5, the Lord Jesus Christ, and in verse 6, God the Father. We read in verse 4, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” The one Holy Spirit manifests Himself through the church of God in different ways. We do not all have the same gift, we are not all constituted alike even from the human and intellectual standpoint, and when it comes to spiritual things we do not have the same ministry committed to us. A great many people in our day would be saved from the wildest fanaticism if they realized this. Efforts are made to recognize someone or more of these gifts, and everyone is urged to seek them, and told that if one does not possess them, he does not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in him at all. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” We shall see presently what they are, but the one Spirit operates in each case.
Second, “and there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.” The gift and the manifestation are all of the Spirit of God within the believer, and when it comes to using those gifts all must be in subjection to the Lordship of Christ. If, for instance, God has given me some particular gift, I am not to use that gift whenever and as I think fit, but only in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. At a funeral service some time ago I was put in a rather peculiar position. I was called upon to officiate at the burial of the mother of one of our State Senators in California. The mother had been a very devoted Christian woman, but I did not know whether her son was a Christian or not. There were present a great many of his friends, perhaps seventy-five or more men from the legislature, and naturally I was anxious to use that opportunity to the best of my ability in subjection to God, not only to seek to comfort those who were bereaved, but to present clearly and definitely that precious gospel message which had been the joy of that mother’s heart who had gone home to be with the Lord, for I was not sure that these politicians had heard the gospel for a long time. I was told that this dear lady who had passed away had a number of friends given to the use of a peculiar gift which was designated as “speaking in tongues,” though certainly not that which the Bible speaks of as the gift of tongues. They had a habit of going off into a semi-trance condition and uttering weird sounds. Somebody said, “Now just as you stand up to preach, these women will immediately begin with this weird gift of theirs.” So I said to the undertaker, “There are four people back there by the door. I wish you would keep an eye on them. If you see their jaws begin to work in a peculiar way (I had heard that for a few minutes before they began to make this noise, their jaws would work very peculiarly), you might suggest that they go outside and not remain for the funeral service.” So I began to speak and, sure enough, in a minute or two I saw the jaws begin to work, but the undertaker was on the job and immediately suggested to them that they all leave. In a moment they straightened up, but said with indignation, “This is a gift of God and we are free to use it where we will.” But the undertaker said, “Not here in my undertaking parlor,” and so they were quiet. One might have the most marked gift of God, but that does not mean that he is at liberty to use it wherever he will. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32), and if any are gifted by God, they are to hold that gift in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ and not make spiritual nuisances of themselves. Our blessed Lord’s authority must be recognized in the use of gifts.
Then we read, “There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.” There are different ways by which the Word of God is given out, but it is the same God, and here of course it is God the Father “which worketh all in all.” He may have given to some of you very modest gifts. Your voice may never be heard in public, but you are to use your gift in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ, if only in the quiet place of your home, just as truly as though you were called to preach or to teach in the assembly.
“The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” That is, it is not given for show, it is not given in order that a man may attract attention to himself, but for the edification of others. This in itself is very important. If God gives me any little gift at all, He gives it not that I may gather people about myself, but He gives it to me for the blessing of others, for the salvation of sinners and for the edification of saints. In John the Baptist we have a lovely picture of what every gifted servant of Christ really ought to be. John says, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23). And pointing to the Savior, he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John found his delight in lifting up Christ, not in directing people’s attention to himself. All gifts are given that Christ may be exalted, and in that way others find blessing.
In verse 8 we have these gifts definitely specified. We may not see them all in evidence today, probably there are some of them that we never see. That does not say that they are not in the church. Some insist that some of these gifts have absolutely disappeared, but I do not know of any Scripture that tells us that. I do not know of any Scripture that says that the age of miracles has passed, and I would not dare to say that the sign gifts all ended with Paul’s imprisonment. I know from early church history that this is not true. As the early servants of God followed up the work of the apostles, gifts of healing and other signs were frequently manifested, and if the gift of tongues had fallen into disuse, marvelous help was given to the servants of God to preach in languages of the people that they had never known before. So I do not think it correct to take the ground that these gifts have necessarily disappeared from the church. I do, however, believe that many of them are not often seen today, and I think there is good reason for that.
In the beginning the apostle writes to these very Corinthians, “I have espoused you…as a chaste virgin to Christ.” It was a separated company, the affianced bride of the Lamb, and as this church went forth it was the delight of the blessed risen Lord to lavish upon her gift after gift. These Corinthians came “behind in no gift,” we are told, but it seems to me we can see in the book of Acts that as time went on and the church began to drift a little, and as dissension and other things came in that grieved the Lord, there was more reserve on His part in bestowing gifts. That, I believe, explains the lack of many of these gifts today. The church has gotten so far away and there is so much strife, division, worldiiness, and carnality that He no longer delights to lavish His gifts upon her as He did in the beginning.
Let me illustrate it this way. Here is a young man who is engaged to be married to a beautiful young woman. They have plighted their troth each to the other, and he seals that engagement by giving her a beautiful diamond ring. But now suppose that he has to be away from her for some time before the marriage; we will say he is going over to Manila or to Shanghai to earn enough money to build a home for his bride and send for her. Every little while what a joy it is to him to pick out some beautiful thing, and send this gift back to her, and she in turn is proud and happy to know that she is constantly remembered by him. But suppose that absence instead of making the heart grow fonder on her part should make her careless. She thinks, “Well, he is away from me so long, and he cannot expect me to forego the pleasures of the other young folk,” and so she allows other young men to take her out and to pay a great deal of attention to her. By-and-by word comes to him, perhaps from his mother or his sister, “Your fiancee is playing you false; she is not as true to you as she promised to be, you had better come home if you want to win her heart again.” Perhaps he cannot get home, and writes a letter to her which provokes a rather indignant answer on her part. He no longer finds the same delight in sending gifts to her as before, when he believed her to be true to him. He loved to bestow his gifts upon her once, but now he becomes more reticent in his own expressions of love and is more careful in what he spends on her. This illustration may be a very inadequate one, but it expresses one reason why our blessed Lord does not now give to His church all the sign gifts that He did when she was walking with Him in holiness and separation from this godless world. Another is that since we have a whole Bible, the New Testament as well as the Old, the sign gifts are not needed as at the beginning.
What are those gifts? Let us look at them. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit.” Here are two gifts intimately linked together. What is the difference between them? Let me speak of knowledge first. The blessed Lord gives to some the knowledge of His Word, insight into the Holy Scriptures, in a remarkable way. I have known men who filled me with holy envy, for they seemed to know this Book from Genesis to Revelation. They could turn unerringly to almost any portion, and I have prayed, “O Lord, make Thy Word to me what it is to them; give me the gift of knowledge; open Thy Word to me.” You do not get this in some sudden miraculous way, but if you wish it, there is a way by which you can seek for it that is in perfect accordance with the Word of God. In Proverbs 2:1-5 we read, “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.” The gift of knowledge is given to those who earnestly study the Word of God in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. But one might have the gift of knowledge and yet fail greatly because of the lack of ability to use that knowledge aright, and so we have here the gift of wisdom. This is the ability to use what God has revealed to us in a way that helps and blesses others. How many a one knows a little of the Word of God, but uses it in such a way that he drives people from him. Everything he says may be scriptural, but you can say scriptural things in such an unwise way that you upset people instead of helping them. Of course, I know there are some people who are upset, no matter what you do.
Someone came to a preacher and said, “I don’t like to hear you preach, because you always rub the fur the wrong way.” He answered, “Not at all, sister; just turn around.” Very often, no matter how carefully you use the Word of God, you seem to rub people the wrong way, but that is because they are going the wrong way. The gift of wisdom is the ability to use the Word of God wisely, so that you will edify people and build them up instead of driving them from you.
In the next verse we read, “To another faith by the same Spirit.” This, of course, is not the faith by which we are saved, otherwise many might say, “I would like to believe in the Lord Jesus, but I have not the gift of faith and so cannot believe.” So far as you are concerned, my unsaved friend, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17), and if you open your heart when the Word of God is preached, He will give you faith. When we read, “all men have not faith,” it is because some men turn from the Word of God, but here God gives to His own people the gift of faith and this refers to special faith for a special service.
