“A More Excellent Way”
—I Corinthians 12:31

THE Apostle John, endeavoring to express a succinct epitome of God, simply wrote, “God is love.” (I John 4:8) In this description he is not inferring that God is only a principle which finds its highest expression in the hearts of men, but rather, he is affirming that to which the entire Bible attests, that God is the Supreme Being of the universe, whom no man can see (I John 4:12), but visible to us through his works of creation, and the knowledge of his plan and purposes revealed in his Word. These in unison speak gloriously of the wonderful love of our great Creator. Lending to this testimony, John continues in verse nine, “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.” This is a reminder of what Jesus said while he was yet in the world. Harking back to the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness, he recalled how, when they were inflicted with a curse of serpents, which bit and killed them by the thousands, God made provision for their salvation by having a brazen serpent raised on a pole and those who looked upon it lived. Jesus said that this was a type of himself; he was to be raised up on a cross to take the sinner’s place in death, to die as a ransom for the life of the entire world of mankind, all having received the deadly sting of the serpent through our first parents in Eden.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:14-17) We marvel at these words of Jesus, who, while undergoing the very difficult experience of offering his own life as the redemptive sacrifice for man, overshadows his own part by pointing to his Heavenly Father and telling us of the great love of God manifested in providing the sacrifice.

John continues, saying, there is no higher example of love. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [atonement] for our sins.” (I John 4:10) God’s love reached out to a world estranged from him, mankind in many respects having made themselves his enemies, unable to either know or love their Creator. What amazing grace has called us from this world of darkness, and caused the glorious light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to shine into our hearts, permitting us to become beloved children of God. As enlightened children we must give heed to the example of our Heavenly Father, and learn from him. Jesus stated the matter quite plainly in his Sermon on the Mount. “But I say unto you [Jesus’ disciples], Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you: that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” Enlarging on this thought with strong appeal to logic, the apostle declares in I John 4:11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”

Leading up to our theme text, the Apostle Paul had been discussing the matter of unity in the Early Church. He referred to the fact that unity at that time depended to a large extent upon unique gifts the Lord had bestowed upon them through the power of the Holy Spirit. These, in addition to apostles, evangelists, teachers, pastors, he enumerates as the gifts of tongues, healings, power to perform miracles, and power to interpret. (I Cor. 12:28-30) Paul expresses the thought that these various gifts, supernaturally received through the power of his Holy Spirit, were intended to minister to the church for their benefit as a whole.

Special gifts of teaching and imparting the knowledge of God’s Word were very much needed by the brethren in those days. The Early Church had no Bibles or other textbooks; the synagogues, not generally open to them, limited their access to the Old Testament Scriptures, and the New Testament, as such, was not yet in existence. No doubt very few were naturally endowed with teaching skills, and those who were, had few references and aids for personal study. This was true even among the apostles. Only the power of God could make up for this lack and give them the ability to teach, and to learn.

The assembling of themselves in meetings was vitally important, because it was there that the gifts individually received could become mutually beneficial to all. Those who were authorized to teach could impart the reading of scripture; others could interpret what was stated; still others with the gift of tongues, could repeat the lesson to those of another language or dialect. The gifts of performing miracles and healing were especially helpful in their witnessing, as a means of authenticating them as God’s messengers, and relating their work as associated with that which Jesus did. In the absence of printing, radio, television, motion picture, slide projection, etc., as an adjunct to public speaking, these gifts served effectively in catching the interest of those God was calling into their fellowship.

It is evident that under this arrangement the brethren were very much dependent upon one another through their ecclesia association for spiritual growth and development. This mutual dependency, Paul described as being similar to the human body, in that its health and growth was contingent upon the function and cooperation of every part. (I Cor. 12:14-27) “The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee.” (vs. 21) Consider how limited would be the use of the hands if one could not see to direct their activity, or if crippled and impaired in moving about easily. The full weight of this illustration Paul brings to bear in his letter to the brethren at Ephesus, to whom he wrote: “And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”—Eph. 4:11-13

A very salient point of this scripture is expressed in the phrase, “The unity of the faith.” Vital to any concept of unity is a common understanding of purpose. To the Lord’s people, their oneness of purpose is defined in the doctrines of truth. It is shared in the hope of the high calling. It is found in a common participation of the redemptive benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The true kingdom hope is a tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. The apostle continues, in verses fifteen and sixteen, to say that it is our association together in this truth, speaking the truth, which stimulates our growth and development in Christ. “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”

Consistent with this scriptural objective, the brethren of Corinth were informed that the miraculous manner in which God’s acceptance was shown through the bestowing of these special gifts of the Spirit to those who had consecrated themselves as followers of Christ, and the importance of these gifts to their fellowship in the faith would in time lead them to a better basis of unity, “a more excellent way.”—I Cor. 12:31

