The Greatest of These

The Greatest of These

John Robertson

“Christians are the most hypercritical people on the face of the earth.” These were not the words of a worldling seeking to defame the people of God but the deliberate and studied language of a young man brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Word. Smarting under a sense of offended justice he fell into the same error of which he was accusing others. Since, however, there is some truth in what he said, we cannot dismiss the accusation with lofty disdain, nor can we treat, too lightly, the import of his charge.

Hypercritical means over critical or given to fault finding. Hypocritical, on the other hand, means assuming an unwarranted position or attitude. May it never be said of the saints of God that they are hypocrites. The Lord Jesus reserved that word for the Pharisees, those men of great religious pretensions. It was possibly the strongest word of denunciation He ever used. God deliver us from pretending to be something we are not. It is said of John Wesley that whenever he encountered an inebriate on the street he would exclaim, “There goes John Wesley, but for the grace of God.” He knew, full well, that he owed everything he was and had to the mercy of a loving Father.

Our young man was not the first to discover that those who claim to be Christ’s can be most bitter, the one to the other. In his first epistle to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul, sharply, rebuked them for their behaviour, a behaviour that was dishonoring to God. In the Church at Corinth one brother not only did not trust another, but he had no confidence in the rest of his brethren to set matters right. After, roundly, berating the Corinthian Christians for their failure to see that if one member of the body suffer, the whole body must, likewise, suffer, he proceeds to show them “a more excellent way” to Christian unity; and in language unparalleled in English, he describes that supreme trait the possession of which should be the most earnest desire of every Christian heart, love.

The very reading of 1 Corinthians 13 has a salutary effect on the soul. Here, let us pause and read a while. The impact of the challenge reaches the ear in the booming reverberations of sounding brass or in the bell-like music of tinkling cymbals of that wonderful simile in verse one. The simple language of verses 4-8 extolling the virtues of love engulfs the mind with a deep sense of longing; the certain promise of verses 9, 10, and 12 bids the eye look up beyond the mundane things of life; the mild rebuke of verse 11 pricks the tender conscience and calls us to a sense of our responsibility. What a grand lesson for us all! How much more effective our testimony would be if we but exercised, in full measure, this greatest of all gifts!

Writing to his son in the faith, even Timothy, Paul spake in these words, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:2). A remarkable exhortation, and to such a young man! It is a well known fact, among those who study social behaviour and its problems, that young people are much more idealistic than older folk. Perhaps for this reason we may find them less practical at times. As one who has spent his professional life among adolescents I would like to add, that I have heard more criticism of one’s fellow travellers to eternity among “so-called grown-ups” in a single evening than would pass the lips of a group of “teen-agers” in a year. It is not surprising then that Paul writes such words to one so young in the faith. He was sure of a receptive heart, and confident that Timothy would seek to make good in his life the advice so lovingly given. How wonderful to know that this responsibility is entrusted to young believers! Beloved, count yourselves worthy to be called of God to be an example of the believers in charity, love.

Many of us will never be called to serve the Lord as evangelists, or pastors, or teachers, but we can be an “Epistle…. known and read of all men” (2 Cor. 3:2). In the chapter wherein Paul lists the ministry gifts of the risen Christ to His Church he introduces his subject with an exhortation to a Christian walk characterized by “lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). Only those who so walk are properly fitted to exercise the gifts. Our chapter in 1 Corinthians follows a chapter devoted to spiritual gifts which are for the building up of the whole body. There is no place for fault-finding and hypercriticism in God-given ministry but rather for the exhortation to a closer walk with Him.

Peter has the answer to dastardly pernicious sniping. When dealing with the question of unjust criticism he points us to Christ, “Who when He was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Pet. 2:23). Oh, to be more like Him! He knew what it was to be spitefully treated. Dear young believer, and older believer too, when things about you appear dark and everything seems to go wrong, remember, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13). In that beautiful prayer of John 17 the Lord Jesus makes known that His loved ones could not hope to escape tribulation because they were His. He prayed, not that God would take them out of this world, but that He would preserve them through it. How precious to know that He never fails!

John in his First Epistle has a lot to say about love, the love of God, and the love God implants in our hearts. The remarkable feature about God’s love is that it is directed to us who are not worthy of the least of His mercies. When we get a real glimpse of what the love of God has done for us, it is not hard to understand that we should love Him in return. But John says, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” and then he goes on to add, “‘Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11). This is not so easy to understand. The call is to prove our love to God by loving one another. Dear child of God, let that get a grip of your heart and the problem of fault-finding will disappear. John goes still further and points out that this is the real test of our faith. 1 John 3:14 reads, “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.” There was nothing loveable in us, but Christ died for us. God established the principle; Jesus Christ fulfilled it. Let us follow His example.

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (I John 3:18). Words can be powerful and the gift of speech has been used to sway multitudes. Many have coveted this gift. “Knowledge is power” is a saying in the world and many have sought this power. Many would like to understand all the mysteries that Scripture unfolds and much suffering has been assuaged because someone used the art of healing. All these gifts are great and are not to be despised. Nevertheless they become impotent without the greatest of these which is love.