We have considered the parts of ministry as the Apostle Paul has broken them down for us into two main parts. The Gifts of the Spirit and the Love required to use them are each a necessary part of a healthy congregation.
Paul took that ministry apart in 1 Corinthians 12-13 so that we could examine these and now as he transitions from chapter 13 into chapter 14 we see him reassemble them and give us the proper ratio for effective use.
1 Corinthians 13:8-13 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
We see here that as he begins to transition he makes sure that we know that the Gifts are temporary and incomplete. They will “cease” they will “fail” and they will “vanish away.” As well we “know in part.” That is not to say that they are insufficient but that they are limited because they serve a purpose in time whereas love is eternal, it “never fails.”
Paul illustrates this with metaphors about the things of children no longer being needed as we grow up. and going from a foggy vision to a complete and clear vision. 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” This is what the gifts do for us as we exercise them in the Church. They mature us and clarify our understanding. And when it is all said and done that is what remains. The gifts will not be needed when we come to the end of our earthly existence.
1 Corinthians 13:13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
So the final contrast is made and we see that the job is a priority over the tools used to create and build. Both are important. A mechanic cannot work without his tools but the mechanic that values his tools above the repair of your car is not the mechanic that you want to go to. Likewise the Christian that is more concerned with showing off his gifts rather than truly ministering in love to the people that the Lord has given him is not behaving correctly. This was indeed the problem that Paul was correcting in the Corinthians Church. They were all about the gifts, the showier the better. They were not at all about using those gifts to serve one another.
As the Apostle brings in the transition he gives them another example of the proper understanding of the gifts.
1 Corinthians 14:1-4 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
Love is to be pursued, chased down. Gifts are to be desired. Some gifts are more useful for the edification or “building up” of the church. Those are the one that you should want the most. It is not about self-edification but about the edification of the Body of Christ!
We all struggle with this on some level. Ask yourself, “What is my ‘gift of tongues?'” What is the gift that God has given me to serve Him with that I would rather hold on to than use for the benefit of others? It may be a spiritual gift. Maybe you are called to preach but don’t want to offend anyone so that they will think well of you and instead of preaching the whole counsel of God you tone it down so people will like you. Or maybe it is a temporal gift like time or money that you refuse to part with because it is more valuable to you than a man’s soul. The Corinthians would rather impress someone with speaking in a foreign language than to translate it and use it for the edification of the church.
I have to ask, what is more important, the tool or the job we have been called to do? What do you think the Lord values more? It is obvious as we read the inspired words of the Apostle Paul that the temporary tools are great and useful but the Job at hand is the priority. The tools are good and helpful but they are the means and the building up of the Church is the end. Don’t lose site of that.
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