Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 2 * PART 1 * BOOK 28
ETERNAL EXCELLENCE OF LOVE
In our last lesson we pretty much finished Chapter 11 of I Corinthians, and in these next four lessons I hope to cover Chapters 12, 13, and 14. We’re still studying the questions that Paul had received from these Corinthians. I think Paul is doing like I do even now, and that is, when someone writes and they have several questions. then I answer the questions in the order that they wrote them. We have been studying how he has been dealing with one problem after another that they had evidently listed in this letter to him. Now when we come to Chapter 12 he starts out the same way as I’m sure they had asked him about spiritual gifts, and he is going to cover it as only the Apostle Paul, by inspiration, could cover it.
I Corinthians 12:1a
Now concerning spiritual gifts,…”
Now it’s rather interesting and I guess I had never really thought of it this way until I spent the last 3 months just racking my whole being on these three chapters, getting ready for this series like I never have before. And then it suddenly dawned on me why Chapter 13 is the love chapter, which almost everybody in Christendom knows. Why is it sandwiched right in between 12 and 14? It could just as easily have been back in the Book of Romans, or in Ephesians or any one of his other letters, but why did the Holy Spirit inspire the apostle to write the love chapter between these two chapters? I think you will see in just a little bit, as we now take off, that this is the great love chapter of the whole New Testament. And again it’s in response to the problems and questions that the Corinthian Church had. Remember, they were so carnal and had so many problems. They were babes in Christ! They couldn’t handle the meat of the Word!
I Corinthians 3:1,2
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”
Now the Apostle could have just blasted these Corinthians on some of these things, and especially Chapters 12 and 14. But instead he is not only preparing the Corinthian congregation to accept Chapters 12 & 14, he is also preparing his own heart and attitude lest he become too belligerent, and become angry with them. So what does he have to do? Well the Holy Spirit has prompted him to pen Chapter 13, and now let’s look at it in that light. We want to approach the things that are so controversial, even in the Corinthian Church in Chapter 12 and 14, based on the love and the understanding and patience that we see in this chapter. It is imperative that we look at Chapter 13 before I start making any comments on the other two chapters because this was the apostles’ attitude as he approached these carnal Corinthians. Now let’s look at Chapter 13.
I Corinthians 13:1
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, (Now I’m going to stop right there. That does not say that he spoke in the angelic tongue. It is only a hypothetical statement. “If,” he said hypothetically, he could speak in the tongues of angels, and all the languages of the world, if that could be the case) and have not charity, (love) I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
Now what is he opening the door to? How are these Corinthians going to respond to some of the things he’s going to say in Chapters 12, and 14? Well, without the attitude of love, faith, and understanding they’re going to get upset and angry. And I shouldn’t doubt that some of my audience will also, but I guess the Lord does everything in His own way because He’s so Sovereign to the smallest detail. Ordinarily when we leave to drive the 90 miles to tape the programs we don’t have time to look at our mail. We usually do that when we get home. But this morning for some reason I went and got the mail and opened up the letters quickly, and I’m sure that this one little letter was meant for me this afternoon. It was a lady writing from Minnesota, and she said, “I’ve been watching you and even though I’m from a background far different than yours, and even though you say things that I can’t agree with, yet never have you offended me with anything that you have taught.”
And this is my whole goal, that maybe I have to say things that are contrary to what some have been taught, but I want to do it without making offense. And this is exactly what Paul is saying. “I’m coming to you in the spirit of love.” And that has to be for all of us because when you approach some person that you may know is as hell-bound as can be, don’t ever go up to them and say, “Look, unless you do such and such you’re going to go to hell!” Hey, you’ll close their mind right now because you don’t do that to people. But you approach them with this whole attitude that the apostle uses of love, and patience, and understanding, and not compromising the truth in the process.
I Corinthians 13:2
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, (which of course he admonishes the Corinthians to look for because it was far better than other things) and understand all mysteries, (now I wish I had more time. Even when you go into the pagan religions of the world, at the very core of every pagan religion, what do you find? Mysteries! The secrets of that evil religion. And so Paul is really saying here that even though he had the gift of understanding even the mysteries of the Oriental, pagan, idolatry religions [and of course he uses the same word in his own letters] that He was revealed the Mysteries of God. Nevertheless this is speaking of something beyond the norm. So he says even if he had the ability to understand all the supernatural mysteries) and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, (love) I am nothing.”
And you know the letter to the Church at Ephesus, back there in the Book of Revelation, oh, they were so correct in everything. They had their doctrine straight, they had their discipline in order, and yet as the Lord Jesus spoke that letter to that Church, what was their major lacking? No love! It doesn’t do any good to have all your doctrine straight, or to have perfect discipline, if there is no love then it counts for nothing. And so this is what this apostle is bringing out to these Corinthians. He’s saying, “Look, I’m going to be coming at you about some things that I don’t agree with you that you’re doing, but I’m going to do it in the spirit of love. ” Now reading on.
