TEXT : 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
DATE : 21 /08 /2011
Chapter 13 is found in the context of the subject of “spiritual gifts”. The Corinthian church was struggling with wrong perspectives on this . I thank God for this letter to the Corinthians because the modern church, mainly in the 70’s and ‘80’s of the last century had gone through a similar crisis with respect to the subject of spiritual gifts . A man centred understanding and application of the gifts has torn the church to pieces in our generation . It has been in my understanding one of the most devastating tactics used by Satan to divide the church and to cause the name of God be blasphemed by those who wanted an excuse to do so . Many people have been needlessly hurt in the conflicts created around this subject .
With the advent of the Pentecostal , and then the Charismatic movement in the 70’s much stress was placed on the place of the spiritual gifts in the church , particularly the extra ordinary sign gifts (such as tongues , healings , prophecies) which we read about in 1 Corinthians 12: 8 –11 and Chapter 14 .
Pentecostals and Charismatics have generally claimed that all the gifts mentioned in the Bible ought to be in operation today. They had attributed the present ‘deadness’ of the church to the fact that the church had neglected these gifts , which, they said needed to be restored to bring about life and unity to the church! The truth is that the so called rediscovery of the spiritual gifts has not brought about neither revival nor life nor unity to the church. On the contrary, it has hugely divided the church .
It all began with an incorrect assessment of the true need of a backslidden church . There can be no doubt that the church at the beginning of the 20th century was backslidden . For instance , the Baptist Union of England in Spurgeon’s day was affected by the new liberal theology , promoted mainly by liberal Germany theology professors . They had a distinct bias against the supernatural claims of the Bible , particularly with respect to the inspiration of Scripture and the supernatural conception of Christ and with respect to the miracles of the scriptures . C.H Spurgeon of the Metropolitan Tabernacle ( Reformed Baptist – 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith) was one of the few preachers who clearly saw what was coming and he warned the church of his day . Like the true prophets of old he was scorned , and sadly later dismissed from the Baptist Union of England. This was part of what became known as “ the Downgrade Controversy” in 1887 .
But , my dear brothers and sisters , the deadness of the church was never due per se to an absence of the practise of spiritual gifts ( particularly tongues , healings ) . The deadness of the church is always due to an absence of spiritual life! When a church is dead , then it is not that the gifts aren’t practised ; it is most likely that many of her church members are not converted ! Where people are not truly converted in a church there can be no spiritual life or vitality !
In the case of the Corinthian Christians it was not that the church lacked spiritual life . They lacked an understanding of the proper use of the spiritual gifts. The members had ‘privatised’ the spiritual gifts . They were using them not for the ‘common good’ , but they were boasting and flaunting their gifts . They were being arrogant and rude, because they were self centred .
Ultimately all this was due to one problem . This is where Chapter 13 really brings the perspective which we need in this whole matter concerning the exercising of the spiritual gifts : Love ! It is introduced to us as “ the most excellent way”. ( 1 Cor 12:31b)
Love is pre-eminent! A.W. Pink said that “ love is the queen of all the Christian graces” . Whatever gifts we do not have , if we have love then we have that which matters most. We have already seen in 1 Cor 13:1-3 that any spiritual gift ( no matter how profound) is essentially empty , nothing, useless if not ‘wrapped ‘ in the spirit of agape or biblical love.
What is meant by biblical love ? How shall we define it ?
The answer is given us in vv 4 – 7 , in which the properties of that love are expounded . Love is so profound that it cannot be described or explained in one simple word .Paul use 15 different verbs here to explain what love is or what it is not . Seven verbs teach us what love is , and eight teach us what love is not .
Last time we looked at the first two verbs , which were positively defined : Love is patient ( long suffering ) ; love is kind. The other five positives are : love rejoices with the truth ; bears all things , believes all things , hopes all things , endures all things . Putting that into our context (i.e. the teaching concerning spiritual gifts) I must remember that if in the ministry of the church I am longsuffering , kind , rejoicing with the truth, bearing all things , believing all things , hoping all things, enduring all things , I shall contribute greatly to an environment that is conducive to the flourishing of our mutual gifts . It greatly contributes to the life of a happy church .
The eight verbs which tell us what love is not, are : Love is not…. envious , boastful , proud , rude , self seeking , easily angered, keeping record of wrongs , delighting in evil . Putting that into our context again , I must remember that if in the ministry of the church I am envious, boastful, proud , rude , self seeking , easily angered, always keeping record of wrongs… I am a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal… I am nothing… I gain nothing ! In fact , I undermine or hinder the work of the church.
