September 17, 2023

Divine Priorities for the Body


What Matters to God

Spiritual gifts have always been at the center of temptation to pride. The Corinthians, who prized social status were viewing their gifts as a means to promote themselves. The more spectacular gifts, especially the gift of tongues, were seen as superior. But God's priorities are not according to human wisdom and pride. Rather, the priority of His word leads us to the more excellent way of love that is to govern all that we do.

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Sermon Transcript

Well, let’s take our Bibles and turn back again to First Corinthians, this time to chapter 12. First Corinthians, chapter 12. And this morning we’re going to cross the boundary of two chapters. Remember, chapters are not inspired. They were added later, and you may be offended that we’re entering into the love chapter. It is a beautiful chapter that could stand on its own, certainly, but it’s good for us to see it in the flow of context this morning. And so, we’re actually going to wade into it as we finish up Chapter 12. So, follow along as I read First Corinthians chapter 12, beginning in verse 27. First Corinthians 12:27:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Well, as we’ve taken our time to carefully assess what the Spirit of God has been communicating to us about spiritual gifts in Chapter 12 through the pen of the apostle Paul, we’ve seen the point driven home, like I said last Lords Day, like a well driven nail, that the church is a unity of diversity. And last Lord’s Day, we saw in that metaphor of the church as the body of Christ, in verses 12 through 26, that not only is the church of unity of diversity, but it’s also a community of necessity. That is to say that every member of the body is indispensable to the whole, and we depend upon one another in order to grow the way that the Lord intends. In verse 27 and following, he summarizes all that he said. That’s what we’re looking at here. The summary of this chapter. And he’s telling us here that as we are this corporate body individually, we are members of it. No one has all the gifts and therefore he’s driving home that point that we all need one another. But you’ll notice that as he wraps this up and summarizes, he seems to assign a ranking to some of these individual gifts. And after all he’s said, and how he’s labored to show the necessity of every individual to the whole (and that is his point here too), it seems odd to us at first glance that he’s going to rank some of these gifts. So, what exactly is going on here? 

Well, remember that this entire section dealing with spiritual gifts was precipitated by a question from the Corinthians to the apostle about the gifts. And as we look at the nature of Paul’s response, and especially as we come into Chapter 14, where the focus is given as a correction of the use of tongues, it becomes clear that the Corinthians’ primary problem of pride and selfishness that we’ve seen throughout this letter was manifesting itself once again in their view and their use of spiritual gifts. They were still greatly influenced by their culture, which prized success and status, and so in their minds, the more spectacular gifts were the gifts that were to be prominent and more sought after, and especially the gift of tongues. And those that were behind the scenes were kind of at the bottom of their hierarchical scale of prominence of gifts that they had created in their own minds. And since spiritual gifts are given to individuals, their pride gave them a distorted view of themselves and one another. And those with the more spectacular gifts (again, especially the gift of tongues), saw themselves as superior in the church. They were the ones that really had it going on. And those with the less spectacular gifts, like maybe the gift of helps or something like that, that were kind of behind the scenes, were inferior. And those people who had those gifts and didn’t have the more spectacular gifts were looking at themselves as possibly inferior. Well, just as the wealthier Christians had behaved toward those who were of lesser means in the gathering that surrounded the Lord’s Supper (you remember that from Chapter 11), so they had turned spiritual gifts into another case of the haves on the one hand, and the have nots on the other; just another way for them to puff themselves up with pride. And Paul has labored to correct that understanding in this chapter by showing them that spiritual gifts are nothing to be prideful about because they’re just that: gifts, right? They’re something that has been given. And these gifts have been given by the Triune God in his wisdom, in such a way that every member is needed for the whole and the members are interdependent upon one another. The purpose of the gifts, as we saw in verse 7, is for the common good, not for self-edification. And certainly not for self-exaltation, but for the building up of the body as a whole. And so, we could summarize Paul’s underlying message in this chapter with his own words from Chapter 4, verse 7, where he asks this rhetorical question: What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did, then receive it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? He said that back in Chapter 4 and verse 7, and here he’s driving home the same point. And in order to do this, he introduces this overarching theme that characterizes not only the use of gifts, but everything in the Christian life, and he holds up before the Corinthians God’s priorities in contrast to their own priorities. And he does this first by relaying what I’m going to call God’s priority in the arrangement of the body. And of course, this is the body of Christ, and we see this in verses 27 through 30. God’s priority in the arrangement of the body, in contrast to the priorities of the Corinthians. 