I Corinthians 13:3
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, (how could anybody do anything better than that?) and though I give my body to be burned, (as a complete sacrifice to even the service of God) and have not charity, (love) it profiteth me nothing.”
Everything we say, think and do with regards to our family, our wife, our neighbor, our business partners, whatever the case may be, it still has to be based on this premise of love. Now understand of course that this term of love is not the erotic kind that Hollywood promotes. This is talking about the agape that is God-centered. And only the true believer can really have and exercise this kind of love, because the unsaved world doesn’t know what it is. They can’t comprehend it, but for us Paul says, this is out there for us to latch onto. In verse 4 he begins to explain all the attributes of this one word “love.”
I Corinthians 13:4
“Charity (love) suffereth long, and is kind; charity (love) envieth not; (and of course the other word for envieth is covet. If you love someone you cannot covet what is theirs. That goes right back into the commandments doesn’t it?) charity (love) vaunteth not itself, (In other words, love doesn’t become arrogant, and put pressure on the subjects of your love.) is not puffed up.”
I Corinthians 13:5
“(Love) Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, (Now that doesn’t mean it can never be provoked, but it’s not easily provoked) thinketh no evil;(True love can think no evil. That’s quite a statement isn’t it? Now verse 6.
I Corinthians 13:6-8a
“(Love) Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; (Love) Beareth all things, believeth all things, (Remember faith is the other word for believeth, so our faith is based on love.The whole crux of the work of the Cross was the love of God, that He showered on mankind when He sent the best that heaven had to the Cross of Calvary. So far as Christ is concerned, God’s wrath was poured upon Him while He hung there, but as God’s wrath was poured on Christ the love of God was shed abroad on the human race.) hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Then verse 8a: “Love never faileth:….”
Love will never let us down. We know human nature. We know that there are times when we may love our neighbor and may do everything we can for them and they’re still going to take advantage of you. But over the long haul, love is going to persevere. I think one of the best examples that I can remember is that of President Abraham Lincoln. He was the epitome of this kind of Christian love. At the height of the war there was a gentleman who had ridiculed Abraham Lincoln before he became President. He ridiculed him to such a state that he once admonished an explorer, traveling all over Africa looking for a gorilla, “Why go to Africa when all you have to do is go to Springfield, Illinois” (referring to Abraham Lincoln).
He also made other disparaging remarks concerning Abraham Lincoln, but besides that, when Lincoln needed the right man to be his Secretary of War during the midst of the Civil War, whom do you suppose he appointed? This man, Stanton. And as time went by and Stanton served under the President, he continued to give him snide remarks and had no respect for the man whatsoever. But Lincoln never paid any attention to it. And then when he was assassinated, and as they had laid his body in a side room, Stanton came in and through his tears, weeping, he said, “Never has there been such a leader of men.” You know, that touches our heart and well it should. But what made Lincoln what he was? He knew this whole attribute of Godly love. A man like Stanton never phased that love. He continued to work with him, appointed him and so forth. And I think this is what we have to understand, that a lot of times we don’t get the immediate gratification, but in the long run, what goes around, comes around. Our love is still going to be a profitable thing. Now, let’s move on.
I Corinthians 13:8
“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
In other words, the gift of prophecy, which he says back in Chapter 12 is the one that is by far the best, it’s going to fail. Well, how can something that’s so good fail? You see, before this book came into print, (the New Testament), and Paul had already been winning hundreds and hundreds of people to Christ, and congregations were being started, they didn’t have anything written to go by. None of the Gospels were even written yet. In fact, Paul will quote some of the words of Jesus as we see them in the Gospels in your Red Letter Edition. And so you know the man is moved by inspiration because they hadn’t been written yet. So here, while the world was waiting for God’s Word to come into print by way of the Four Gospels’ account, by way of Luke’s writing Acts and by way of Paul’s epistles, what did God have to provide to feed those believers? Gifted men! And so the gift of prophecy was indeed by far the most important because that’s all those early believers had to go on. And here, he says, they’re going to fail. They’re going to pass away. Why? Because the written book is coming. And Paul, evidently by inspiration, knew that there was a time coming when the Word of God would be in print for the New Testament believer, even as the Old Testament was at that time.