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels [as God’s messenger], and have not charity, … it profiteth me nothing.” (I Cor. 13:1,3) This more excellent way went beyond the desire for those evidences of the Spirit in gifts and talents which were at God’s disposal, and involved what he called the “fruits” of the same Spirit, acquired through the gradual growth and development of faith, hope, and love—the true essence of the Holy Spirit to be striven for. This quality, which is necessary as a basis of character, and which makes any or all service acceptable and esteemed by God, is love. If love is not the motivation of service, then the greatest zeal, richest rhetoric, finest eloquence, greatest expounding of mysteries, study and knowledge, Paul says would pass for nothing. Even faith, in a large degree, would count for little if deep in our hearts God could not see love. Giving of one’s possessions to feed the poor, and great suffering and sacrifice, “giving our bodies to be burned,” martyrdom in the name of Christ, would pass for nought, except in the deep recesses of the heart God could see that the moving consideration was love.

What, then, is love—this wonderful quality without which nothing is acceptable in the sight of God? The apostle defines it in the practical terms of everyday Christian living in I Corinthians, chapter thirteen.

Love suffereth long. Love is patient with the weaknesses and imperfections of others.

Love is kind. It has been said, “I shall pass through this world but once; any kindness I can show, let me not neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Love envieth not. Love is generous, and rejoices in the prosperity of others.

Love vaunteth not itself. Love is humble, and acknowledges that every good gift comes from God.

Love doth not behave itself unseemly. Love is expressed in polite and courteous conduct toward others.

Love seeketh not her own. Love is unselfish.

Love is not easily provoked. Love is good-tempered, not easily provoked to anger—and then not without good cause.

Love thinketh no evil. Love is guileless. Love seeks to interpret the words and conduct of others in a charitable way.

Love rejoices not in iniquity. Love is sincere in its motives, seeks uprightness in conduct, and is grieved by sin and evil.

Love rejoices in the truth. Love takes great pleasure in all truth, but especially the truth revealed in God’s Word.

Love beareth all things. Love is both willing and able to endure all things for the cause of God—reproaches, losses, and even death.

Love believeth all things. Love is not suspicious by nature, but, on the contrary, is disposed to be trustful.

Love hopeth all things. Love is not easily discouraged.

Love endureth all things. The spirit of love knows no despair. It has an anchor which enters into that which is within the veil.—Heb. 6:19

The apostle says these qualities, which so well define for us the exercise of love, will never fail or cease to be. They remain as the evidences of his Holy Spirit working in the hearts and minds of his people and form the fabric of unity which has knit his people together throughout the age, continuing so today, and will endure forever.

On the other hand, he goes on to say that the gifts of the Spirit which were so necessary to the instruction of the Lord’s people in the Early Church, would in time “vanish away,” giving way to a better method of instruction “when that which is perfect [complete] is come.” We believe this is a reference to the writing and compiling of the New Testament, which at its completion, supplanted the need of those early methods of instruction when the church was in its infancy. The Bible in its entirety is the Truth, the “truth which we speak in love” when we bring our lives into active compliance with its precepts and teachings. In Malachi 3:16 it is prophesied that those who “reverenced the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard.” The Lord has so arranged at this end of the age, even as he did with the Early Church, that it would be through the intertwining of our lives because of a common interest in the truth that he would “make increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Perhaps it was somewhat in a prophetic way that the Apostle Paul wrote in Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together … but exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.” Nineteen hundred years ago it was seldom, no doubt, that brethren would meet other brethren who lived more than a few miles away. And then, often, that meeting was in secret for fear of the authorities. Think of the change in our day, when the complete Bible is available in every language, when the many helps, study aids, and truth commentaries are so readily at hand for our use, when the truth can go forth as a witness through the sophisticated mediums of our day, when relatively inexpensive, very rapid travel is a common thing, when in most areas of the world the freedom of meeting and worship is protected by law. Surely, the Lord has made it increasingly easier and possible now on a global scale for us to assemble ourselves and work together, even so much the more as we see the day approaching.

While the need for the special gifts to the church has long since passed away, our need for each other has not changed. Our meetings are still an important source for our constant learning. They still provide that comfort and strength which is unique to the brotherhood of Christ. They give us the thrill of being and belonging in the family of God, of sharing in the rich fruitage that God’s truth has brought forth in a place where we can speak the truth in love.

As we thus speak more often one to another, may the love which so characterizes our Heavenly Father grow and be reflected in our association as children of God. And for us as the family of God, may the simple, practical expressions of love stated in these texts by our loving Apostle Paul, indeed be a more excellent way. “And now abideth faith, hope, charity [love], these three; but the greatest of these is charity [love].”—I Cor. 13:13

Dawn Bible Students Association
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