George Müller, in that great work of the Bristol Orphan Houses, was, I believe, the outstanding man of faith in the nineteenth century. God called him to open the orphanage to care for homeless boys and girls, but he had no money, and so he said to the Lord, “Thou wilt have to supply the means.” And so in the name of the Lord he went forward and spent every cent he had in opening the first building. The Lord sent more money, the children came, and the work went on. In fifty years he received $6,500,000 for that work, and he never asked people for it, he did not beg for money, the Lord sent it in. I have met a number of people who told me that they were going to do the same kind of a work as George Müller. They started a home, announced that it was a faith work, but there is only one instance that I know of where the whole thing has not ended in failure. Why? Because they were trying to do George Müller’s work without George Müller’s gift of faith. When God calls a person to do a certain work, He gives him the gift of faith. The same thing is true in connection with missionary work. When God raised up Hudson Taylor to start the China Inland Mission, he knew that he was not to ask for money, but to trust the Lord. Every little while I have known someone else to say, “I am going to start a mission and run it on faith like Hudson Taylor.” They have gone on for a while, and then we have read of starving missionaries, and the whole thing has gone to pieces. They tried to do Hudson Taylor’s work without Hudson Taylor’s faith. This faith is a special gift for a special work.
Then we read, “To another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit.” The gift of healing is the ability to lay one’s hands upon the sick in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and call them back to life and to health. I do not know whether any today have that gift. I have never seen it exercised. I have gone in with other brethren and prayed for the sick, and we have seen the Lord graciously raise them up, but I have never felt that any of us had the gift of healing. I have heard of this sort of thing, but I must have been unfortunate in my investigations, for whenever I made any, I found the people who were supposed to be miraculously healed were either dead or worse than ever. I thought at one time that one dear man of God had this gift, but I was with him one day when he was praying for a sick woman and she did not get healed, and he turned on her and scolded her soundly because she did not have more faith, and told her she must have some hidden sin in her life. If that brother had had the gift of healing, her faith would not have made any difference. If there are such people in the world today—and there may be—we can thank God for them. Personally, I have never known one.
“To another the working of miracles.” God gives to certain servants the ability to work miracles. A miracle is anything that is not accounted for by mere natural law. God has often wrought wonderful things not to be accounted for naturally. When in Africa there was a terrible drought, and the natives had cried and cried to their false gods, but no relief had come, a missionary felt called upon to bring them all together and said, “Now I am going to cry to the God of heaven to give rain.” He stood before them and offered a prayer, and as he began to pray there was a cloudless sky above him, but he had not finished praying before there was a terrific clap of thunder. The thunder and lightning continued and in half-an-hour the rain was pouring down. That was a miracle.
“To another prophecy.” In the New Testament sense prophecy is not the foretelling of future events. Prophecy is preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit of God that meets the actual need of the case.
“To another discerning of spirits.” That is the ability to see through people. That is a gift I fear I do not have. I am too apt to believe every story that anybody tells me, at least until I have proven it to be false.
“To another divers kinds of tongues.” The gift of tongues was the ability to preach the gospel in languages that people had never learned. The preacher, in the power of the Spirit, was able to stand up and preach in the language of the people without having a course of schooling to learn the language. I do not know of this gift in the world today.
“To another the interpretation of tongues.” That is the ability to interpret a language that one has never learned. God gave those gifts in the beginning.
Then we read in verse 11, “All these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” If it is His will for us to have any of these gifts, He will give them to us; otherwise, He will not. Therefore, the folly of any one insisting upon having one or more of these gifts as the definite manifestation of the indwelling of the Spirit of God. In Ephesians we read of certain gifts that will abide to the end, that is, teaching and preaching for the edification of the saints.
Baptized Into One Body
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. (vv. 12-26)
Seven things are brought before us in the section, but that which is first emphasized is the unity of the body of Christ. In verse 12 we have the unity of the human body as a figure of that of the church. “For as the body is one”—that is, your body and my body. We have a great many different members, each one having special functions, and yet the body is one; it is under one central control, one heart, one circulatory system, one mind dominating and controlling everything. “As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is
[the] Christ.” The definite article is found in the original, although we do not see it on the page of our King James Version. When the apostle uses the term, “the Christ,” it is just the same as if he said, “the church,” for as the context shows, he is thinking of the entire church as linked with the Lord Jesus Christ, its Head in heaven. As the human body is one, so also is the Christ. “Christ” means “the Anointed,” and our Lord Jesus is the Anointed. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, that is why He is called Christ. But we read of all believers, “He which … hath anointed us, is God” (2 Cor. 1:21) so we too have been anointed— “Christed”—by the same Spirit with whom God anointed Jesus. Therefore, our risen Head in heaven and the members of the body everywhere on earth constitute the Christ, the anointed One.
We cannot break the link that joins the believer to his Head in heaven. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Notice, it is not by the possession of divine life that we become members of the body of Christ. All believers from Abel (and we can go back to Adam, for Adam believed God when the promise came that the Seed of the woman should bruise the seed of Satan, and God declared His satisfaction in that faith by clothing Adam and his wife with coats of skin) down to the end of time have life from Christ. There is no other source of life, and no natural man in any dispensation was ever a child of God. The only way a man can become a child of God is through a second birth, through the reception of divine life, and this is given through believing the gospel. I know that people sometimes say, “But we must have life first before believing the gospel.” We have life before we believe a great many particulars in the gospel, but the apostle Peter says, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever…And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:23, 25). Therefore, by believing the gospel, whatever form it takes in the various dispensations (for God’s message to man has differed in the various ages, but it has always had to do with Christ), men are born again.
However, to be born again is not the same thing as being baptized into the body of Christ. No one is baptized into the body of Christ until the Spirit of God dwells in him, and the Spirit comes to dwell only in people who have been born again. There is as much difference between being born by the Spirit and being indwelt by the Spirit as between building a house and moving into it. New birth is by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit builds the house, and then He comes to indwell the believer, He comes to take possession. In our dispensation there is no appreciable difference in time between a man’s being born again and being baptized into the body of Christ, but there was a time when there were numbers of people who were born again by the Spirit, but were not indwelt by Him.
On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers and to baptize them into one body. The Spirit of God now dwells within us and makes all believers one. That is what is meant by, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” I like the good old translation of the word
baptized, to which some people object. I take this Greek word to mean “immerse.” “For by one Spirit are we all
[immersed] into one body.” We who were so many individuals before have now been immersed into one, and in this body there is neither Jew nor Greek. Some used to be Jews, some used to be Gentiles, before they were born of God and indwelt by His Spirit. Now they have lost their old standing in the flesh. When we meet our Hebrew Christian brethren, we do not think of them as Jews any more, we think of them as fellow members of the body of Christ, and when they look upon us, their Gentile brethren, they do not think of us as unclean Gentiles, but as fellow members of Christ’s body. That is what took place on the Day of Pentecost, and has been going on ever since.
In this body there are neither bond nor free. It is not a question of master or servant. In the world outside we meet one another on that basis. If I am employed by another I am to render proper service to my master, but when we come into the church of God, we come together as fellow members of Christ’s body.
A Christian worker once told of her visit to the beautiful palace of an English Duchess, a very humble Christian. On the Lord’s Day morning the Duchess took the visitor to a meeting of a little group of Christian people gathered together around the table of the Lord, and as they sat there, a man got up and expounded the Word to them. The Duchess whispered to the lady, “That is my coachman.” The Christian worker was a little surprised that this lady should go and listen to her coachman expound the Word, and said to her later, “Isn’t it hard on your pride to have to listen to your coachman open the Scriptures to you?” The Duchess replied, “In the church of God there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, we are all one in Christ Jesus.” All these earthly distinctions are wiped out in the presence of God.
So the apostle adds, “We…have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Just as by water baptism a line of demarcation has been drawn between the Christian and the world, so in this way we are definitely linked with the one body and enjoy fellowship in Him. Everything that you enjoy of a spiritual character in fellowship with your brethren, you do as in fellowship with the Holy Spirit who now indwells you.
