The Way of Love.

(Revised notes of a Bible Reading on 1 Corinthians 13.)

In chapter 12 of this epistle, the truth of the one body had been unfolded to the saints so that they might walk in the light of it, and that their gatherings might be regulated according to it. At the end of the chapter we have the gifts that are found in the house of God, and that function in the assemblies of the saints. The greater gifts, which brought the greatest benefits to the saints, were to be coveted, but the apostle added, "And yet show I unto you a more excellent way." Chapter 13 opens out for us this more excellent way, the way of love, which the saints of God are privileged to take at all times. No matter how feeble, or how great, our gifts may be, all that is done for Christ should be done in love for Him and for those He loves.

The setting in which this precious chapter is found, as well as the opening words, make it clear that Paul had specially in mind the functioning of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the assembly of God. While together "in assembly" the saints of God ought never to forget that by the Spirit of God they have been formed into one body, and that all that is done should be in the power of love. Where the Holy Spirit is present to guide there is no room for self-assertiveness or for human direction; where all belong to one body, independency should not raise its head; if love controls all, there will be the absence of all thoughts of self. There had been a great deal of disorder in the assembly gatherings at Corinth, and these things had been written to put matters right. To prevent or correct disorders, some have had recourse to human arrangements, and in this way have set aside the divine order given in the Holy Scriptures.

It is plain from the opening verses of our chapter that the exercise of gift, and especially the gift of tongues, had much to do with the confusion that was manifest in the gatherings of Corinth. This is confirmed in the next chapter, where the Apostle has much to say regarding speaking with tongues. Some were evidently using their divinely-given gifts to call attention to themselves. To be able to speak fluently and eloquently in tongues they had never learned was certainly remarkable, but this was to signify to unbelievers that God was working, not to glorify the vessel to whom God had given the gift. Unless the gift of the Spirit was exercised in love the speaker, in the thoughts of God was but "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." The speaker in the unknown tongue might be very pleased with the noise he was making, but there was neither edification nor comfort for his hearers.

Prophecy was one of the "greater gifts" of the previous chapter, indeed, we read, "first, apostles; secondly, prophets." It was not a spectacular gift like the gift of tongues, but the prophet spoke "unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort" (1 Cor. 14:3); but these benefits for the saints could only be fully secured if the gift was exercised through love. From this divine warning we can see that truly gifted servants of the Lord may use their gifts to obtain a reputation for themselves, instead of ministering for the blessing of others. However great such may appear in their own eyes, or in the eyes of those who hear them, in the estimate of God they are "nothing."

The gift of "all faith," must be distinguished from the faith that lays hold on the salvation of God, this latter is connected with God's work in the soul, the former may be exercised by one who has no living link with God, as are those referred to in Hebrews 6:4, 5. It is not difficult to see how that one displaying great faith can become inflated, and be highly esteemed by those who have come under his influence. On the other hand, a real Christian who possesses this gift, and exercises it in love, could be of real help to others, and a testimony to the goodness of God.

Human philanthropy passes for divine love with many, but their springs of action are diametrically opposed. Men can bestow all their goods to feed the poor without reference to God at all, the action being directed by the pride of the human heart. Martyrdom may come from similar motives, for many have died for country, or for some religious, political or philosophical creed, without a thought of God. It is even possible that some who died as Christian martyrs were Christian only in name, some other spring of action, rather than divine love, bringing them among true Christians who died for Christ's sake. Those who have impoverished themselves, or who have given up their lives, have not profited by their actions in the sight of God if divine love was not the motive of the sacrifice.

It might be very difficult, or even impossible, for us to form a right judgment on the actions of men, but the heart-searching God knows the true motives of every heart, and judges righteously. Such things as we have considered have been written that we might be found before God, judging what is of the flesh, and endeavouring to act by God's grace in love, saying like one of old, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23, 24).

From verse 4 we learn what love is, and what it is not. It suffers long and is kind; it does not envy, nor is it insolent or rash. Some of the beautiful traits of love have marked the saints throughout the different dispensations; we see the kindness of God in such as Joseph and David, unselfishness and meekness in Moses and Paul, patience and endurance in such as Job and the great cloud of witnesses mentioned at the close of Hebrews 11. But in Jesus every feature of love was found in perfection, and all were perfectly blended together and expressed in all His ways. Longsuffering and kindness mark God's dealings with men from the beginning; they are features of the divine nature to be manifested by all God's children.

What love is by way of contrast is very striking; how very different it is to the flesh, the nature that we have derived from Adam. The flesh is envious, it is insolent and rash, it becomes inflated, it behaves in an unseemly way, it seeks its own, it is quickly provoked, it imputes evil where no evil is, and rejoices at iniquity. Not one of these features is found in love! Love "rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never fails." Whatever the circumstances of life, love does not turn away but bears all; it is marked by faith, hope and endurance, and never fails.

All that belongs to the present time will pass away, even the gifts through which the saints of God are helped, but love will never pass away. Love is eternal, it had no beginning, and shall never have an end. Its full expression came out in Jesus on the cross, it is the cause of God's activities in grace; it is the very nature of God. Of this we read in John's 1st Epistle, "God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:8-10).

Prophecy, which is so helpful and encouraging to the saints on earth, will not be required by the saints in heaven. Tongues, which were given by God as a sign for unbelievers when first His testimony was sent to men, have already fulfilled the divine purpose. Knowledge, in its present, partial and imperfect state, will not obtain where learning is no more. These things belong to the immature condition in which Christians are in this world. Soon we shall enter into the perfect, the mature state, when, in our glorified bodies we pass into heaven to be like Christ and with Him for evermore.

There has been the full revelation of God in the Person of the Son, and the Spirit of God has unfolded to us God's purpose in Christ Jesus our Lord; but in our present flesh and blood condition it is not possible for us to understand these divine unveilings as we shall, when freed from our present conditions and limitations. Even if we become "Fathers" in the Christian family (1 John 2:13, 14), we shall still be incapable of understanding down here as we shall in the Father's House. Full maturity can never be realised while we are on earth, there is ever room for exercise and growth in the divine nature. Although matured in the things of God, and the vessel of so many wonderful revelations, it was still the desire of the Apostle Paul, towards the end of his journey here, "That I may know Him" (Phil. 3:10).

"We see through a glass darkly" now; this belongs to our present condition in which our apprehension of heavenly things is necessarily limited. Apart from our feeble appreciation of the full and perfect revelation that God has given of Himself in the Son, and of the vast wealth of truth connected with His purposes in Christ made known by the Holy Spirit, there are the "unspeakable words" of the Paradise of God "which it is not lawful for a man to utter." When we enter the heavenly Paradise we shall know these blissful things; we shall see "face to face," and know perfectly what we have learned partially down here.

Now by faith, which is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1), we are enabled to look beyond the present to the time when Christ shall fill the universe with His glory, and to when God shall be all in all. By faith too we look into heaven and see Jesus, and all the things that are His in the presence of God. Hope sustains us in the wilderness, and enables us to purify ourselves, "even as He is pure." With faith and hope we have love, that which has been divinely implanted in our hearts through the sovereign working of God in grace, and which has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. That love is to control our thoughts and actions for the pleasure of God. But very soon the things that faith has enabled us to enjoy will be actually possessed, and the things hoped for will be realised in the company of Christ; but the love that we have known in Jesus will be the same when with Him in the heavenly home. This is the love we are to "follow after," and that we are to manifest in all our dealings with the saints of God in the assembly, and at all times.