A More Excellent Way

Recently, I've been working on re-memorizing 1 Corinthians 13. It's a pretty easy passage to commit to memory, being so short and well-known compared to other passages (One rarely finds Leviticus 19:19 stitched into a Hallmark throw pillow or Deuteronomy 14:21 stamped onto a decorative kitchen plaque). And, while it's fairly easy to learn, its familiarity can make you gloss right over the gravity and import of the passage. One thing that strikes me about it is the way it's set up by the preceding section. In 1 Cor. 12, Paul lays out the place and importance of spiritual gifts: prophecy, teaching, speaking in tongues, miracles, healing, etc., elaborating on how they should be understood and prioritized. He then goes on to say, in the face of this elaboration, that love is a "more excellent way" (1 Cor. 12:31b, NASB).

I've heard this phrase perhaps hundreds of times, but only recently did it occur to me that my natural, human tendency is to place nearly everything in the 1 Cor. 12 list ahead of love. I can often be much more impressed by eloquent words of teaching or prophecy, by miraculous works or spiritual signs than by loving, gentle responses or a constant, patient spirit of charity. And, yet, Paul through the Holy Spirit declares this to be the "more excellent way" - the determining factor in validating any other spiritually significant activity, going so far as to say the giftings in chapter 12 will all fail and cease, but, love - love does not fail. The perfecting of love in the believer's life is the ultimate expression of the work of God.

This tells me one very important thing: God's activity in the world, from beginning to end, is wholly relational in its focus. Every activity the Body engages in, whether preaching, teaching, miraculous works, acts of compassion, administrative oversight, or simple, everyday interactions, ought to have as its focus the building of healthy, invigorating, loving relationships with God and each other. At its core, every gifting you have been given or have developed needs to have as its beginning and end the mission of more perfectly loving others.

What does that look like? well, I can tell you it certainly does not look like what is often defined as success in our society. Business acumen, ambition, artistic creativity, a goal-oriented, assertive attitude, a productive routine, intellectual drive - all these might have positive traits associated with them; they might even be lauded in certain circumstances. But, for the Christian, these attributes - and a myriad of others - should be merely doors through which love in all its humble, gentle, patient, kind, and honest ways may be made manifest.

And so, I'd like to merely reprint the text of 1 Corinthians 13. Let it be a simple reminder of both God's love for each one of us and our calling to love those God places us in contact with - our highest calling...

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.  When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love."

(1 Corinthians 13, NASB)

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