A More Excellent Way
After the Apostle Paul had mentioned all the gifts, enumerating them according to their relative value and importance, — including the “gifts of healing” and “tongues,” — he says, “Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” I Cor. 12:31. Since this is the last verse in the twelfth chapter of first Corinthians, it is evident that he is referring to the “charity,” or perfect love, of the thirteenth chapter as the “more excellent way.”
It is always well to remember that all the gifts are this side of the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians; and that although a person had the “gift of tongues,” so as to “speak with the tongues of men and of angels;” and though he had “all faith” so that not only the sick might be healed in answer to his prayer, but that he might “remove mountains;” and though, because of his sincerity and devotion, he would sacrifice his all, and even die the death of a martyr, by giving his “body to be burned,” yet it “profiteth nothing” so long as he does not have “charity,” which is none other than the pure, perfect love of God in his heart.
The plain implication and inference is, that a person might exercise some of these gifts and have no grace at all; and that in comparison with the perfect love of God in the heart these gifts are as nothing; and that these gifts are not an evidence of advanced spirituality, as some teach, seeing perfect love is better; and that although some of these Corinthians evidently had the “gift of tongues,” and were zealously contending for the gifts, they were “yet carnal.” I Cor. 3:3.
Not only are these gifts of less value, because of less importance, but because at the best they are only temporary and transitory. For “whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall pass away;” whereas, this perfect love, — “charity” “abideth,” and “never faileth.” If a man had the gift of healing, and obtained perfect health today, and our Lord should come tomorrow the matter of health would be an indifferent matter. Or if he should seek ever so long and ever so earnestly for the “gift of tongues, ” and then should die tomorrow, his gift would be of no longer use to him. But the pure, perfect love of God in his heart, according to the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians, will “abide” and continue forever. Yet multitudes seem more eager to possess some of these gifts than to have a pure heart, filled with perfect love.
While we should “covet earnestly the best gifts,” we should place them in the order the apostle placed them, when he said, “Follow after charity, (perfect love) and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.” (I Cor. 14:1) That is, first of all “follow after,” or obtain the grace of perfect love — “charity” — in a pure heart; then “desire spiritual gifts; but desire such gifts as are calculated to make you most efficient and useful in the kingdom; and with that object in view desire “rather that ye may prophesy.” “For greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.” I Cor. 14:1, 5.
Any and all of the gifts are bestowed arbitrarily, in the sovereign purposes and will of God, “dividing to every man, severally as he will,” (I Cor. 12:11) So that all may not have the same gift; and they are of value only as they minister to the edification of the church, and tend to salvation, They are never given for display or for personal gratification. When Jesus healed the palsied man, he said plainly it was “that (in order that) ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy) I say unto thee, arise, and go thy way into thine house.” Mark 2:10-11, But in the narrative concerning the rich man and Lazarus, Christ himself well nigh discounted the value of “signs” for the salvation of others. For when the rich man prayed that so great a sign, or miracle might be given as the raising of Lazarus from the dead to warn his five brethren, “lest they also come into this place of torment,” it was said to him, “if they hear not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Luke 16:31.
We would insist that he who has obtained the grace of perfect love according to the thirteenth chapter of Corinthians not only has that which is “more excellent” than any of the gifts, but he has the best — the very best — there is. There is nothing better in this world nor any other world. And when a person knows — positively knows — that he has the very best there is, he may be pardoned if he does not take down the lane after every long-haired man, or short haired woman, that comes to town with some new “discovery” — even though he should claim the gift of “miracles.”
Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and GREAT commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Matt. 22:37-39. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” “All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou thalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Rom. 13:10; Gal. 5:14) And in writing to his son Timothy, Paul said, “The end of the commandment is charity (perfect love) out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned; from which some having swerved, have turned aside unto vain jangling.” I Tim. 1:5-6. Whether this term, “the end of the commandment,” has reference to the objective, or the terminus, we would insist there is nothing beyond “the end.”
Hence we see that Mr. Wesley was right, when he said in his Plain Account, “When you are asking others, ‘Have you received this or that blessing?’ if you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent. Settle it then, in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth chapter of the Corinthians. You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom.” The ground of “a thousand mistakes is, the not considering deeply that love is the highest gift of God — humble, gentle, patient love; that all visions, revelations, manifestations whatever, are little things compared to love; and that all the gifts above mentioned are either the same with, or infinitely inferior to it . . . . If you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark — you are getting out of the royal way.”
Not only is perfect love — “charity” — the most important and the “more excellent,” because it is the only thing that “abides,” but because it is the one thing essential. Every one will admit that a person might reach heaven who has not had sufficient faith for physical healing, nor exercised the “gift of tongues,” but no one can reach heaven without this divine love in a pure heart, called “charity.”
All true Christians have love, but all true Christians do not have “perfect love” which “casteth out fear” (I John 4:17-18) and enables them to measure up to this standard set forth in the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians, where “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. ” (verses 4-8) Indeed, we do not believe that any one can live up to this standard who has not received the second work of grace, in which his heart has been cleansed from inbred sin, and his love made perfect, subsequent to regeneration. “If ye fulfil the ROYAL LAW according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well.” James 2:8.