Then we have a passage that is really a warning against discontent as to position in the body of Christ. In verses 14-17 we read, “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” As men and women not yet glorified we still possess that old carnal nature. Even though set apart to God in Christ with new natures, we so often still find working within us envy and jealousy, and there is the tendency to say, “Well, as I cannot do what so and so does, I will not do anything,” and so discontent is engendered. Remember that every member of your physical body has its own special function. Just imagine a foot going on strike, and some morning when you are getting out of bed and you go to put your foot on the floor it should say, “I do not like being a foot, I do not like always being shut up, having a stocking pulled over me and then a shoe, I have just as much right to be in the open as that hand. I do not like it that the hand does all the writing, the painting, and the playing of the piano while I have to be hidden away all the time. I do not like that kind of a thing, and I am not going to function unless you train me to write and to play the piano. I refuse to work any longer as a foot.” I have seen folks just like that, folks that won’t play unless they can do things that other people do. I heard of a man born without arms who had been so wonderfully trained that he could hold a pen between his toes and write and paint on a board, but he was a freak in a sideshow. A normal person does not do that. The foot cannot do the work of a hand. If the foot is content to do its own work, what a splendid thing it is, but if it tries to do the work of a hand, what a failure it is.
If every member of the body does its own work and does it well, the whole body is benefited thereby. Just so in the church or assembly of God. He does not gift every one in the same way; some have special public ministry, others have quiet, private service for the Lord, but all are important. I think I shall never have the least inkling until I get to heaven and stand at the judgment seat of Christ how much I have owed to quiet saints shut away in hidden places who have bowed down on their knees before God and asked His blessing upon my ministry during these forty-three years that I have been preaching the gospel. I have had the public place, but I am sure that the greatest amount of the credit for work done goes to those hidden saints who have thought enough about me to bear me up in prayer, that God might keep me from sin and use my testimony for the glory of His name. So let us be content to labor on in the place God has given us.
“If the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?” Fancy the ear going on strike and saying, “I refuse to hear; if I cannot be the eye, I am not going to do anything.” What a foolish thing! And yet there are people like that. The apostle says, and I imagine he smiled as he said it, “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing?” Just imagine a body a great big walking eye. Or, “If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” If the body were one immense ear, would it not be a peculiar thing? And so each member has its place, and each is to act for God in that place.
In verse 18 the apostle shows that there should be no discontent, that there is no place for natural ambitions. “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” When I think, “I should like to do so much that I cannot,” is it not blessed to realize that He has set me right here where I am, that I am in the place where He has put me, and He will give me grace to live for Him here?
“But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” What a rebuke to that sense of disdain that some of us cherish at times for other members of the body of Christ. Our Christian fellowship would be ten thousand times more precious if every one of us would settle it with God that by His grace we would never let an unkind criticism go out of our lips against any of His people. I find that the people who are the most sensitive to criticism are the most ready to criticize, those who get all broken up and upset if someone makes the least derogatory remark about them are those who will speak in the most cruel, unkind, and critical way of others.
I speak to you as a preacher, and I fear we are more guilty of this than anybody else. We often think and speak of one another in the most unkind way. Is it not a shame that men who have been set apart by God for the proclamation of His truth, who ought to stand shoulder to shoulder and be very jealous of each others reputation, should try to climb up on the failures of others? We who try to minister the Word, shall we not set an example to our brethren by covenanting with God that we will always say the thing that is good, the thing that is kind and helpful of our fellow servants; and if we see faults in them shall we not go to them personally and seek to help them; and when we speak to others of them, tell about the good things? In a restaurant I once saw a sign which read, “If you like our food, tell others; if you don’t, tell us.” I think that would be a good sign for a church of God. If you do not like things, you come and tell us about it, and let us seek to put things right. We need one another and we ought to be helpers of one another. The tongues of some of us are so vitriolic, we can say such unkind things, and forget that these people are souls whom Jesus loved enough to die for, so dear to God that He gave His Son for their redemption.
Oh, that when Christians meet and part,
These words were graved on every heart—
They’re dear to God!
However willful and unwise,
We’ll look on them with loving eyes—
They’re dear to God!
Oh, wonder!—to the Eternal One,
Dear as His own beloved Son;
Dearer to Jesus than His blood,
Dear as the Spirit’s fixed abode—
They’re dear to God!
When tempted to give pain for pain,
How would this thought our words restrain,
They’re dear to God!
When truth compels us to contend,
What love with all our strife should blend!
They’re dear to God!
When they would shun the pilgrim’s lot
For this vain world, forget them not;
But win them back with love and prayer,
They never can be happy there,
If dear to God.
Shall we be there so near, so dear,
And be estranged and cold whilst here—
All dear to God?
By the same cares and toils opprest,
We lean upon one faithful Breast,
We hasten to the same repose;
How bear or do enough for those
So dear to God!
Let us remember that “God [hath] set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.”
“Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.” Sometimes perhaps we discount someone’s gift because it does not appeal to us, and yet that very person may be God’s messenger to others. Years ago when I was in the Salvation Army we had a girl who was certainly imbued by the Spirit of God, but she had worked in the open air so much that her throat was spoiled. I remember listening to her once as she tried to sing a song, but she could not sing. I felt so sorry for her, and somebody standing next to me said, “Why does she make such a fool of herself by trying to sing?” And on the other side someone said to me, “Oh, it does me so much good every time I hear that girl sing; it comes from her heart and she is doing it for love for Christ.” Remember, the people whom you do not appreciate may be God’s messengers to other folk. Be careful that you do not do anything to spoil the effect of their testimony.
I went to the dinner table in a home, and the people said, “We wish you would pray for our sons and daughter. We have tried to bring them to Christ. We do get them to come to meeting with us, but they are getting less and less interested.” I said, “I am sorry; we must pray for them.” There had just been a change of pastors in that church, and I had come to help the new pastor in some meetings, and as the dinner was passed around I said, “This new pastor of yours seems a fine godly man.” The mother said, “I haven’t any use for him; he doesn’t know how to dress for one thing, and he murders the king’s English.” The father said, “Yes, we are most disappointed in him.” And then the two boys and the girl went for them and said, “We would like to know why you expect us to go to church.” After the meal I said to the father, “How do you expect your boys and your girl to be interested in spiritual things when you tear the messenger of Christ to pieces over the dinner table?” Let us be careful, let us value one another, and remember that we each have our place to fill, and let us seek to fill it to the glory of God.
“And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.” You heard that man testify in the mission, and his grammar was so bad you said, “Oh, I wish he would sit down,” but yonder a poor wretch listened and said, “What! Did God save a man like that? Maybe He can save me. I am about as bad as he was when God saved him.” He was not a very handsome nor a very brilliant member of the body, but
you never could have reached that poor down-and-out man as he did.
“And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.” The apostle Paul was a very observing person. Here is a woman who has a rather badly-formed ear. Upon that member she bestows more honor. Her beautiful hair is drawn over the ear, and that very uncomely part has become the most beautiful thing about her. People try to cover up the things in themselves that they do not think are pleasing, and try to make them more beautiful. I wish we would learn to cover up the uncomely things in our brethren. You never saw a perfectly beautiful woman yet who tried to cover her face with a dark heavy veil, unless she was about some nefarious business.
“For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked.” He has done this in order that there should be no divisions in the body, no strife, “that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” Now honestly, if you had loved that brother or that sister as much as you love yourself, would you have said that thing the other day? Remember, “The members should have the same care one for another.”
A brother came to the late Leon Tucker and started telling him quite a little about another preacher. Mr. Tucker asked, “Is it because you love this brother so much you are telling me this?” He turned very red and did not know how to answer him. Test yourself by that. “The members should have the same care one for another.”
And then it is a practical thing, “Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.” We know how it is in the human body. When you have had a festered finger, did you ever say to yourself, “That affects only my thumb or finger, and I am not going to let the rest of the body bother about it.” But the whole body was affected because of it. Let me say something serious and solemn: Your entire local assembly is affected if there is one member that is not living for God in it. The whole body of Christ is affected if there is one member playing fast and loose with holiness and purity and righteousness, because we are so intimately linked together.
