I Corinthians 13:13
By Ron Schwartz
I Corinthians 12:31-13:13 (KJV)
12:31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.
13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing…
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
We learn at the end of I Corinthians 13 that there are three primary spiritual values: faith, hope and charity. These values are meant to bring balance our spiritual lives. Verse 2 tells us, “… though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge… and have not charity, I am nothing.” Here we see the balance. We admire those who understand prophecies or who can interpret the book of Revelation. We admire those who have spiritual gifts. However, prophecy and spiritual gifts are but two of our core spiritual values. If they are not balanced with charity, you are “nothing (verse 3).”
Can this be? We listen to great speakers who have very deep understanding of scripture, and we envy their gifting. We must understand that God is not impressed with outward endowments or talents. Gods sees men as a whole.
We find in verse 2 that “though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” We read these words but do we really believe them? We admire people with such great faith. We admire and highly esteem those whose faith can change circumstance. Is there anyone who would not marvel at seeing someone command a mountain to be moved and it obey? Would we question that person’s relationship with God?
The Word explains here that faith, though a core spiritual value, must be balanced with charity.
We learn in verse 3 that “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Generosity and self-sacrifice, though commendable qualities, are not the only spiritual values that are important.
All of us have heard of ministries that feed the poor and homeless, go into the prisons, or minister to the poor and afflicted in other nations. We admire their dedication, sacrifice, and humanitarianism. However, once again, we are told that even self-sacrifice must be balanced.
This chapter is not meant to discourage us from pursuing spiritual gifts [“covet earnestly the best gifts (I Corinthians 12:31 KJV)”] or from giving to the poor and needy. This chapter is meant to demonstrate the importance of all spiritual values, to show us that one without the other makes us incomplete. This chapter illustrates the fact that we must never place too much emphasis on any one single value. We must never view the “less tangible” spiritual values as being of lesser value.
Consider all of the colors you see throughout the course of a day — perhaps thousands. Every color you see comes from a blend of three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. All three colors are necessary to produce the beauty we behold in a rainbow. Missing one color, the rainbow would be incomplete. God has demonstrated to us in nature how spiritual values are to work together in our lives to govern our spiritual development. Each value is necessary if we are to develop a balanced spiritual life. Just as colors are blended together to create completely new color, our spiritual values blend together and balance our work in the LORD.
The military understands this principle. When a young man or woman enters the military, they are immediately put through basic training. Basic training is meant for more than just to condition a soldier physically and provide instruction and training. The first few weeks of basic training are designed to weaken a person’s fortitude and tear down their personal values. After this, the training begins which builds up a soldier with the values the military wants them to have. Why is this important? The military has learned something that Paul was attempting to communicate to the church two thousand years ago: the heart of everything we do is our core values. They understand that unless each soldier holds the very same values, the way each interprets the orders will be different. This helps to explain why denominations interpret scripture so differently. They do not all hold the same values.
We as Christians are intended to follow a similar course in our lives. When we become part of the body of Christ, we begin a sort of basic training that tears down the values we learned while being a part of this world. God intends us to be built back up with His values, but churches approach this in many different ways. Some churches do not “encourage” people to obey the conviction of the Holy Spirit and thus the new convert is left to keep their “worldly values.” Churches and denominations vary vastly in the values they instill in the new convert, producing animosity and argument between those who are called to follow Jesus Christ.
The military is not alone. Recently, an industrial psychologist explained to the leaders of a corporation how to go about getting “sustainable” results. Most corporations set aggressive corporate goals and then provide incentive to attain the goals. However, in most cases, these goals are short-lived. They are not sustainable because the culture or behavior of people is contrary to the desired results. Consequently, in order to get the desired results, the corporation must first look to change people’s behavior or the culture.
Okay, if behavior drives results, how do we change people’s behavior? As it turns out, this industrial psychologist went on to explain that one’s behavior is determined by his/her attitude. In other words, results are determined by behavior, and behavior is driven by attitude. Finally, the psychologist explained that at the heart of everything is “core values.” Core values drive attitude, which in turn drives behavior and determines results. Everything is determined by values that people hold.
It is no wonder that Paul stressed the need to have a balanced set of values (in I Corinthians 13)? Because it is our core spiritual values that determine our spiritual development and the result of our lives. People who have faith as a value will demonstrate faith. People who value spiritual gifts will demonstrate spiritual gifts. Those who value giving will give. What are your spiritual values?
In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Jesus gives a message to each of seven churches. These churches differ vastly from each other. As pointed out earlier, this is exactly what we see today with Christian churches that differ dramatically from one another.
The seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 co-existed in the first century. They were located geographically near each other, and all seven churches were established under the influence of Jesus’ original apostles. Why, then, was there such a disparity with these churches? What made them so different? To answer these questions, you must first understand the spiritual values they cherished, esteemed, or appreciated. We are going to examine just two of the seven churches, Ephesus and Laodicea.