Now, once again, Paul calls attention to the fact that it is God who has placed the members in the body. Notice that in verse 28: and God has appointed in the church. That word appointed is actually the same word that was used back in verse 18, that’s translated arranged–in your translation it may say placed–that’s the same word, and that’s literally what it means. God has sovereignly, by his wise choice, placed the members in the body as he sees fit. And look at verse 24. He used a different word here, kind of a richer word, to express a similar thought. He says God has so composed the body. That’s a word that means to arrange together, to weave together in a composite like a symphony. And a very similar thought heads this entire section in verse 11. Note that verse–he says: all these [all these gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit who apportions them to each one individually as he wills. That word apportions there is distributing. In other words, the Spirit of God in his wisdom has chosen to divvy out the gifts in a wise way as he wills, in his sovereign choice. And that’s the point. That’s the emphasis. Paul is being emphatic throughout this chapter that this is God’s sovereign doing; he’s designed the body according to his wisdom, not our wisdom, not the way we would do it. And the Corinthians, on the other hand, had a humanly devised hierarchy of spiritual gifts. And of course, they put the gift of tongues at the top because it was the most spectacular gift, and with the other gifts looked on as, you know, kind of a descending list from there until you got down to something like, you know, behind the scenes, maybe helping or administrating (or something like that). 

And so, Paul now reveals that God’s priorities in the composition of his church are nothing like what our prideful priorities would be. And he does this by listing God’s priorities of gifting in a descending order. It’s interesting here, but in doing so, he’s not contradicting himself. I want to be clear about that. It’s not like he says in one breath that we’re all equal and necessary and interdependent and then, you know, the very next breath (the very next verse), and actually there are some who are more. That’s not what he’s saying. What he’s emphasizing here, actually, is the same thing that he’s emphasized throughout, especially in Chapter 11 (if you remember, when he talked about head coverings there, that kind of complicated passage), and we saw that his point there is that that humanity, just like the Trinity of God, is equal in essence, and yet diverse and that there is a function of role even within the Godhead; that the Spirit submits to the Son and the Father, and the Son submits to the Father. And we see that in humanity, as he says, that the wife, or the woman, submits to the husband, or the man. And so, it is in the body, that there are roles that we play in the body; we’re equal in essence and we’re just as important as one another, and yet there are roles that we play. None of the gifts are more important than others, but there are aspects of role. 

I was thinking about how to how to illustrate this and I was thinking it’s football season, right? Not very many people are excited about football in here. Me neither. I’m a baseball guy, okay? I’m excited because we’re getting close to the World Series (but anyways). It’s football season, and if you think about the makeup of a football team, you know the goal of football is pretty simple. Even if you don’t know the game, it’s to get that pigskin down the field to the end zone and score a touchdown, or at least get it far enough where you can kick a field goal, right? That’s how you score points in football. So, you’re trying to move the ball down the field according to the rules, and even people who don’t get football know what a quarterback is, right? He’s the one on the team everybody talks about because he’s the one who has the most control over the ball throughout the game. He’s the one who passes it or hands it off to the running back, or whatever, or sometimes even runs it himself, right? So, he has a lot of control of the ball and the names that people typically know in football are the names of quarterbacks, or maybe the wide receiver that catches the ball that the quarterback throws, or maybe the running back that runs the ball that the quarterback hands off to him, right? But think about an offensive lineman. I mean, hardly anyone talks about an offensive lineman. In fact, as Tony says, if the offensive lineman is doing his job, no one ever even talks about him at all. The announcers don’t ever say like, wow, look at that offensive lineman blocking down there, right? If he does his job right, he doesn’t even get noticed. And the job of the offensive lineman is to block the defensive linemen who are trying to get in there and sack the quarterback, right? That’s what they’re trying to do. And so, the linemen have a very vital job. The quarterback has the primary job of getting the ball down the field, which is vital to the whole game, right? But he can’t do it without the offensive line. And anyone who knows anything about football knows that a great football team doesn’t just have a great quarterback, but they have a really good offensive line. Because you can have the best quarterback in the world, but have a really bad offensive line and nobody will notice that quarterback. But if there’s no quarterback to protect, there’s no need for an offensive line. And really, there’s no need for a wide receiver. There’s no need for a running back, right?