“Or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” One member is selected for some position of honor, and all the members are jealous of that one. Is that it? No, if “one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” If a member suffer, I suffer with him; if a member be honored, I rejoice with him.
Christ’s Provision For His Church
1 Corinthians 12:27—13:1
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. 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. (12:27—13:1)
In this particular portion we have Christ’s gracious provision for the edification of His church in this scene. In summing up, the apostle says, “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” That is, you Christians are the body of Christ. Recently I read a book on a political theme in which the writer said, “It is important for us to remember, as Scripture says, we are all members of one body and therefore should work for the good of every nation.” Scripture is not talking about nations when it speaks about members of the body of Christ, nor does it use the word “body” as we use that term. We speak of a body of troops, a body of soldiers, etc., and mean a company, a collective company, but that is not what is meant by the term
body when it is used in the New Testament for the church of the living God, the body of Christ. The illustration, as we have seen, is taken from the human body. As the human body is one but has many members, so also is the Christ, and every member joined together and linked with the Head is to work for the good of the whole. And so it is Christians that the apostle has in view when he says, “Ye are the body of Christ,” and then he adds, “and members in particular.” Looked at in one sense we have lost our former identity, we are not just so many units as once we were, having no special relationship each to the other, for we are now united to one another. We who are saved, we who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are thus baptized into one and are members of the body. But on the other hand we have our individual responsibility as members. Just as the various members of my body have their part in the building up of the whole, so every Christian has his special responsibility for the blessing of the entire body of Christ.
God has given to the church special gifts which are for the edification of the rest, and in this we may see Christ’s gracious provision for His church. In Ephesians 4:8 we read, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men,” and we are told what some of these gifts are: “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (v. 11). Then we are told why He gave them (v. 12). If we should read it exactly as in our King James Version, we would think it was for three purposes. Let me read it emphasizing the punctuation, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the [edification] of the body of Christ.” From this you would gather that Christ had given these gifts, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc., for three things: to perfect the saints, to do the work of the ministry, to edify the body of Christ. But let me point out that these punctuation marks are put in by our English editors, and have no real place in the Greek text. Now let us read it omitting the punctuation marks. “He gave some apostles and some prophets and some evangelists and some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ.” He did not give these special gifts to certain ones to do everything for the rest that they might sit back and be perfected and helped and blessed through them, but that they through the ministry of the Word might perfect the saints, in order that the saints might go out and do the work of the ministry and thus edify the body of Christ. It never was the mind of the Spirit of God to have any drones in the gospel hive.
Now notice, the gifts that men most highly esteem are apparently the least valuable. For instance, we hear a great deal today and have heard for the last twenty or twenty-five years, about the gift of tongues, and some people imagine that this is the most important gift of all. Often people say to me, “Brother, have you the Holy Spirit?”
I say, “Yes, I have. I believe the gospel, and that tells me that upon believing I was ‘sealed with [the] holy Spirit of promise’” (Eph. 1:13).
“Well, then,” they say, “can you speak in tongues?”
“Well, I speak a little English, and very, very little Chinese, but I had to study very hard to get those.”
“But that is not it,” they say; “can you speak in tongues in the power of the Spirit?” and they mean some strange language that I have never learned, and they tell me that is the supreme evidence of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Instead of that being the greatest of all the gifts, it is apparently the least, for notice the order in which these are given, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles.” And where do we have their ministry today? Right here in the blessed Word of God. Their voices have long since been silenced, but the witness still goes on and through their written ministry they abide in the church until the end of time. Linked with them we have the prophets, and they too have long since been silenced in the primary sense. Luke and Mark were prophets, and they gave us their written ministry and went home to heaven. And so we are told that the church of the living God is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
Then notice in the third place, “teachers.” The teacher then is one of the special gifts that God has given to the church, and—may I say?—if I had my choice of all the gifts there are two that I would find very difficult to choose between. If the Lord were to say to me, as He did to Solomon, “Ask what I shall give thee”; if He should say, “I am going to give you any gift that you want to be used for the blessing of a needy world and for My people.” I would have difficulty in choosing between the gift of an evangelist and that of a teacher of the Word. My heart yearns to be able to preach the gospel in a way that will grip dying men and women and bring them face to face with the realities of eternity. The gift of an evangelist is one of the greatest of all, but on the other hand when I see how the people of God today are bewildered and misled, are carried about by every wind of doctrine, I realize how much they need careful, thoughtful biblical instruction, and my heart cries out, “O God, help me to feed Thy people; give me the gift of teaching in order that I may open up Thy Word to Thy people.” For after all, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). And so I crave the gift of the teacher. The teacher is the one who comes to men giving them, not his own thoughts, not making up beautiful essays which he calls sermons, but he opens up, expounds, the Word of God. Our Lord Jesus, I think, describes the teacher in a wonderful way when He says, “Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matt. 13:52). The treasure house is the Word of God.
I listened to a widely-advertised man the other day who was said to be one of the outstanding religious leaders of our day, and for nearly an hour he was telling ministers how to preach. I listened carefully, but I did not hear him quote one verse of Scripture. He quoted from Shakespeare, from George Bernard Shaw, and a number of trashy novels, and he drew his illustrations from ancient and modern literature. Yet he was supposed to be a teacher of preachers. If preachers have to listen to that kind of a teacher it is no wonder they deliver sermons that never could convert one poor sinner.
Scripture says, “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Ps. 119:130), and the apostle writing to Timothy says, “Preach the word…For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:2-3). The teacher is the man who calls the people of God back to the Book and opens up the Word of God to them. One of our very well-known American pulpit orators stated some time ago that expository preaching is the poorest type of preaching in the world because it leaves so little scope for the imagination. Thank God for any kind of preaching that leaves little scope for man’s imagination, for the Word of God says, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). It ought to be the earnest desire of the real minister of Christ to subject himself to the Word in order that all unholy imaginations might be cast down, and only the solemn serious truth of God brought to bear upon the minds of people. God give us teachers of the Bible!
Then we read, “After that, miracles.” Some people may have thought it was, “First of all, miracles.” I am not a miracle worker and do not pretend to be. I have gone in and prayed with a great many sick people and some of them have been healed very quickly, but I did not have the gift of healing. To go in and pray for people is one thing; to have the gift of healing is another. If a lame man were here and I could turn to him and say, “In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk,” and in a moment he would spring to his feet and become whole, that would be the gift of healing, that would be working a miracle. I have seen some people throw away crutches, but I have heard that they came back for them a week or two later. And so I say of the next gift, the gift of healing, what I say of miracles. The Lord may give these gifts, and if He does, we will thank Him for them, but we do not know of any at the present time.
But in the next one, “helps,” is something we can all understand. Here are two terms, “helps, governments,” linked together. In these we have pretty much what we find elsewhere in Scripture where we read of the officers of the church, its deacons and elders. A true deacon is a help; he is one who can help in all the temporal and business affairs of the church, and a true elder is one who has spiritual discernment and can govern in the church of God. What a wonderful thing it is when men are really thus gifted of the Lord as “helps” and “governments!” What a pitiful thing it is when a church is bereft of these kinds of gifts! There are too many deacons who are deacons in name only. The word
deacon means “servant,” a ministering servant. There are too many elders who are elders in name only, who are not really guides and helps to the church of God, but it is a blessed thing when God gives to a church true “helps” and “governments.”
Last of all in this list we have “diversities of tongues,” as though it is the gift least of all to be accounted of. And why is that? Because anybody can with a little intelligence learn a new tongue, and in most instances it is better that he should do that than to receive it miraculously. One may say in regard to this the same about receiving the truth of God. God could give every one a sudden illumination that we might have an amazing insight into His truth, but He does not choose to give it in that way. He says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God.” There are too many Christians today who would like to have everything predigested. This is the day of this kind of thing, and many Christians would like to have the truth presented in a pre-digested way so that it would not require any trouble to get it into their inmost systems. But God wants us to study His Word, and does not give us His truth in that easy way.