Now let’s move on to the next part: “whether there be tongues….” I guess I’m going to have to emphasize something and it will carry for all three of these chapters, and I’m going to do this just so that people can readily understand that in the Greek whenever you see the word “tongues” (plural) it always means a known language. A speakable, reducible to writing, language. Now, the word `tongue’ in the singular (and we’ll point this out as we go through the coming chapters, especially Chapter 14), when there is no plural, speaks to those non-phonetic sounds, and that’s all they were, just sounds, that no one could reduce to writing. Even some of our most gifted translators today, such as your Bible Societies, the Wycliffe translators, whenever they have heard someone speak in one of these so-called unknown tongues, they have never been able to pick out a single phonetic sound that could be reduced to writing. Amazing isn’t it? And so they are unintelligible and that’s why Paul said that if they are going to use it, they have to have someone to interpret or translate it, otherwise leave it alone. Whatever, we’re going to leave that aside for now.
So now, he says, that this whole gift of speaking even in known languages, being able to speak in almost any language that would happen to come up, this gift will cease. Paul makes the statement in Chapter 14, verse 18:
I Corinthians 14:18
“I thank my God, I speak with tongues (plural) more than ye all:”
Now that was early in his ministry. And from what we can gather from the time he comes to the end of his ministry, he no longer practices it either. Now I can best explain this ability to speak in languages from one of our guides when we’ve been to Israel (and we’re hoping to get him when we go again). When we’d finished our tour, the whole group that was with us had fallen in love with the guy. I asked him, “Eli, what do you do from here?” He said, “I’ve got a few days off and then I pick up another group from Italy.” I said, “Then what do you do? How do you communicate?” He said, “I speak Italian.” I said, “What if a week after that a bunch of Japanese come?” He said, “No problem. I speak Japanese too.” He gave me his business card when we left and I sat down on the plane and turned it over on the back side and there he had it down – the guy was fluent in seven languages. He could take a tour from any one of those countries and be able to converse with them as well as he did us.
Now that’s what it means to be able to speak in tongues (plural) as we see it here. And the guy had this but it wasn’t a supernatural gift. I imagine he had a talent and ability, but he still had to learn those various languages. But Paul, wherever he went in his missionary journeys, and he went into various tribes and dialects, didn’t have to stop and take six months to learn the language. He communicated with them. And even in Corinth, there was a multitude of languages being constantly used because it was a center of East and West trade. But whatever, Paul says the day is coming when this gift of being able to speak in such as he was able to do, would also disappear. Why? Because God’s Sovereign. Talk to any missionary that’s gone to the mission field over the last many years, and have you ever found one that can go right in to Brazil and speak Portuguese? Or into Bolivia and all of a sudden be able to speak the languages of those Indian tribes? No! And so what do they do? They have to study months and years learning the language. Because God has taken that whole thing away.
When we were in Haiti, I would have given anything if we could have just been able to communicate with those 700 Haitians who were out there in that crowd every night, plus the fact that it went out over island-wide radio. If I could have spoken that whole week in either Creole or French, I would have been satisfied with either one of them. But I couldn’t. I needed an interpreter. And so Paul says this whole gift of tongues is going to vanish, as well as the gift of prophecy and even this supernatural knowledge that was given to men, till the printed page came in, disappeared. Now you want to remember that God gave us this Book, which is supernatural in itself. And He has written it in such a way, as one of the old Reformers put it, that every plowboy in England could read the Bible and could comprehend it. So this is why all these supernatural things are going to fade away: because the printed Word would now come in and take over. Now verse 9:
I Corinthians 13:9,10
“For we know in part, (what does `in part’ mean? Partially, there’s not a full knowledge revealed yet. Paul understood that. That even with all the revelations that he had received from the ascended Lord, he still did not have them all, as there would be more coming and we know now that there were.) and we prophesy (or preach, particularly) in part.” He still didn’t have the whole revelation of the truth of the Gospel of Grace, this was only the beginning.
“But when that which is perfect (mature or complete) is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”
Now here I have to use a simple illustration: everyone of you went through the grade school and learned your arithmetic, your plain and simple combination of 2+2, the multiplication tables and so forth. How often do you still use them today? I mean as such? Very rarely. But whatever mathematics you do use, what’s it all based on? Those first principles. I don’t care how high you go in mathematics 2+2 is still 4. Now it’s the same way with scriptural revelations. God starts with the simple, but He is constantly revealing deeper and deeper truths. Now that doesn’t take away the simpler part, but rather puts it in a place where you’re not constantly hashing it over because you don’t have to. It’s just simply part and parcel of your make-up. Let me show you a verse that I think points it out so clearly, and that would be in Hebrews Chapter 6 right there in verse 1.
“Therefore (Getting off the baby bottle in Chapter 5, and getting into the meat of the Word. You don’t throw them away, or say they are no longer true, but you don’t need them anymore) leaving (just like we leave grade school arithmetic) the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; (maturity, or that which is complete)”
Don’t stay back there in the simplicity area of Scripture, but move on into deeper things.