And so, everybody has their function, and the same principle is true in the composition of the church. What’s the goal of the church? It’s the Great Commission, right? It’s to get the word of God out. It’s to get the gospel out and to make disciples through the proclamation of God’s word, and the apostles were the ones who were specially called and gifted to disseminate the original revelation directly from God. And since there was only a limited number of apostles in the early days of the church before the canon of the New Testament had been completed, there were also these guys called prophets. Prophets were people in the local church who were gifted with the ability to receive direct revelation from God and to give it to the church. Now you have to think about the context here. This is very important that we get this–that they did not have the New Testament in their laps, right? I mean, First Corinthians is part of the New Testament, right? And they were just getting this letter. And so that’s how it was in those days. They didn’t have these letters. They may have had one letter that was being circulated around or something like that, but they didn’t have a completed New Testament. They couldn’t say, open to First Corinthians chapter 12. And so, the apostles gave revelation. Their revelation was authoritative from God; so was that of the prophets, and yet they didn’t have the same sort of authority as the apostles did. And so, you had apostles and prophets, and those two gifts made it to where the word of God was getting out, and there would have been no need for others if those people weren’t getting the word out primarily. And this is what Paul means in a general sense in Ephesians Chapter 2 and verse 20, where he says that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. They’re the foundation because they were the ones heralding that word. They had the football, as it were, and they’re getting it out. And this is what he also means in both a general sense and a specific sense to the local church in Ephesians 4, verses 11 through 12, where he says that Christ gave the apostles the prophets, the evangelists (the shepherds and teachers are really shepherd-teachers or pastor-teachers) to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ. These gifts are not the most important in the body, but they are foundational. To put it this way, think about a body again, if you don’t like football, okay? If you still don’t get it, I mean, I think I walked us through, you know, pretty basically there, but if you still don’t get that, think of a body. Think about the heart, right? The heart is vital to the body because of its function of pumping that life-giving blood to all the members of the body. If you don’t have blood in a member of your body it’s going to die. But if you only had a heart and not a body, that wouldn’t work out either, right? It would be useless because there would be no body to pump the blood to. And so it is with the church. There would be no church without the apostles and prophets who disseminated the revelation of God that has been codified here in our New Testament. Now the apostles and prophets have gone off the scene. You may not agree with that, but I’m going to make the case for that in the very near future. But for right now they have gone off the scene and the local church would die, though, if there were no pastor-teacher who was gifted to teach and preach this codified word–and that’s what he’s talking about with the gift of teaching, primarily–the pastor-teacher. There are others who have the gift of teaching in the body, of course, but the body would die if there were no one to teach the word of God, because this word continues to be the life blood of the church, right? Look over at Ephesians 4 with me just for a moment. I want you to get how vital this is. Those verses I just quoted, I want you to see them with your own eyes. Ephesians chapter 4, and look at verse 11: He gave the apostles and the prophets. We’ve talked about those. What are evangelists? They’re not guys who have ten sermons that drive around in a motor home and go church to church. No, they’re missionaries, their frontline missionaries who take the gospel to foreign lands where the gospel has not been. That comes from the word euangelion, which means preaching the gospel. That’s an evangelist, and then those other two which are actually one because in the Greek it’s actually shepherd slash teacher as I said. So, this is one office, the pastor-teacher. These are all offices that get the word out. Apostles and prophets were those who gave that direct revelation from God that was codified in our New Testament, and now we have those missionaries and those pastor-teachers and missionaries go out, and plant churches. The pastor teachers come in and they keep feeding the word of God. So that’s the thought here. And he says in verse 12, this equips the saints. Remember, a saint is anyone who knows Christ, right? So, Christians–they equip Christians for the work of ministry, the work of service. For what? For the building up of the body of Christ. So, as he goes on to say that we all mature into the full measure of the stature of Christ and we’re no longer tossed around, we have stability and maturity and unity in the truth of the word of God. 