These two churches, Ephesus and Laodicea, were polar opposites. One church demonstrated a great variety of spiritual gifts whereas the other was completely lacking in spiritual gifts. One church had every spiritual value except for love, and the other had only the spiritual value of love.
The Laodicean Church
14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The message to each church began the same way: “I know thy works.” Following this, Jesus tells each church what they were doing right (i.e., thy labour, patience, holdest fast my name, charity, service, faith, etc.), then what they were doing wrong (i.e., hold the doctrine of Balaam or Nicolaitans, called to be living while dead, etc.), and finally, He gives them instructions on what they must do.
As we examine the Laodicean church, it is clear that their values determined their spiritual state. This is what they were doing wrong:
(1) “that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will
spue thee out of my mouth (verse 15-16).”
Jesus describes this church as being room temperature. Water that is left sitting out will eventually take on the temperature of the environment around it. Similarly, a church that values love to the exclusion of other spiritual values (i.e., righteousness, holiness, the gifts of the spirit) will produce an atmosphere of tolerance and compromise. Just like water that reflects the environment around it, the Laodiceans reflected the values and culture of which they were a part.
Because churches misunderstand what love is, or only understand it in a superficial way, they tend to feel that they must be tolerant and become what society needs them to be. As a result, we find church acceptance of homosexual relationships (even marriage) and homosexual ministers. We find churches overlooking intimacy out of wedlock. We find dysfunctional families and marriages in chaos. Actually ministering the gospel as Jesus and the apostles practiced it is viewed as harsh and unloving (live according to the discipleship teaching of Jesus and as practiced by the apostles is portrayed by Hollywood as a fanatical right-wing extremists).
Where is the balance in this type of culture? There is none. With superficial love as their only value, churches are free to toss out any and all scripture that does not pertain to liberal acceptance or that might otherwise cause division.
Let’s be clear about this: there is nothing wrong with a church being attractive to the world as long as it is attractive to God. The problem is that the values of God and those of this world are in conflict.
(2) “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: (verse 17)”
Here we find that spiritual standards were cast aside. Why? Because these standards seemed contrary to their notion of love. Then, in the absence of a godly standard, their misconception of love caused them to embrace “non-godly” values that were more conducive to their understanding of superficial love. Consequently, the Laodicean church was left to measure “themselves by themselves,” and to compare “themselves among themselves (“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise (II Corinthians 10:12, KJV).”
I Timothy 6:3-6 (KJV)
3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
In an environment lacking in godly standards, it is easy to understand how prosperity, affluence, and success could equate to godliness. In an environment where God is only perceived as a loving tolerant God, it is easy to understand how Job’s friends came to their conclusions concerning him. As he sat in the middle of the desolation of his home and family, his friends began to admonish him. “This kind of thing wouldn’t happen to a godly man. You must have done something horrible!” Tell that to the persecuted body of believers in communist China who meet in cellars and woods: these people risk losing everything they own — and perhaps even their lives — if they are found to be Christians. Where is the loving God they serve?
The danger our American churches faces in this affluent society in which we live — especially when it lacks spiritual values — is that churches measure their spiritual stature by prosperity and numbers. But tear prosperity and wealth from the church (as it is with the persecuted church), and what is left? Jesus tells us: “Knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked?”
There is nothing wrong with a church being materially rich as long as it does not cost them the riches that come from the manifestation of spiritual gifts and godly values.
In considering the “poor and naked” condition of the church, another value must be considered. Superficial love implies superficial unity, does it not? We see today that many churches have dropped controversial subjects. Consider how (controversial) spiritual gifts like tongues are held in contempt. Consider how that with each new translation of the Bible (since the KJV), it has become smaller, with fewer words. Each time conflict arises with the Word of God, that part is held suspect and eventually dismissed from the scripture.
Finally, Jesus tells this church that they are “blind.” This isn’t telling us that their “vision” was bad, but that they had no vision. Not only were they blind to their own spiritual condition and to those around them, but they also had no vision of what to do.
If there is one thing the church is in need of today, it is a vision. Instead of the financial institution that it has become – an organization that needs people in order to sustain its existence — it must become a “city that is set on an hill [that] cannot be hid (Matthew 5:14 KJV).” The church must become a life-providing stream of living water. How is it that things have become so twisted around? How is it that the church is in need of the world for sustenance (financially), rather than the world needing it?
Finally, Jesus gives the Laodicean church instructions:
“I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see (verse 18).”
(1) His first instruction: “buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich,” is difficult for a prosperous church to understand. “Tried in the fire” implies trials and tribulations. The scripture tells us: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (II Timothy 3:12, KJV).” In an affluent society, from where will these tribulations come?
