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. 1 Cor. 13:1-3
I once saw a ‘great’ man of God speaking to a large audience on TV, and I heard him say, “If there is someone I may have hurt in one way or another in my life, I want to ask you to forgive me. Please forgive me.”
He did not shed any tears, but he did not need to. You could feel the sincerity in his voice. In other words, that man looked deep into his heart and realized there were people he might have hurt in his life; and somehow, in that instant, that fact became the single most important thing in his life; and he repented of it. That was rare indeed for me to see; but I believe that was a demonstration of God’s love!
It is not easy to speak Paul’s words today. In our day, we seem to have all of a sudden discovered the scripture that says to touch not the Lord’s anointed, and we are applying it to every Tom, Harry and Dick. We apply it to everyone who can open their mouths and say, “Thus says the Lord!” Or to anyone who can ‘prove’ that they are endowed with a ministry. And the bigger the ministry the man or woman appears to have, the greater our respect for them.
It is good to respect true men of God. But, apparently, the Apostle Paul wasn’t about to board the bandwagon of ‘total praise’. On the contrary, he came down hard on anyone who took ministry as the end result of our calling. He told the Corinthians that when it came to the Kingdom of God, love matters above ministry.
I remember one time, many years ago, some men came to our church and they taught us that a believer who has been baptized with the Holy Spirit should be changing their spiritual language every week or so. In other words, that you should be inter-changing tongues ever so regularly. At that time we were swallowing everything.
The men were about four or five in number and they spent the entire week giving us exercises in these spiritual callisthenics. They would say, “Ok, now begin!”; and if you began saying “Rabarabaraba” or something, they would say, “Now say, ‘Hai hai hai!’”
Had they stayed with us for a year, I am sure we would have learned Japanese! The minute they left, though, I reverted to my old tongues and they haven’t changed to this day.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with changing tongues once every week, but the Apostle Paul here tells us that even speaking in tongues of angels is an exercise in futility if we are not walking in love. So it is with all other ministry, however high up the ladder it might be.
The Apostle Paul tells us to earnestly covet the highest gifts of the Holy Spirit. In other words, it is right and needful to covet such gifts – but not so we become “great men/women of God”. On the contrary, it is in order that we may edify God’s people. In other words, ministry is a way of dying to self, a way of giving away our life for the church. That’s when ministry becomes love.
With all the pressure and emphasis on ministry today, Paul’s statement is a pretty powerful cul-de sac in the Spirit. It sets the foundation to any work that any man would do in the name of God, and it says that that foundation is love. If we do not have love in our hearts, if we are not walking in love towards people, all that we accomplish is of very little benefit to us and even to those we minister to. People need to feel a heart, not dry ministry. Compassion, not ‘ministry’, was what drove Jesus to do all the miracles that He did.
As much as ministry is needful in the church, the Apostle Paul – who was the greatest minister of them all – here says, “… and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” In other words, if we are to minister effectively, then the way of love is the “more excellent way”.
[Below: It is reported that the legendary American blues singer, B.B. King married twice, but both marriages snapped under the weight of his ‘ministry’*. But, apparently, King had a soft niche in his heart; in November 1972, he and other artists held a Thanksgiving performance for the prisoners at “Sing Sing” prison in New York. The performance was understood to be a risky undertaking, but King went all the same; and this is a part of that performance]