The More Excellent Way
The heart of first Corinthians is chapter thirteen, for it is here that the variety of gifts which are mentioned in chapter twelve are saturated with love in order that, in chapter fourteen thus penetrated they may function under the control of the Holy Spirit.
If in chapter twelve we have the sphere of ministry, in this passage, the thirteenth chapter, we have the spirit of ministry. Moreover, the impurity which is born of carnality, brought before us in chapters five to seven, is not seen here, for there is no impurity in love.
The Apostle, moved by the Spirit of Inspiration, gives us the most wonderful treatise on love, maintaining that it is the greatest virtue of the Christian character. Let us consider the subject under the three following headings, viz; “The Superiority of Love” (vs. 1-3), “The Sweetness of Love” (vs. 4-7), and “The Stability of Love” (vs. 8-13).
The Superiority Of Love (vs. 1-3):
In the work of evangelism the sweet sound of the gospel loses its harmony and song when love is lacking. Love is greater than eloquence (vs. 1). In the realm of teaching, gift is without value if not exercised in love, (vs. 2). Divine love in operation is greater than the gift of prophecy or the understanding of mysteries; greater than knowledge and greater than faith. In the discharge of pastoral duties or of shepherd care the most self-denying service is of no profit if love is wanting (vs. 3); it is greater than charity and greater than sacrifice.
Of what worth are the most flowery sermons, the greatest achievements in gift or talent, or the most self-denying efforts in the service of God, if deficient in love? The spirit that gives value to all ministry is missing, leaving us with a formality that is dead even though it may be correct. The love of Christ must be the motivating power in our lives, controlling the heart, the mind, and the will, to give effectiveness to all service.
The Sweetness Of Love (vs. 4-7):
Like Ezekiel’s river, the love of Christ sweetens and heals where-ever it flows:
“Love suffereth long and is kind.” It does not act impatiently to those whose failures grieve us.
“Love envieth not.” It does not repine over another’s success.
“Love vaunteth not itself.” It does not parade its own importance, as did the Pharisees.
“Is not puffed up.” It does not fall into the danger of which Paul warns the Corinthians four times in chapters four and five.
“Doth not behave itself unseemly.” It does not act in a rude manner, but is always polite, courteous and gentlemanly.
“Seeketh not her own.” It does not care for its own interests, but always those of other people.
“Is not easily provoked.” It does not allow itself to become incensed over the un-Christlike behaviour of others.
“Thinketh no evil.” It does not gloat over the failures of others.
“Rejoiceth not in iniquity.” It does not extult over the sins of
“Rejoiceth in the truth.” It is always glad when the saints are walking in faith, hope and love.
“Beareth all things.” It is always ready to cover up the failures of saints when there is no Scriptural reason to expose them.
“Believeth all things.” It is always without that spirit of suspicion which is so deadly to fellowship among the saints.
“Hopeth all things.” It always hopes for the best in the fellow-saints and supports them till hope is realized in the formation of Christ in them.
“Endureth all things.” It always bears the rebuffs while waiting patiently for the reproducing of the Spirit’s best in the lives of the saints.
“Love never fails.” It always stands by the Lord’s people to the end, and endures to the uttermost.
The Stability of Love (vs. 8-13):
The Apostle here draws a contrast between that which was temporary in the church and that which is to be permanent within her during her earthly pilgrimage. The miraculous gifts which served the Church during her infancy were put away when maturity was reached (vs. 11). In the absence of the completed canon of Scripture the Church was served in part by special revelation of the mind of God without any written word (vs. 1O). These special unfoldings were ended by the perfection or completion of the Written Word, The Bible. The Spirit here impresses upon us that though the external helps in the service of the Church may be removed, its testimony would remain unmarred (vs. 8). The internal virtues of character must abide, however, or the Church will cease to be a witness for God (vs. 13).
The ceasing of that which was temporary does not affect the character of the Church; faith, hope, and love, abide. In the service of the Church, teaching takes the place of prophecy, (Compare verse 8 with 2 Pet. 2:1); the world-wide witness of the Church takes the place of the gift of tongues, the sign to the Jewish nation of its imminent rejection by God, and of God’s intention of embracing men of every nation and language with the gospel; the special gift of knowledge by which the mind of God was made known to the Church, gives place to the revelation of His mind permanently enshrined in the Written Word, and discerned by the spiritual of every generation.
Here is the more excellent way; the true spirit of Christian testimony. Let the river of His love flow into our hearts in all its fullness. It will enrich our lives, sweeten our disposition, and give value to all that we do for Christ. Let us follow after love, for it is the crowning virtue of Christian character. If, like Ephesus we leave it, we will be as Samson when he lost his crown of Nazariteship; we will go out as at other times and wist not that the Lord has departed from us in all His power and beauty.
The love of Christ claims our affection (Eph. 3:14), controls our activities (2 Cor. 5:15), and assures our victory (Rom. 8:35). His love is strong as death; it grips and constrains us in a life of service for Him. His love is a jealous love, it will brook no rival. Christ will not be satisfied with anything less than our hearts. His love toward us cannot be quenched, nor can it be drowned in the waves of persecution, for “many waters cannot quench love, neither can the flood’s drown it,” (S. of S. 8:7). “Yea, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us,” (Rom. 8:35).
“O Love Divine, how sweet thou art!
When shall I find my longing heart
All taken up by Thee!
Oh, may I pant and thirst to prove
The greatness of redeeming love
The love of Christ to me!