Anyone who wishes to abandon the ways of the secular churches will experience tribulation. Many of us have experienced — or have friends and family who experienced — the tribulations that come when speaking out against the compromise and hypocrisy within the church. Many of us have friends and family who could not endure the tribulation they experienced (from their friends and family) when they tried to change or leave their church. They eventually broke under the pressure. It is a sad state to see Christians who know the truth and ignore the compromise that surrounds them because they cannot endure the pressure of leaving it behind.
Let there be no mistake! Persecution from friends and family can be the most vicious form of tribulation. And in a social environment where love is superficial and speaking the truth is viewed as demonic, saying anything about hypocrisy is viewed as “hateful,” “intolerant,” and “judgmental.”
(2) His second instruction: “and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear,” implies self-righteousness – “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints (Revelation 19:8, KJV).”
A person who is naked and yet believes he is clothed is blind indeed. The paradox you face when talking to a self-righteous person is that you are viewed as self-righteous for talking to them. Any words spoken contrary to them is viewed as criticism and is spoken out of pride and self-righteousness.
(3) Jesus’ last instruction: “anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see,” speaks to their need for healing.
There is a vast ocean of people who have been hurt and/or discouraged by churches. To many, churches are full of hypocrites, and they want no part of it. Unsaved people are the best judges of hypocrisy. They see through the religious façade for what it is: a poor attempt to hide sin. For these people, there is need for them to first experience the healing power of Christ Jesus before they can see. They need to know that coming into the Kingdom of God is more than just a disguise for sin.
The Ephesian Church
Revelation 2:1-7 (KJV)
1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Jesus first commends them for what they have done right: “…thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted (verse 2-3).” Here we find almost every form of spiritual value. This is a church that:
- Understands they are labors sent into the harvest fields and that they are laboring fervently – twice Jesus commends them for laboring (verses 2 and 3). This church valued the work of the LORD.
- Through patience has learned how to wait on the LORD [“But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:4 KJV)]. People who have learned spiritual patience understand the need to wait for God to provide the answer instead of providing one of their own. This church valued spiritual maturity.
- Is not compromising. Instead of embracing sin and sinful behavior, this church raised high standards, as set forth in the Word of God. We find here a church that valued high standards.
- Has spiritual discernment and knows the voice of God. The first century church did not have a fully developed New Testament as we have and therefore was dependent on mature spiritual sense (that could hear the voice of God) to spot deception. To them, hearing from God was not just something good: it was imperative! Hearing from God represented the difference between life and death. Consequently, this church valued prayer and seeking God.
- Did not accept diversity of doctrine. Apostles set the direction and doctrine for the church. When this church found someone who was not a true apostle, they called him for what he was: a liar. In the current religious climate in which we live, it is accepted and encouraged to have diversity of doctrine, even when the doctrines directly contradict one another. It is called “tolerance.” As a result, there are few, if any, absolutes: even the divinity of Jesus is questioned. This church valued absolutes (as opposed to compromise).
- Would not quit. Jesus commends it because it “hast not fainted.” This spiritual value is almost obsolete in a social environment that promotes speed and convenience. There is a drive-thru for almost anything. If we can’t get what we want from one place right now, there are countless other places to go. This church did not change course but persisted toward the goal no matter the time it took or the storms it was called to endure. The church never lost focus of the goal. This church valued faithfulness.
Jesus now speaks to what is wrong. “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love (verse 4).” Let’s consider the effect that the loss of love (as a core value) has on our spiritual development. A highly disciplined Christian life absent a relationship of love tends to breed a culture of legalism. Without an awareness of God’s love, or without being coupled with a close relationship with Him, disciples find themselves in an environment where God cannot be pleased. This is the opposite extreme of the Laodiceans.
To understand the significance of the “first love,” let’s first consider His instruction. Jesus said, “Remember…”
“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen.”
Remember what it was like when you first gave your life to God – that’s from where you have fallen. There is a tendency for “mature” Christians to view the zealous behavior of those who have just been saved as “immature,” something beyond which they will eventually grow. The church of Ephesus did this! They forgot — they fell from that first love. Here Jesus tells the church that anything beyond that is going downward, not upward.
Remember the tears of joy you cried? You cried but it felt good to cry. Remember the peace you felt, that for the first time in your life you felt that God was happy with you? Remember how clean you felt? Remember how that when you lay down to sleep, your mind was, for the first time, free from every care? Remember the purity you felt, and how there was nothing that you would not and did not give up for Him? Remember how Jesus was the first thing you thought of when you awoke and the last thing you thought of when you went to sleep? Remember… Remember… Remember? What could possibly be better that kind of relationship? How is it that we have come to believe we have grown since then?
It is our sincere prayer that as you read the words of this note, you will remember your first love. We hope that you understand the important part that spiritual values have in our spiritual development (or the lack thereof). We hope that you take a moment to consider your own state. Are you a Laodicean or Ephesian church, or are you somewhere in the middle? We are available talk or to pray with you. Let us know where we can help!
May the grace of God be with you always.