I think we get that. I think we’re able to understand the role of apostles and prophets, and why they would be first in God’s priority list, because they’re the ones that get the word out. But what about miracles and gifts of healing that continue in the descending list? Because this is a descending list. Paul is obviously showing us that there is some sort of a priority. And he’s descending from that first one, which is apostles. So, what about miracles and gifts of healing? Well, these are placed here because of their function in relation to those other three. Apostles, prophets, teachers are all word-based ministries. These are placed here because of their relation to the word. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, when we think about the gift of miracles and the gift of healing (that’s what he’s talking about with miracles, by the way, he could have said gift of miracles. He’s not talking about miracles in general. He’s talking about the gift that is given to someone to work miracles, just like he’s talking about the gift that’s given someone to heal. And these healings obviously would be sort of a subset of miracles, because healing someone would be a miraculous event). And when we think about these things, we typically think of them in relation to what they accomplish, right? We typically think about some miraculous event or especially someone who is healed. And that certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. You know, I often think about when Peter healed the lame man at the beautiful gate of the temple in Acts Chapter 3 and he begins to leap, right? And you think about this poor, lame man who could never walk, and now he’s leaping for joy. And I when I read that I’m like leaping with him. Like, that’s wonderful, right? And you’re so happy for him. So, we shouldn’t overlook that. That’s wonderful. That is a display of God’s compassion and grace and kindness and all of those things. But we need to understand that the good done to the individual in a healing like that, or a miracle, or even for a group that’s experiencing a miraculous event–we need to remember that that’s actually a secondary function of those gifts. You may say, wait a minute. Why? Why would you say that? Well, if you study the scope of Scripture, what you find is that the ability to work miracles or to do healings, which are a subset of miracles, was for the purpose of validating the messenger of God. God is doing something; God is revealing himself in some way, and he’s doing miracles, and he’s doing these healings through people for the purpose of showing that these people are his designated messengers, that this is indeed the word of God. Now let me be clear. We’re speaking of the God-given ability to people to work miracles or to do healings, not the ability of God to do whatever he wants whenever he wants. It’s a false accusation that people make of people like me to say, oh you don’t believe God does miracles. That’s just a false characterization. God does miracles all the time. And God does healings whenever he wants. And I actually pray often that God would heal people. Maybe I’ve prayed with you when you’ve been sick and I’ve said, Lord, would you use the doctors as your means to heal this person, or would you just touch them and heal them because you can? Do whatever you want. That’s good. It’s right. It’s okay to pray that–it’s actually commanded to pray that in James Chapter 5. And so, God can do whatever he wants. But that’s different than me coming to you and saying, in the name of Jesus, be healed–and you’re actually healed, right? …of whatever your ailment is–it’s like you were lame for years, and then you leap up. That’s different. And so, God does indeed do whatever he wants whenever he wants. That’s not what we’re talking about. Paul is speaking of this ability given to human beings because that’s clearly what he has in mind here. And note that with the gifts of apostleship and prophesy and teaching, he’s combined the gift of the person so that he identifies the one who possesses that gift as such. Notice that in these verses: he moves from talking about the gift of such and such and talking about those who have the gift. They’re identified as apostles, as prophets, as teachers, as miracles in the sense of they’re the ones that work miracles. They have the gift of that, and so that gifting is attached to the individual. That’s what he’s talking about. 