“Are all apostles?” Admittedly, no. We do not know of any such today in the full sense. “Are all prophets?” Again we have to answer, “No.” There may be prophets today, but they are very few, and as far as I know there are none in the full sense. “Are all teachers?” Again we have to answer, “No,” and yet there are teachers that God has thus gifted. If you as a minister are troubled with the question of empty pews, begin to dig into the Book and teach the Word, and you will soon draw the people. I know two young ladies who after they were graduated from college, did not know what to do in order to support themselves. So they came to my old home city, Oakland, California, and in a little side street opened up a wee restaurant. It was so small that only about seven people could sit down at one time. I went over to sample their cooking, and I found that the coffee was very different from what I was used to in most lunchrooms and so I went back to my bookroom and said to the other workers, “If you want a good cup of coffee, go to such and such a place.” The next day people were standing on the outside walk waiting for the seven inside to finish their lunch. Soon the girls had to rent the place next to them. When I was in Oakland the last time, they had a great big restaurant serving hundreds of people. The word had gone out over the city, “You can always get a good cup of coffee and excellent things to eat there.” Let the word go out, “You can always get the Word of God in that church, for that minister gives you the truth of God to refresh your soul,” and you won’t have any problem about empty pews. I heard a minister say to a group of pastors, “There is one thing that is a great help; you can do a great deal with different colored lights. You can get up wonderful effects with colored lights, and people will come from far and wide to see. Then, you can do so much with rhythmic dancing.” And then he added, “One of the finest things I have found is moving pictures for the night service.”
The church of God does not exist for the amusement of people. What we need is the Word of God presented in simplicity and power. Get your own mind filled with the truth of God and then give it to others. This minister said to the pastors, “You know, some of you may not approve of these modern methods, but I say you have to take your choice between empty pews or up-to-date methods.” Oh, no, we do not have to make any such choice; if you just give people the Book in the power of the Spirit they will come, for they are really ready to listen to the Word of God.
“Are all workers of miracles?” We know of very few indeed, if any. “Have all the gifts of healing?” No, and whether there are any we cannot say. “Do all speak with tongues?” Not in the Bible sense. “Do all interpret?” They do not. But now the apostle says that we are not to be concerned if we do not have all these gifts, “but covet earnestly the best gifts,” seek those that are for the edification of the church of God. Suppose it does not please God to give you any of these, “Yet show I unto you a more excellent way.”
There is something more excellent than signs and wonders. What is that? “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” This leads us right into the wonderful “Love Chapter,” the thirteenth chapter of this epistle. The greatest gift of all is to have the Spirit of God dwelling in you shedding abroad the love of God in your heart so that you manifest the love of Christ.
There used to be a little mission in the lower part of Manhattan in New York. A poor little Irish boy started going there and got a great deal out of it. By-and-by his folks made a little more money and moved from that section and said, “Now, Patsy, you must attend one of the more stylish churches.” So they took him over and entered him in the Sunday school. The little fellow put in two Sundays there. On the third Sunday he was found way down near the Battery sitting in the little mission Sunday school, and when he got back home, the folks said, “O, Pat, why weren’t you in the nice Sunday school?” “I wanted to go back to the other Sunday school,” he said.
“But why did you want to go back to that one?” He hesitated, and they said, “Come, tell us why.”
“Well,” he said, “they love a fellow down there.” That is what took him miles and miles down to the simple little mission. It is a great testimony for any church, assembly, mission or Sunday school when people can say not alone that the Word of God is preached there, but that “they love a fellow there.”
This divine love is not something that is pumped up out of the natural heart; it is divinely given. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5), and that is why men and women need to be born again. That is why we need to have a definite dealing with God about the sin question. That is why we have to come to the place where we put our heart’s trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our own Savior. Trusting in Him we are born of God and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, and thus the love of Christ will be manifested in our ways.
The Love Chapter
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
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. 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. 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. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (vv. 1-13)
We have noticed that in the twelfth chapter of this epistle we have the gifts which the risen Christ gave to His church. In chapter 14 we have the use of the gifts; but in between the two chapters we have the spirit in which they are to be exercised. Someone has said that the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is “the divine smithy,” alluding to the furnace in the blacksmith’s shop, where the tools of chapter 12 are heated red-hot to be properly used in chapter 14. Gift without love is a poor thing. One might preach with great clarity and even eloquence, but if there is no love behind it, it would be almost wasting words. The word translated in the King James Version as “charity” is not the thought of the good works, the kindness, that we attach to the word, but the root and source of those good deeds, that which pleases God—
love. So here the apostle emphasizes the importance of love, not only in the life of the servant of God, but in the lives of all Christians.
There are three well-known Greek words for “love”:
eros, phileo, and
agape. Eros you will recognize at once as the name we are familiar with in Greek mythology, as the god of love, the son of Aphrodite.
Eros is the word ordinarily used in classical Greek for love between the sexes, the love of sweethearts, the love of husband for wife and wife for husband.
Phileo is a broader word, generally used for the love of friends. It speaks of a kindly friendly affection, and is also used for the love of parents to children and children to parents, and the love of citizens for the state to which they belong. Then the other word,
agape, is used for a higher type of love, a love that is all-absorbing, that completely dominates one’s whole being. This is the word that we have in this chapter.
It is very significant that in the writing of the New Testament the Spirit of God seemed to utterly forbid the use of the word
eros. It is very freely used in the writings of the Greek poets and philosophers, but is never found in the New Testament. This word representing the love between the sexes had been so abused, so degraded by the Greeks that God, as it were, stood over His Book and said to those who were writing, “Do not put that word in here; it is too capable of being utterly misunderstood. I do not want that word in My Book, for so many vile things have been linked with it.” It had become so misused that it was not even right to think of it as expressing the true love of a chaste wife and a good husband. So God did not allow it any place in the New Testament.
phileo, is used in its verbal form in many places in the New Testament, but always for friendliness, kindly feeling one toward another, and brotherly love, or fraternal affection. When it comes to a question of that which is divine, the Holy Spirit has chosen most carefully, and He uses this word,
agape. “God is
agape”—”God is love”—in this highest, most utterly unselfish sense. It is used in the New Testament for God’s love to us and our love to God, and for the love we have for anything we put in place of God. When we are warned against the love of the world, this word,
agape, is used, for men devote themselves wholly and completely to the things of the world and to obtaining money, and so make a god of the world and of money. We can readily see how beautifully this should bring before us a love that is absolutely holy, and ought to be complete and supreme in our lives.
The love of this chapter then, this divine love, is not that which is in the heart of the natural man; it is not a love that you can pump up out of your heart if you are not a child of God, because it is not there. You may have “
Take that poor heathen mother; she loves her child, and she may even love her husband. That unsaved man and woman love their country, they love those that love them in this lower sense, but it is only when one has been born of God that he loves in the high sense represented in this chapter. That is why we read, “Every one that loveth is born of God.” If the word
phileo had been used there, you might say that every mother who loves her children, every patriot who loves his country is born of God. But that is not true; this completely unselfish divine love is the portion of only those who are regenerated. This is the word that the Holy Spirit uses when we read, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5). It is He, dwelling in the believer, who sheds abroad this love in our hearts.
We shall divide this chapter into three parts for our purpose. In verses 1-3 we have the unique value of love. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” Here you see, the warning is against substituting mere talent for love. A man might preach and be so talented that he could stir his audience to deepest emotion, but there might be nothing there for God, nothing that would reach the needy hearts of men. To speak with the eloquence of an angel apart from divine love will accomplish nothing.
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge.” You say, “Is it possible to have the gift of prophecy and not have love?” Oh,
yes! They said of Saul, and he was not a child of God, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” When associating with prophets, he talked like a prophet; when associating with the world, he talked like a worldling. And then you have the tragic case of Balaam to whom God actually gave the gift of foresight. He was able to look on down through the years and utter marvelous prophecies, yet his heart was exercised by covetous practices; he wanted Balak’s money and therefore desired to curse Israel, but the Lord forbade him, and he said, “How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed?” (Num. 23:8). Think of this marvelous prophecy coming from a man whose mere intelligence had been illuminated by the Spirit so that he could say, “The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Num. 23:9). Since those words were spoken thirty-five hundred years have elapsed and they have proven true ever since. The people, God’s earthly people, the covenant people, Israel, have lived alone, and they are not reckoned among the nations. So one may have the gift of prophecy and yet not have love. What an empty thing! Think of Balaam, able to look down through the centuries and utter those prophecies recorded in Numbers 23-24. He prayed, “Let me die the death of the righteous,” but instead of that he died under the judgment of God because he was never regenerated.
“Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not [love] I am nothing.” Of course he is not speaking of saving faith here, but rather the gift of faith spoken of in chapter 12. And though it were possible for God to give me faith that would scatter the hills from their places, yet without love I am nothing. How solemn the words of our Lord Jesus, “Ye must be born again,” for it is absolutely impossible for any man to produce such love in himself apart from divine grace. The apostle is not speaking of mere sentiment.
A pastor was leaving his church to go to another. He was one of these modern, up-to-date preachers who could say a lot of sweet nothings that would not hurt a flea, and on the other hand would do no one any good. A young man came up to him and said, “Pastor, I am so sorry we are going to lose you. When you came to us three years ago, I was a young man who did not care for God, man, or the Devil, but since listening to your beautiful sermons I have learned to love them all.” That is the kind of sentiment that passes for love in these days. The apostle was speaking of the manifestation of divine life in the soul, a love that is absolutely unselfish.
“Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not [love], it profiteth me nothing.” You may say, “But I can’t give my goods to feed the poor apart from love; can I?” Oh, yes, I may do all that from a desire to be seen of men. The Pharisees of old did their charity that way, and they sounded trumpets before them so people could see them. “Verily, they have their reward.” There was no love there. It was merely hypoc- risy. And then we read, “Though I give my body to be burned, and have not [love], it profiteth me nothing.” I may be a religious zealot, so wedded to an idea that I am willing to die for it, and yet there may be no real love behind it all. Of course it took the love of Christ in the soul to enable the Christian martyrs to go to the stake singing for Jesus’ sake, it took the love of Christ to cause those devoted believers to go forth to the lions, ready to die with a song of love in their hearts. But it is quite possible to die for an idea, to yield your body to the stake because of some great principle, and yet have no real love in the heart. So we see the uniqueness of love; it stands alone, and is distinct from mere “charity,” as we call it.
In verses 4-7 we have the character of love. What is this love of which he is speaking? How may we know it? How may we recognize it when we see it? As we examine these verses phrase by phrase, I wish you would think of one blessed Person. If the apostle Paul had tried to give us a pen portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ, he could not have done better than to use the words that we have here. As you read these verses you can see the blessed Savior of men moving about in this world on His mission of love. So true is this that you could substitute the word
Christ for the word
charity here. Let me show you. “Christ suffereth long, and is kind; Christ envieth not; Christ vaunteth not himself, is not puffed up, doth not behave himself unseemly, seeketh not his own, is not easily provoked.” Was He ever provoked? Oh, yes. About what? About the wickedness, the sin, the hypocrisy of men. When they would have hindered His healing the poor woman in the synagogue because of their pretended regard for the sanctity of the Sabbath, Jesus looked round about upon them and was angry. There is an anger that is divine, but, “[love] is not
easily provoked.” “Christ thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” This is indeed a character sketch of the Lord Jesus Christ. It tells me that it is only as Christ dwells in me that I will manifest these characteristics, and then I can truly say with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). If I take this as a divine picture of what every man ought to be, if I dare to say that not until this is true of me am I really fit for a place with God in heaven, I might sink into utter despair if it depended upon me, for I never could measure up to this. There is so much in my heart of self, of evil, of unholiness, but as I receive Christ as my personal Savior, as I put my trust in Him, the One who died because of man’s selfishness, sin, and unholiness, I am born again of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, and Christ comes to dwell in my heart by faith. Now in the measure in which I yield myself to Him, He lives out His wonderful life through me, and thus I am able to manifest the love that is revealed in this chapter.
“[Love] suffereth long.” It does not become impatient when tried, when wronged, and when it has to face misunderstanding, and when people disapprove. Love moves on just as sweetly and graciously as when people do approve, and “[love] suffereth long, and is kind.” How much we need to realize that! Ella Wheeler Wilcox has said something that is not altogether true:
So many gods, so many creeds,
So many ways that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind
Is all this poor world needs.
That is a very pretty sentiment, but it is not altogether true. The world needs a great deal more than that; it needs God, it needs Christ. But the world does need people who can be kind. I am afraid many Christians are not always very kind.
I remember hearing of an old Scotch preacher in whose congregation were a number of folks who fancied they had attained a spiritual experience far beyond the majority of the members, a state of perfect holiness wherein all inbred sin had been removed from their very being, and because they were so holy they were extremely critical of other people and harsh in their judgments. The old minister was not much of a theologian, and was not able to meet their arguments in regard to the doctrine, but when he heard them censoring others, he would lean over the pulpit and say, “Remember, if you are not very kind, you are not very holy, because holiness and kindness cannot be separated.” “[Love]…is kind.” Oh, the kindness of God as seen in the Lord Jesus Christ!
And then, “[Love] envieth not,” or really, “love is never jealous.” Did it ever occur to you that jealousy implies selfishness? Love delights to see another honored and esteemed. Of course there is a holy jealousy. The Lord is a jealous God. He would have us altogether for Himself. But this is a very different thing to a carnal jealousy which makes us unhappy when others are preferred before us. Jesus ever took the lowest place and was content to be despised and rejected.
“[Love] vaunteth not itself.” In plain English, “love never brags.” Love never exalts itself or its ability; it never tries to draw attention to itself. And love “is not puffed up.” There is a Scripture that says, “Knowledge puffeth up, but [love] edifieth,” or buildeth up (1 Cor. 8:1). I think I know a great deal more than other people and so become conceited, puffed up over it, but real love does not puff up, it builds up.
“Doth not behave itself unseemly” or literally, “is never boorish.” The finest gentleman in the world is the man who knows Christ best. I remember reading a history of the world written by an English writer, completed about the year 1600. In the course of his history he came down to the early years of the Christian era, and he said, “It was in these days that there appeared in Judea that Knightly Gentleman, Jesus Christ,” and I was so taken aback, I thought, “I do not know whether I like that.” I stopped to analyze it and then I thought, “Could words have been used that more truly described the life of my Lord here on earth?” What is a gentleman? Is it somebody born heir to some vast estate and perhaps having the right to put a title to his name? Not necessarily. A man might be heir to millions but be a perfect boor. A man might be the poorest of the poor and yet be controlled by divine love and so be a perfect gentleman. Have you never noticed the refining influence of the Lord Jesus Christ? Take a man brought out of the gutter and saved by grace, see how the Spirit of God quiets him, changes him, until his whole character becomes different. Love never behaves in a boorish way.
“[Love]…seeketh not her own.” The apostle’s word to those quarreling women in Philippi was, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). When divine love controls the heart, it will be others first instead of self first.
“[Love]…is not easily provoked.” We read, “Be ye angry and sin not.” A Puritan once said, “I am determined so to be angry as not to sin; therefore to be angry with nothing but sin.” Sin may well stir my indignation but, “[Love]…is not easily provoked.”
“[Love]…thinketh no evil.” How apt we are to make snap judgments of people. One says, “I think everything she does is done ostentatiously.” What business have you to be thinking those things? Love credits people with the best possible motives, and therefore because of that, “[love]…hopeth all things.” Love may see something upon which a very bad construction may be put, but it waits a moment and says, “Could I put a better construction upon that? I will not put the wrong one if I can possibly find a good one. I will hope for the best. I will never be guilty of marring a brother’s or a sister’s reputation because of something said or done that looks unwise to me and yet might be innocent.” That is love. And so, “[love]…endureth all things”—it is willing to suffer, for that is just the character of love.