Let us continue then building our understanding of the spiritual gifts God has given us :
Love does not envy ( Gr agapē oủ zēloi )
Here we have the first negative – i.e. what love ought not to be like . Some translations translate the word ‘envy’ as "jealous"- Love is not jealous . ( e.g. RSV). Envy is certainly a passion that tends towards jealousy. Jonathan Edwards defines envy as "a spirit of dissatisfaction/ and opposition with the prosperity and happiness of others, when compared to ourselves" .
At its root envy is essentially the “spirit of covetousness", which is forbidden in the 10th commandment.
A few scriptural illustrations :
1. Genesis 37:11 - When Joseph had a dream in which it was implied that his parents and brothers were going to bow before him, and that he would have power over them, his brothers were jealous /envious of him. They were not willing to have their youngest brother above them. They also envied him for the fact that their father loved Joseph more than them (Gen 37: 4,5) . This shows us that envy resents the fortunes of others , and often it turns into hatred. The envy of Joseph’s brothers brought great hurt into the family.
2. Esther 5:9ff : In the book of Esther , we meet a man called Haman, who was insanely jealous of the Jews , (who were at this time in exile in Babylon), and especially with Mordecai and his adopted Jewish daughter, Esther, who had become queen of Babylon. Haman could not face the fact that Mordechai the Jew was so honoured by King Xerxes, and because of envy sought to dispose of him . The envy of this one man Haman caused great hurt for the Jews. We note that God judged him severely for this attitude .
3.Acts 13:45 - The Jews, when they saw the crowds, which Paul and Barnabas had attracted with the message of the Gospel, "were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Persecution happened , and Paul; and Barnabas had to shake of their feet in protest against that region – do you see what happened ? That region was deprived of the privilege of hearing the gospel – because of envy!
God hates this spirit ! It is altogether opposed to His being and to His perfect law (the 10th commandment ) . If the spirit of envy persists in any church it will kill the church , for it kills love in the church! When we allow ourselves at any time to become envious of another person’s success or good fortunes or greater gifts / or more attractive personality or material wealth in the church , then let us be quick to repent of such an attitude . If we persist in envy , it will sink deep into our hearts and become a settled way of life . It will be so deep and so entrenched and therefore so subtle that we will not recognise it anymore for what it is As Christians we learn to continually cultivate a tender conscience with regard to evil. We must not allow our fallen natures to rule us in this regard . Remember that you have received power to resist the devil and your sinful nature in this regard ( see 2 Peter 1:3&4) . You have received power to overcome 'the world and its desires' (1 Jn 2:17 )
The opposite of envy is contentment . We must learn to be content with our place and position in life. (Phil 4:12) .
Jonathan Edwards says : "Whether our rank be as high as that of the angels, or as low as that of the beggar at the rich man's gate (Lk 16:20), we shall be equally satisfied with it, as the post in which God has placed us, and shall equally respect ourselves, if we are faithfully endeavouring to serve Him in it."
So , if you see this trait in you , know that this is going to kill your Christian love .If you see it , immediately commit and confess this to the Lord in prayer .
It is entirely clear, that the Bible does not encourage envy . All the great virtues of Scripture such as good-will, meekness, humility, generosity are directly opposed to the spirit of envy.
Further warnings against envy
· Rom 13:13 : "let us behave decently, as in the daytime... not in dissension and jealousy/envy." ;
· 1Cor 3:3 , where Paul blames the Corinthians for being "worldly", because there was "jealousy/envy and quarreling among them. (also in 2 Cor 12;20) ;
· James 3:14,16 speaks of envy as entirely contrary to true Christianity, and connects it to "selfish ambition in your hearts, … it is earthly , unspiritual and devilish..." ;
· 1 Peter2:1,2 warns us against envy (connected with various other evils), as preventing our growth in spiritual things.
Somebody once said: "Every time you turn green with envy, you are ripe for trouble".
Thomas Brooks, the Puritan said: “Envy, tortures the affections (emotions) ; it vexes the mind; it inflames the blood; it corrupts the heart; it wastes the spirits; and it becomes man's tormentor and man's executioner at once."
John Chrysostom (early Church father) said: "As a moth gnaws at a garment, so does envy consume a man."
In fact…many lovely things pass out of life, when jealousy or envy comes in.
The bad news is that this destructive trait is potentially found in all of us , since we are all children of Adam. The good news is that through obeying the powerful gospel of Jesus , we can learn to recognise it and deal with it.