If you look back to the first ability given to men to work miracles, really, you think of Moses, right? You think of Moses and the signs of his rod turning into a serpent and his arm becoming leprous, right, when he put it into his jacket and brings it back out and vice versa. And then there were those more spectacular miracles that went on with his interaction with Pharaoh. And then as he led the people out into the wilderness, there were even more miraculous miracles. Think about the parting of the Red Sea. You know, if you look geographically at the Exodus, there were other places that the Israelites could have gone. But God actually led them to that place on purpose so that he could part the sea and show them that he’s God. And yet, God was working through Moses, remember? He was holding his staff up, and when the staff would fall, you know, the waters would start to come down and they had to hold his arms up. So, God is working through this person to show God’s enemies and his people that he is God and that this man is his messenger, you better listen to him. And then throughout the wilderness wanderings, we see more miracles, right? We see Moses speaking to the rock, and so forth. Well, then you see miracles sort of fade. There’s not as many miracles, not a lot of those kinds of things going on (being worked through a person) until you get Elijah on the scene. And then Elisha–and then you see another burst of miracles, right, during this time of the people of God, when God is bringing to their attention once again, this is my man. And remember the showdown on Mount Carmel with Elijah, right? And they have the showdown, and everybody knows this is God’s man. And they know so much that they take 450 prophets of Baal down to the valley and slaughter them. That’s my favorite part of that story, especially in children’s church, that’s a good one. But they get it. They know this is God’s man. This is God’s man, because of what God is working through him. And then you see the same, of course, with the Lord Jesus, don’t you? In fact, you see more miracles than ever with Jesus. You see John saying that he did so many things that we can’t write them all down in books. I mean, healing after healing after healing. Just an amazing, amazing burst of miracles with the Lord Jesus to show that this is indeed not just God’s messenger, but God’s special anointed Servant. And then you see this pass on to the apostles, don’t you? I just mentioned the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate by Peter and as you go through the book of Acts, you see these other miraculous works being done by God’s servants throughout. And all of these authenticated the messengers of God. 

Now you could say, well, okay, are you making this up? No, because that’s actually what the New Testament says. If you go to Second Corinthians Chapter 12 and verse 12, Paul is talking there about himself as a true apostle in contrast to a false apostle and he says this to the Corinthians (this is at a later time, when he’s correcting them again and defending himself and his apostleship again), and he says, the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. What were the signs of a true apostle, a true messenger of God, who spoke the word of God? It was these signs and wonders and mighty works. These miraculous things. And then the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 2, verses 3 through 4, that the word of God was declared at first by the Lord (he’s talking about the Lord Jesus there), and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. Now you notice the similarity of language with what Paul is saying in First Corinthians 2? The Spirit sovereignly gives these gifts according to his will, and here you have the writer of Hebrews saying the exact same thing and saying the purpose of those miraculous signs were to give witness to those who spoke the truth of God’s word. So that’s why they’re there in that list, not because they’re so flashy and spectacular; no, because they attest to the truth of God’s word. That’s the priority. God’s word. That’s where the power is. You know, Paul didn’t come to the Romans and say, you know, speaking in tongues or working miracles is the power of God unto salvation. No, he said, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. That’s what his message was. The power is in the message. The power in the word. These things were given by God to attest that–to show that that is the powerful working of only God. 

What’s interesting is (as you go down this descending list of gifts that that Paul mentions), he notes helping and administrating. These are like the offensive lineman, right? These are the ones who are not spectacular at all. You know, helping is–there’s a whole bunch of stuff that falls under that category–as I mentioned before: making the coffee, stacking the chairs. I mean, you could think of all sorts of ways that you display the gift of helps–moving somebody, right? I think that’s a spiritual gift, actually–moving people! You know, that’s part of that gift that helps, right? And Paul is listing these and it’s interesting here because he’s making the point that these are indispensable for the life of the body. These are indispensable. I mean, you go from miracles and healings to helping. And what about administrating? Well, administrating is the idea of kind of leading the way. It was a word that was used to talk about a pilot guiding a ship. And so, this is the idea of leading, guiding–people who help with that sort of thing–help steer the ship for the church. And so, these are behind the scenes gifts. Nothing spectacular. And then I want you to note the final one on Paul’s list of God’s priorities. What is it? Now, this is an ad hoc list. I mean, other than apostles and prophets in those first few, after that, I think he’s just kind of putting them in there. He could have just kept listing other gifts that we have from other lists that he’s given, but he lists helping, administrating, and then he puts in tongues because he’s trying to make a point. And what is the point? The point is that tongues are not unimportant. They were definitely a gift of the Spirit, so they were important, but in God’s priority they were not at the top. They weren’t even in the middle. They were at the bottom. You see the contrast that he’s making here. 