In verses 8-13 we have the
permanence or finality of love. Everything else may disappear but love abides. “[Love] never faileth.” We read of prophecy, “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” Prophecy will be fulfilled eventually, but love will continue forever. “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease.” We do not know exactly when they passed away from the church, but we have no evidence that there are men today who have the ability to preach in languages never learned, and the apostle uses a very strong word here, “Whether there be tongues, they shall
cease. “It is an altogether different word from the word translated “fail.” He knew that the day would come when the gift of tongues would no longer be seen, but love would remain. “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” Knowledge, in the sense that we have it now, only a partial thing, will vanish away in the light of the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him.
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” And now he uses a little illustration comparing the present with the days of our childhood, our glorious future with the years of maturity. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” I wonder whether that is actually true of every one of us. I am afraid some of us are quite childish still. I know full-grown men and women who profess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, but still have a great many characteristics of children. Let them have their own way and they are perfectly delightful to get along with, but cross them and they pout like little children. The apostle says, “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” In other words, I was through with childish ways.
May I make a plea for true Christian manhood and womanhood? Let us put away these little childish things that so often characterize us. One thing that often grieves my own heart is that there are so few Christian people content to do their duty as God shows it to them without human praise. As men and women in Christ we have put away childish things, and we are here to do the right as He shows it to us, and whether men praise or blame, what difference does it make? But in another sense, this is still the time of our childhood as compared with the glorious maturity that is coming when our Lord shall return and we shall be fully conformed to His blessed image. Someday we will put all these things away and will be just like Him.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly.” There were no glass windows in those days. They had a crude kind of glass, but it could not be used for windows. Sometimes they used a very thin horn which had been pressed out, and sometimes almost a transparent crystal was used. That may be what was referred to, but in all likelihood it is the brass mirror. You can see enough in a brass mirror to know whether your hat is on straight, but you cannot see what your complexion is like, and so the apostle says that we are just like folk looking at themselves in a brass mirror. We see nothing as we shall see it by-and-by. “But then face to face: now I know in part”—I know through the revelation that God has given, and thank God for that! How little I would know without that, but there are still many things concerning which He has not yet given me information. How many questions there are that even the Bible does not answer. “But then shall I know even as also I am known.” The exact tense, I believe, would be, “Even as also I have been known.” I will know others and will know all mysteries in that coming day, even as God knows me now and has known me all down through the years.
“Now abideth faith”—because “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). “Hope”—because I am living in hope of the coming of the Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him. “[Love]”—for this is the manifestation of the divine life. “These three; but the greatest of these”—even at the present moment here on earth, before I enter eternity—“is [love].”
May God give us to manifest the love of Christ through yielding ourselves wholly to Him, that He may live out His life in us and then by-and-by when faith has changed to glad fruition, when our most wonderful hopes have all been accomplished, when we stand face to face with our blessed Lord, love will abide throughout all the ages to come, and we shall understand then what we cannot understand now, the love that moved the heart of God and led Him to send His only begotten Son into this dark world that we might live through Him. What a wonderful thing to know Christ. Let us go out and live Him before men!
The Best Gifts
1 Corinthians 14:1-25
Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifleth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. (vv. 1-25)
Here we have love in exercise for the edifying of the body of Christ. We have considered already the many diverse gifts of the Spirit as set forth in chapter 12. He divides to every man severally as He will. In this the Holy Spirit is sovereign. No one has the right to demand that he be given any certain gift or gifts as an evidence of the Spirit’s baptism. What He gives will be for the edification of the church as a whole, not for the enjoyment or aggrandizement of some individual. While we are not told of any special limit, so far as time is concerned, yet we know both from Scripture and church history that most of the so-called miraculous gifts passed away shortly after the Bible was completed. They are not needed now as they were at the beginning. Yet, if the Spirit so wills, He might give them today under special circumstances. But we need not be surprised because we do not see them in exercise. They served their purpose, a very useful one, in authenticating the message as divine, when these signs followed the proclamation of the truth. Now with God’s complete revelation in our hands, we do not require signs to manifest it as the Word of the Lord. When preached in power, it authenticates itself.
Then in chapter 13 we have love, the manifestation of the divine nature, and this we know is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us. Apart from love the gifts are useless.
Now in chapter 14 we are told, “Follow after [love], and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.” As a member of the body of Christ I should desire to be a means of blessing to my brethren and sisters in the Lord, and to be used of God in giving the gospel to a lost world. I can only do this right as I am filled with the Spirit and gifted by Him in some special way.
It is therefore quite in keeping with my Christian profession to seek to be at my best for God. Worldly ambition is obnoxious and unholy, but, on the other hand, there is a laudable ambition which I can consistently entertain, and that is to desire spiritual gifts. But I must be sure that I do this in love. Every gift is given for the blessing of the whole assembly, and not in any sense for the glory of the individual possessing that gift.
In the church of God as a whole and in the assembly of believers gathered together as a worshiping company, there is no place for mere fleshly display. If I am gifted of God in a measure in preaching the gospel, I am not to take advantage of that to exhibit my abilities ostentatiously or to gather people about myself. If I have been gifted of God to sing the fine old gospel songs that people enjoy hearing so much, I am not to use that talent to attract attention to myself or my voice, but I am to use it to give out a message which, winged by melody, will move human hearts that the spoken word might not reach. If I should be gifted of God to teach the Holy Scriptures, I am not to take advantage of that gift in order to exercise people’s minds about strange and perplexing problems, which would make them think, perhaps, that I am a more deeply-taught man than most, but I am to make things as plain and simple as possible, in order that the saints may receive edification. This is the standard for using the gifts that God has given. All are to be exercised in love.
The apostle singles out one gift as that which we should earnestly covet, “Desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.” Take the great prophets of the old dispensation: read carefully the entire seventeen prophetic books of the Old Testament, and you will be surprised to find how small a portion of those writings is devoted to foretelling future events. There are, indeed, many most remarkable predictions which have been fulfilled with the utmost particularity down through the centuries. There are many more that are yet to be fulfilled. But, on the other hand, the greater part of the prophetic books is taken up not with future events, but with endeavoring to bring home the truth of God to the hearts and consciences of His people. There is a difference between the teacher and the prophet. The teacher expounds the Scriptures and illuminates the mind and understanding. The prophet brings the truth home to the conscience in order that it may exercise people before God. I might take this letter of Paul to the Corinthians and perhaps through divine help be able to expound it so that my hearers may thoroughly understand just what it is that the Spirit of God is teaching, and yet their consciences might not be exercised in the least degree. Their hearts might not really be lifted unto God, though they were edified intellectually But if I had the gift of prophecy, I might take exactly the same Scripture and, as the Spirit of God enables, I will press it home to heart and conscience, so that those who hear will go away into a secret place, kneel down and search themselves and ask God to enable them to go out to live the truth that they have been learning. That is the highest form of ministry.
This is brought out very clearly in the two verses that follow, where you have what may be called one of the show gifts, the gift of tongues. We read: “He that speaketh in a…tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” Suppose I had the ability, divinely given, without going to school to learn it, to speak the Chinese language in at least one of its many dialects, and suppose I should endeavor to exercise the wonderful gift the Spirit of God had given me and I should pour out my heart in public in Chinese. At once you would say, “We cannot understand a word that he is saying.” Yet I myself might be quite happy and perfectly self-satisfied to think I was able to use such a remarkable gift. But others would not understand, unless Chinese were present. So you see the gift of speaking in tongues is not for the Christian; it is for the heathen. Let that gift be exercised where that tongue is spoken. Do not get up in a Christian assembly and take the time of God’s people giving out something they cannot understand.
“But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” It is this gift upon which the apostle lays so much stress. Notice the three aspects of real spiritual ministry:
First, the man who is divinely gifted to give a message from God speaks unto men for edification. They get something from him that is for their spiritual good. If I am able to open up the Word of God to you in a way that instructs and feeds your soul, then you are edified. It is a great thing to build up God’s people.
Then, in the second place, the prophetic message is for exhortation. How you and I need the message of exhortation! We are so apt to slumber in our spiritual lives. That is the very meaning of the word
exhortation, something to awaken, to arouse the one who has gone to sleep or become apathetic. How the Word of God comes home to the conscience in that way, to arouse people! I know some folks do not like that kind of Bible teaching. But the true servant of God will bring things home in a way to exercise the hearts of men to seek after God, and to show them their true state as He Himself sees it.
