The More Excellent Way
An Expository Message On I Corinthians, 13th Chapter “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” — I Corinthians 12:31. There are nine spiritual gifts for the Christian Church. Paul speaks of them as follows: “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 diverse kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.” These gifts were not merely for primitive Christianity, but are for the Church of the twentieth century. The Lord bestows these gifts upon whomsoever He will. Paul says: “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” He means to have an earnest desire for them. And after you have chosen the most useful gifts, I will show you a more excellent way. The Corinthian Church made the mistake of placing greater value on the gifts than on the Giver. We shall consider:
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I. THE VALUE OF THIS LOVE
Its value compared to human language and eloquence. Paul says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, (love is the meaning in the original), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” Dr. Lightfoot says, to speak with the tongues of men, according to the Jews, meant to speak the seventy languages of the nations of that day. But if we had all human languages, and could speak with all eloquence, and had not love, it would sound as nothing. And though a man knew the languages of the eternal world so well that he could hold conversation with its inhabitants, and find out the secrets of the Kingdom, it would not give Heaven’s preparation. It would only sound as brass, or as a trumpet made of brass that gives uncertain sounds. Yes, apart from this love it would have a tinkling sound as two brass plates struck together, thus producing an inharmonious sound. We may understand the Apostle thus: “Though I possess the knowledge of all languages, and could deliver the truth of God in the most eloquent manner, and had not a heart filled with perfect love producing piety and obedience to God, I am nothing but an empty professor. I have a profession, but am destitute of a heart that is filled with holiness. I am without the soul essence of religion.” Perfect love as compared to prophecy and knowledge. Though I have received from God the knowledge of future events, so that I can correctly foretell what is coming to pass in the world and the Church, and have a heart void of this sanctifying grace, I am nothing. The Apostle says, “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 love, I am nothing.” If it were possible to have a clear understanding of all the mysteries of the Old and New Testaments; all the types and figures, and all the unexplored secrets of nature, and ALL KNOWLEDGE; every human art and science; and though I could remove mountains, and perform miraculous things, such as raising the dead, healing the sick, and doing spectacular things and have not love, I am nothing. Or I may have such powerful discernment in sacred things that I could solve the greatest difficulties, and have not love, I am nothing. I am nothing in myself, nothing in the sight of God, nothing in the Church, and good for nothing to mankind. Its value compared to works of charity and benevolence. The great logician says, “And 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.” Jerome says, “If I deliver up my body to be burned, that I might glory, or have cause of boasting, it would profit me nothing.” Suppose that a slave is condemned todie, and that I should give my body in his stead, it would profit me nothing, had I not this love, without which no man shall see the Lord. A man may be so wedded to a particular opinion, demonstrably false in itself, as to give his body to be burned in its defense. In February of 1619 an atheist literally gave his body in Parisin defense of his atheistic belief. Paul means in the first place, to have all wisdom and knowledge so that hidden mysteries could be solved, is acting like nothing. And in the next place, to give all we possess to feed the poor and even sacrifice our body, is nothing. It SOUNDS like nothing, ACTS like nothing, and IS NOTHING.
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II. THE NATURE OF THIS LOVE
It suffereth long. The real meaning of this is, has a LONG MIND. Neither trials, adversities, persecutions, nor provocations can disturb this experience. The love of God makes us patient toward all men. It suffers all the weakness, ignorance, errors and infirmities of the children of God; and all the malice and wickedness of the children of the world. And this is not for a time, but long, and without end. It also waits for God’s time of accomplishing His precious providential purposes, without murmuring or repining; and bears its own infirmities, as well as those of others, with humble submission to all the will of God. Love is kind. It is tender and compassionate in itself, and kind and obliging to others. It is mild and gentle. Oh, that more of God’s children had this experience, that will produce kindness in the home, in the church, and in the world! Such an experience would doubtless save many a son and daughter from wandering from home and God. It envieth not. It is not grieved because another possesses a greater portion of earthly, intellectual, or spiritual blessings. Those who have this experience will rejoice as much at the happiness, honor, and comfort of others, as in their own. They are ever willing that others be preferred before them. The person `that is living in this chapter, will never envy the state of others. Love vaunteth not itself. It will not act rashly. Dr. Clarke says that this means that love does not “PUT ITSELF FORWARD.” It does not desire to be noticed or applauded, but wishes that God may be all and all. This love is not puffed up. It is not inflated with a sense of its own importance. For it knows that it has nothing but what it has received from God; and that it deserves nothing it has. Every person whose heart is filled with this love is humble. There are `those that would have us believe that indwelling sin is necessary in keeping us humble. There was never a greater falsity. He who has pride has the very essence of sin. It was pride that hurled the devil from Heaven. Oh, man of God, beware of sinful pride! Love does not behave itself unseemly. Love never acts out of place or character. It is never rude, bearish, or brutish. A person may have a natural bluntness, or be a clown, and yet not be boorish or hoggish in his manner. This love never acts in a way to cause decent people to blush or become disgusted. This love will act in church in a way to make hungry people wish for it. It never acts unseemly, nor brings disgrace upon the holy