Now, it may make sense to us that the apostles would be at the head of this list, especially if you’re a well taught. Yeah, okay, apostle, we get it. The word of God is important. It makes sense that an apostle is at the top, but to the Corinthians who were filled with pride and focused on status, the unique gift of apostleship was not as esteemed as it should have been. In fact, just the opposite was really true. Remember back to the very first few chapters of this letter, Paul had to correct their divisions over their leaders and one of their favorite leaders, if you remember, was Apollos, who was not even an apostle, right? And so, they were evaluating these men over how skilled of orators they were. They were evaluating them according to the world’s standards. That’s why Paul is arguing with them about their worldly wisdom as opposed to the wisdom of God. And we saw in Chapter 4, as he wrapped up his correction of the division there and he transitioned to a different subject, that the view of the Corinthians and his fellow apostles was pretty low. Pretty low. In fact, Paul says (he’s being sarcastic to them in that chapter. if you remember), and he says, Oh, you guys are kings. You’re already reigning without us. I mean, we apostles, we’re the scum of the earth. He says, the offscouring of humanity. And he’s goading them a bit. He’s saying your view of us is like the scum on the shoe. That’s how low they viewed Paul and his associates. And then in chapter 9, he had to remind them that he was indeed an apostle and what actually qualified him to be one, and that was only his willingness to sacrifice his rights as an apostle for their own good, that he had done so. He sacrificed for their sake. And then you go to Second Corinthians and you see him once again, even in the future, having to defend himself throughout that book to the same people. And as I already quoted in Chapter 12 of that book, contrasting himself with the false apostles. They still hadn’t got it and so their low view of Paul and the other apostles was actually due to their wrong view of the message that they preached, as we saw back in those early chapters They didn’t see how powerful this word of the cross was. That’s why Paul said in Chapter 2, I didn’t come to you in eloquence of speech. But I came to you in fear and in trembling. And I determined to know nothing else among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. That’s the wisdom of God. Not some eloquent preaching and some new, you know, fancy message with the latest guy who wrote the latest book on the seven principles of spiritual growth or whatever else. They were examining him and his message according to their own human wisdom. And he was actually imparting to them the very wisdom of God. That’s what he says in Chapter 2. So now here in Chapter 12, he’s applying that wisdom to them and showing them that, once again, their evaluation of spiritual gifts, just like everything else, was according to their own wisdom. And it was upside down. And just like he told them in chapter one and just like the last verse of our reading this morning (which I didn’t plan out), He says the foolishness of God is wiser than men. And the weakness of God is stronger than men. That’s what he’s driving home here. God sovereignly composes his body, and God is the one who calls the priorities according to his wisdom. And it’s seen throughout the composition of the church and its gifting. 

But then you’ll note in verses 29 and 30, lest they be confused about his intent, he asked this string of rhetorical questions that all expect the answer, no. And by the way, to our Pentecostal friends who say that everybody has to speak in tongues, he says, Do all speak in tongues? And in the Greek, the expected answer is, no, they don’t. So no, not everybody ever did that. His point is that not everyone has all the gifts. So, he says, look, this is God’s priority list. And even there, not everyone has all of those gifts. And so, we all need each other. Back to my football illustration once again, right? You don’t need a quarterback unless you have somebody to receive the ball. You can’t have a team–you know, the quarterback’s not the team. You can’t have a heart just sitting there by itself, pumping blood if there’s no body to pump to. It’s useless. And not all of us, not any of us, have all of the gifts, and therefore we are a community of necessity. We may have different roles, that’s for sure. Our roles may differ, and those roles may have some importance that others don’t, but we all are vital and needful to one another. 