In the third place, true spiritual ministry is for comfort and encouragement, and how much you and I need comfort! Dr. Joseph Parker, the great London preacher, in addressing a group of young theologians, said, “Young gentlemen, always preach to broken hearts, and you will never lack for an audience.” How many broken hearts, and how many bereaved ones there are! Trouble and distress of financial circumstances, all those things that come home so cruelly to the heart—trouble in one’s own family! How much God’s people need the word of comfort and the word of exhortation. “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.”
“He that speaketh in a…tongue edifieth himself.” He enjoys it, but no one else does. You would understand this if I should try to sing a solo. If I get into the woods or out on the mountainside I just let myself out. I just love to sing. I delight in it there. If I were to do that in a crowd I might put someone else out of tune. Well, if I were to sing a solo, I might enjoy it thoroughly, but you would not, and there would be good reason. So, if one speaks in tongues he edifies himself, but others are not edified. Do not covet a gift that makes you as selfish as that. “But he that prophesieth edifieth the church.” So the apostle says he would not slight the gift of tongues. If anyone has it, let him use it to the glory of God; but he wishes “rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.”
So we conclude that we should desire spiritual gifts; and the gifts of the Spirit are not for anyone’s individual enjoyment or glory, but for the edification of the entire church.
And now let me point out that the word
unknown before “tongues,” as found many times in this chapter, is in italics, and so does not represent anything in the original text. Strictly speaking, the apostle was not thinking of unknown tongues, but of definite languages. The miracle of Pentecost consisted in the eleven apostles being empowered to preach the gospel in languages they had never learned, so that all who heard were able to understand them “in their own tongue wherein they were born.” We know of nothing like this today.
The next eight verses, as you see, are all very intimately connected, and in them the apostle resumes the subject which he began in the early part of the chapter. The Corinthians were very anxious for what may be called the “showy” gifts of the Spirit, the gifts that would attract widespread attention, particularly the gift of speaking in tongues. Through this remarkable gift the gospel was spread in a wonderful way in the earliest period of the church of God. It was nothing like the rhapsody which people give way to when they utter strange, weird sounds, which may in truth be called
unknown tongues, for they are unknown to heaven or earth. But the tongues here referred to were definite languages, and one can see at once why the apostle should rebuke display of such a gift when there were no people present who could understand the language. The man himself would get a great thrill in speaking in a language that was strange and incomprehensible to others; but there would be no blessing to the church.
In the public assembly of the people of God everything should be done unto edifying. So the apostle says: If I myself should come speaking in tongues, speaking in various languages, “what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?” We have no record that he ever had to learn the languages in which he spoke to the people. He spoke to the Greeks in their own language, to the Romans in theirs, to the Hebrews he spoke in their tongue, and to the various barbarians in the tongues to which they were accustomed.
Suppose I should come before the church and speak in those tongues, what would I profit you unless I should give you the interpretation of what I had said, or unless the Spirit of God should enable someone else to interpret it in order that you might understand? “What shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?” If he is able to reveal the language in which he speaks, or if he prophesies to them, or teaches them, which we are to understand by the word
doctrine, then they would be edified. With things that have no life, like the great organ or the piano, if every tone were exactly the same, what edification could there be? No one would understand what was being played. “And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?” If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, if the trumpeter goes out ahead of the army, but gives forth notes that nobody can understand, the soldiers are unable to respond. “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” Just in the same way, if a man stands up in a congregation and gives out sounds that have no meaning to the people, there is no edification. Here is a good rule: “So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.” In this I think the apostle not only rebukes the vanity of ministers who delight to use the pulpit as a place to display their education and culture, but also the use of language that is far above the heads of the people to whom they are ministering. Charles H. Spurgeon said: “I am afraid that many of my ministerial brethren must imagine that when Scripture tells them to ‘Feed my sheep,’ it means ‘Feed my giraffes,’ for they put the food so high that people would have to be giraffes to reach it.” Scripture says, “Feed my sheep.” Always put the food down where the sheep can get it. It should be the ambition of the preacher of the Word to use language so simple and so plain that everybody can understand. A few months ago a lady brought to me a little boy about ten years of age, and she said, “I want my little grandson to meet you. I hope you won’t be offended about what he said. I had been telling him about you and he wanted to hear you. He said to me, ‘Why, grandma, he is not a great preacher; I could understand every word he said.’” I replied, “Well, my dear madam, I consider that a great compliment.” I hope you will always pray that when I stand up to minister the Word, I may do it in such a way that the youngest child, as well as the oldest saint, may understand every word; because if we do not, we are just speaking into the air.
The apostle says there are many different voices in the world, and all of them have some signification, but if the person listening does not understand the signification, they go for nothing. So if I speak in a tongue that others do not understand, I shall be as a barbarian to them and they shall be barbarians to me. He says, “Since you are so ‘zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that you may excel to the edifying of the church.’” Try to get from God that which will be the greatest blessing to the people to whom you minister. “Wherefore let him that speaketh in a…tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a…tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” I may have within me a great urge and a great sense of need, and I might express it in sounds, but my understanding is not praying, and the apostle repudiates anything like that. Suppose I am able to pray in Latin, but do not understand Latin. People went through long prayers in Latin in the early days. The spirit may have been praying, yet the understanding was unfruitful. The Reformation brought people back to use the common language of the countries in which they lived in addressing God and in the worship of God, so that the understanding might go with the spirit. “What is it, then? I will pray with the spirit.” Certainly I should pray with the spirit; my inmost being must be aroused; but “I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.”
What he has said of preaching or public ministry of the Word is just as true of singing. Therefore the importance of singing hymns that express scriptural truth. There are many songs which we sing because we like the tunes; but sometimes the words are not in accordance with Scripture at all. Some people think that songs must be suitable if the words are from the Bible. Take the book of Psalms, which were written before redemption was accomplished. David sang, “Turn away thy wrath from me.” I won’t sing that. Why? Because divine wrath has been turned from me. It fell upon my blessed Substitute, and I know I won’t come into judgment, for I am saved from judgment. There are many lovely things in the Psalms in which all our hearts may go out in worship and praise, but we are to sing from the standpoint of people who have already been redeemed. There should not be any question as to our relation with God. If we do not understand this, we shall always be in confusion.
“Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?” In the early church when a man gave thanks the rest were to say Amen. But they must understand then what he is saying; otherwise one might verily give thanks well, but the others would not be edified.
“I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all.” He did not boast of this, but stated a fact. “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in a…tongue.” Now you get the distinction between the two. I would rather, he said, speak five words in a language they can understand, than ten thousand words in a tongue. When he went out to the barbarians he was glad to talk to them in a tongue, but when he came into the assembly he would not speak to them in a tongue. I know some dear people who, I am sorry to say, would rather speak five words in an absolutely unknown tongue than ten thousand words in good, plain English. If they could only feel the thrill of some power taking hold of them, and speak in some weird language that no one could understand! Yet it is only selfishness. It is the selfish desire to have something that other people do not have. The apostle says, I do not want to attract attention to myself or my gift. “Brethren, be not children in understanding.” The folk that are running after these things are like children. “Howbeit in malice be ye children.” Have the sweet, kindly spirit of children toward one another. “But in understanding be men.” Then he goes back to the book of the prophet Isaiah. He shows how the prophet had to reprove Israel: “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak to this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.” God said, “I will send Gentiles to speak to them.” And for more than nineteen hundred years, He has proclaimed the gospel to the Jews through the converted Gentiles. “For all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.” One may have the ability to speak so as to reach the conscience, but that would not necessarily bring them to Christ. “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not,” a sign that the Spirit of God is working in power.
“But prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.” Then he says in effect: if therefore the whole congregation come together in one place and everybody is able to speak with tongues, one and another rising and speaking in strange languages, and there are unsaved people sitting about, “if…there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” People would say just that. They would go away saying, “What a lot of lunatics they were! I could not understand a word.” “But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.” When the servants of God proclaim His truth in the power of the Spirit, we may expect the careless to be awakened, and the anxious to be led into assurance and to know that God is speaking through human lips to their souls.