cause of Christianity. It seeketh not her own. Too many people are seeking their own. But love is not desirous of her own spiritual welfare only, but that of others. Love is never satisfied but in the welfare, comfort, and salvation of all. He is no Christian who is solicitous for his own happiness. All the religion of the ages can be spelled in two words, S-E-L-F, and O-T-H-E-R-S. To which class do you belong? Love is not easily provoked. It is not easily irritated, and is not made sour or bitter by trials, misunderstandings, and persecutions. The proper rendering of this is “IT IS NOT STIRRED TO WRATH.” It is free from anger. It is wonderful to have the body of sin destroyed. Oh, blissful experience, in which all is at rest, and the heart freed from everything that sympathizes with sin! A man may be highly irritated against sin, and yet tender toward the sinner. Love thinketh no evil. It believes no evil when no evil seems. It never supposes that a good action may have had a bad motive. He who is enjoying this experience is so governed and influenced by God’s love that he can think evil only when it appears. The original text implies that he does not “INVENT OR DEVISE ANY EVIL.” Perfect love cannot look upon sin with the least toleration. The soul aflame with God, deplores sin in every form, whether in friend or foe; whether in palace or hovel; whether in prince or pauper. It rejoiceth not in iniquity. It rejoiceth not in falsehood, but on the contrary, rejoiceth in the truth. Some people rejoice in the calamity that befalls those who have treated them wrong, but love will not. Love takes no part in the sins of the age. It flees from error and deception as we would run from a rattlesnake. It runs after the truth. It never draws back and finds fault with the preacher when the truth is being preached. It has no desire to lower the standard of holy living. Love beareth all things. It means to endure, bear, sustain, cover, conceal and contain. Bishop Pierce says it should be rendered, “Covereth all things.” This rendering seems to be in harmony with the Apostle Peter. It shall “cover the multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). Love conceals everything that should be concealed. Love betrays no secrets. Friends keep secrets, but enemies reveal them. A person under the influence of this love never makes the sins, follies, faults, imperfections of any man, the subject either of censure or of conversation. It believeth all things. It is ever ready to believe the best of every person, and will credit no evil of any, but on the most positive evidence. It will hope all things. When there is no place left for believing good of a person, then love comes in with hope, where it could not work by faith; and begins immediately to make allowances and excuses, as far as a good conscience will permit. And further, anticipates the repentance of the transgressor, and his restoration to the good opinion of society and his place in the church. Love endureth all things. It bears up under all persecutions and bad treatment from open enemies and professed friends; bears adversities with an even mind and submits with perfect resignation to God’s dispensation of providence; and never says of any trial, or insult, “this cannot be endured.” Matchless Christ, give us of this love, that we shall be able to bear every burden, trial, misunderstanding, and `heartache, with patience and sweetness of spirit! Love never faileth. The true rendering is, “LOVE NEVER FAILETH OFF.” Love to God and man can never be dispensed with. It is essential to social and religious life; without it no communication can be held with God; and without it no person is prepared for Heaven and immortal glory. Without it there is no true religion. Friends may fail us, health may fail, the most trustworthy things may fail, but this love will never fail. It is necessary in this life and will exist throughout eternity. Most Holy God, give us more of Thyself, for Thou art love!
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III. THE DURATION OF THIS LOVE
Paul says, “But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” The wonderful gift of foretelling future events shall fail. The minister may be educated and well prepared, and powerful in declaring the truth of God, but he shall preach his last sermon. But this love of which we speak shall never fail. The gift of speaking many languages shall cease. The tongues that utter mighty, flaming truths of God, shall lie silent in the tomb. And all knowledge shall vanish away. All human arts and sciences will be utterly useless in the eternal world, though so highly extolled and useful here. Here we have but little knowledge of the earthly, but much less of heavenly things. He that knows most knows but little in comparison with angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. In summing it all up, the Apostle says, “And now abideth faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Faith is the foundation of our Christian experience, hope is its walls, and love is the roof. Faith is the roots of the tree of our salvation, hope is its branches, and love is the fruit. Faith is the inward union of the soul with God; hope is the support which gives us strength to battle with the present; love is the outward manifestation of what we feel within. Yonder in a room, altogether, are faith, hope and love. Faith is bending over a book — the Book of God — her face all glowing with hallowed emotion, yet filled with the deep and calm of Divinity, and with inward peace, she reads the “exceeding great and precious promises.” Hope is sitting in the window-seat, and is gazing with earnest, dreaming eyes, with her face serenely bright, upon the setting sun; watching intently as the amber clouds open their gates, and in fancy admit her into the city of everlasting light. Love turns her tender looks on the one sister and then on the other, and smiling a smile caught from Christ she thinks of the widow and the fatherless, cheered and comforted by the garments at which her hands are working. Oh, yes, it is love that visits the fatherless and motherless of earth, and acts in the capacity of a father and mother! It is love that hovers over prison-houses and waits in patience to lead the bound souls to Christ. It is love that will cross the burning deserts, swollen streams, and tempestuous seas to bring the wanderer home. This love visits sick rooms and presses a tender hand on fevered brows. Oh, blissful love, that bridges the awful chasm for a lost world to get back to God! It is love that will sweep onward and upward forever. Oh, eternal love, fill my heart that I may be in harmony with God and the inhabitants of the eternal city!