Now, having shown that God’s priority in the arrangement of the body is the direct contrast to the Corinthians, I want you to see one more contrast to here and priority. Here’s the second priority. And it’s this: God’s priority in the attitude of the body. The first was God’s priority in the arrangement of his body. This one is God’s priority in the attitude of the body. Notice verse 31: but earnestly desire the higher gifts. Most translations take the word desire there to be an imperative. But the form of this word could either be an imperative or an indicative, and if you know (unless you’re a grammar nerd), what that means is that it could either be a command, or it could just be a statement. The form of the word is the same. So, it could go either way, and I believe it’s the second option–that it’s a statement–that what he’s doing is bringing home the rebuke to them in order to hit them with all its force, as he then provides the remedy. I think what he’s saying here is, your priorities are all out of whack. They’re upside down. You think the gift of tongues makes some among you more superior than others. Actually, there’s none among you who is superior, and if you want a list of priorities, tongues is at the bottom. The wisdom of God is at the top, the word of God, he says. So, you’re doing this all wrong. You’re desiring the quote, unquote, higher gifts, what you think are higher. And he says, let me show you a more excellent way. I’ve shown you God’s priorities in the arrangement of the body. Let me show you a more excellent way. And this has to do with your heart attitude. That’s really the issue. That’s why your priorities are all out of whack, because your heart attitude is pride and selfishness and self-promotion. And you’re viewing everything you do through that lens. And now you’re doing it with spiritual gifts, he says. Let me show you a more excellent way. And of course, there’s no doubt about what that excellent way is. It’s love. So that’s what First Corinthians 13 is all about. It’s not a sappy passage that God put in there so we could read at weddings. No, it’s the more excellent way. And in order to drive that point home, Paul is going to introduce that more excellent way by contrasting the attitude of love with the attitude of self-centeredness just like he contrasted those lists of priorities of gifts. He’s going to contrast their self-centered attitude with the attitude of love. And for effect, Paul speaks in the first person. He says, you know, if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I’m a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. We’ll get into this more later. We’re going to define this more precisely, but the word tongues, just so you know, means languages. It’s another one of those sacred cow words that I wish the translators would just translate (languages), because that’s what it means. And so, because of Paul’s statement here, though, some believe that the gift of tongues was the ability to speak in an angelic language. But there’s no evidence anywhere in Scripture that the angels have some different language. You know, some people try to say Hebrew is the language of God or something like that. There’s no evidence of anything like that. The context is clear that Paul is speaking in hyperbole. Hyperbole. That means you’re going over the top for effect, right? He’s reaching for the strongest possible way to communicate this contrast, and he’s going over the top for effect. And he means that if we could speak every language known to man and even speak in some unknown language, if there were such a thing, and yet we don’t have love, we’re like a worthless noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And that’s a graphic picture, isn’t it? A gong and a cymbal are musical instruments that are meant to be hit at a certain time and a certain way to make a beautiful sound that enhances the music, right? When Roger plays these drums, he makes those cymbals ring in a way that complements the music. But if you get a two-year-old up here with a drumstick and say hey, have fun, I mean, we’re going to be plugging our ears, right? It’s going to be annoying. And that’s what Paul’s point is. He says, look, if you’re doing this without love, you’re worthless. And then he moves on to focus on prophecy. He says if I have prophetic powers and I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have all faith (and then he brings in faith), so I can move mountains. So, you know, I know everything there is to know. I know all of God’s revelation. And I have such powerful faith that I can literally move that mountain. I think that’s what Paul’s saying, right? Jesus said, you know, faith of a mustard seed can move a mountain. He’s speaking figuratively. Paul is going to the max with hyperbole and saying I’m actually going to move that mountain, you know. Paul saying, if I could do all of that but I have not love, I’m nothing. I’m worthless. It’s all worthless. And then he seems to refer to the gift of helps here, or maybe the gift of giving or contribution that’s listed in Romans Chapter 12 and verse 8. And he speaks of giving away all of one’s possessions. And he takes it to the fullest level now of personal sacrifice, where he talks about giving his body over to be burned, you know, willingly martyring myself. And yet, he says, even if I were to do that, give up my very life, if I have not love, I gain nothing. It’s all worthless. And the point is clear, isn’t it? That our attitudes are what drive our actions and we can do all sorts of things for the wrong reasons. We can just put on a really cool show of how wonderful we are, how flashy our gifts are, how much we know, how sacrificial I am, right? I’m just a do-gooder. And all of that is pride. Pride. They were using their gifts for their own self-gratification, their own status seeking, and they were bemoaning the fact that they didn’t have the so-called greater gifts. (those who didn’t have them, you know). Don’t give the ones who didn’t have the gift a pass because they were the ones who were saying, man I wish I had that–I’m a nobody. Paul says the problem is not with the gifts. They’re wonderful. They’re from God, they’re from the Spirit of God. And there’s actually nothing wrong with these actions that he’s talking about here, you know–nothing wrong with speaking in tongues. That was a spiritual gift–and having prophecy, and giving out knowledge, and having the gift of faith, and having the gift of giving, and nothing wrong with giving yourself up to martyrdom if that’s what God would call you to. None of that is wrong. It’s actually all good and commendable, and right. The problem is with the heart, and what they needed, and brothers and sisters, what you and I need is to view our gifts and to exercise them with the attitude of love. That’s what this chapter is all about. And Paul’s going to go on to define what love is, and he’s going to do so in terms of what love does because again, our attitudes direct our actions. So we can say we love all day long, and yet, let’s see it. And when it’s boiled down to its core element, it’s the opposite of self-focus. It’s actually a self-sacrificial focus on other people. In fact, one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture is Romans 5:8, that says, God shows [he demonstrates] his love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. You see, it wasn’t because we were lovable. And it wasn’t for any other reason other than he sacrificed himself for our good, and that’s what we’re called to do. Jesus is the ultimate example of this and we’re to follow in that sort of love, the way that we have been loved. This is the reason we often say here that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what your spiritual gift is. I remember back some time ago where there were those tests you could take–it was almost like an aptitude test to find out what your spiritual gift is. How stupid! You know, just throw that out the window. It’s worthless. Worthless. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what your gift is, just love other people and you’ll figure it out. That’s what this is all about. That’s the better way. Stop worrying about what gift you have or don’t have, just love people. It’s also why I say that if you think you know what your gift is and you’re not willing to do anything else other than that, then you have the same problem the Corinthians had. Maybe you have some limitations or something. That’s fine, but if it’s just that, you know, well, I have the gift of teaching and I’m not going to do anything else…Really? Well, you’re probably not going to be teaching here then. 

You know, we are the body of Christ and members individually. To each of us is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. That’s what Paul says here. So, let’s endeavor to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves. And let’s each look not only to our own interests, but also the interest of others (Philippians 2: 3 and 4). That’s what Paul’s message is here. Let’s bow together. 

Our father in heaven, this is a sobering message. It strikes at our pride and self-focus. We can easily point the finger at the Corinthians. But truth be told, each and every one of us has the same heart problem. We so often are either caught up in pride because of our accomplishments that are all giftings from you, whatever they may be, especially our spiritual gifts–and then on the other hand, we’re often lost in a self-pity party because we don’t have what others have. And the focus is me. And you call us to be like our Lord Jesus, who left the glory of heaven and walk down those steps of humility to take upon himself, humanity and to live a lowly life and to die the lowliest, most humiliating and excruciating death for us, in our place. And that’s where true glory is found. You resist the proud, but you give grace to the humble. And so, this morning, would we humble ourselves in everything we do? May this more excellent way be what characterizes each of us here at Firm Foundation Bible Church, no matter what it is we do. And as we seek to exercise spiritual gifts, may it be because we’re seeking to love one another. And let it fall where it may. And Lord, may you be glorified in all of it, we pray, in the name of our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus, who gave himself for us. Amen.