Quinquagesima Sunday Morning Service (27 February 2022) 1 Corinthians 13
Corinth was a historical city that was destroyed in 146 BC by Romans. It was probably rebuilt by the direction of Julius Caesar. This city of Corinth was very famous for sports and games and conducted many sports events every year. The modern Olympic games was inspired by the early game event in Athens, Sparta, Thebes and Corinth. Paul was the first missionary to the city of Corinth and established the early church in Corinth during his second missionary journey. Paul wrote his epistle to the people in the city of Corinth. Paul addressed the early believers in Corinth about love, unity and spiritual gifts because they lacked love and unity and the difference of opinion about the hierarchy of the gifts of the spirit. We can read Paul’s advice and explanation about the spiritual gifts in chapter 12. He talks more about love in chapter 13.
Last week, we meditated about the discernment of spirit. Paul discerned about the lame man by the gift of spirit and healed him. He also discerned about the damsel possessed with a spirit of divination and cast the unclean spirit from her. We concluded that we must earnestly covet the best gifts based on Paul’s first epistle to Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 31. The verse reads, “covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way”. In continuation, today’s meditation is based on our Epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 13, which is also called ‘The Hymn of Love’. Today, I would like to meditate under three topics:
1. Tongues of men and angels
2. Diversities of gifts
3. Greatest of these is charity
TONGUES OF MEN AND ANGELS
Many of us may have a question about speaking in tongues and using the other gifts of the spirit. Some don’t believe in using the gifts of the spirit. Is it Biblical to speak in tongues and being charismatic? 1 Corinthians 12:10 says that speaking in tongues is a gift of spirit according to the individual’s capacity. The first verse of 1 Corinthians 13 says, “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”. From this first verse we know that there are languages spoken by men and languages spoken by angels because the verse says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels”.
On the day of Pentecost, when the disciples were gathered in the upper hall, the Holy Ghost was poured upon them. They spoke the wonderful works of God with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. The multitude who gathered hearing the noise could understand what the disciples were talking because the disciples were talking in a human language. The disciples did not know the language but those who had gathered knew it because “every man heard them speak in his own language”.
In 1 Corinthians 14:1, Apostle Paul says, “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” because, “he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries”. Here, speaking in tongues is not speaking in human language but speaking to God in a language not known to man which is the language of angels. Some people are of the opinion that speaking in tongues is anti-biblical. But in 1 Corinthians 14:39 Paul said, “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues”. As Paul says to the Corinth church, we must desire to prophesise and not stop others from speaking in tongues.
The next common question is about interpretation and understanding what somebody is speaking in tongues. The people understood when Peter was speaking in tongues because Peter was anointed by the Holy Spirit to speak in a human language that he did not know. When someone is speaking the tongues of angels, we can understand it if we have the gift of interpretation.
DIVERSITIES OF GIFTS
It is important to understand here that “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” In 1 Corinthians 13: 2 and 3, Paul refers to the other gifts of spirit. The gifts are “gift of prophecy, understanding all mysteries and all knowledge and faith”. These various gifts are given to us by the Holy Spirit. Anybody can speak in tongues or use the gift of the spirit when they receive it from our Lord. Luke 11:13 says the “heavenly Father” will “give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him”. We also have a caution about imitating to speak in tongues in Matthew 12:31: “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men”. We must give heed to this caution and not speak against the Holy Ghost.
GREATEST OF THESE IS CHARITY
Paul speaks about charity or love in 1 Corinthians 13. Verses 4 to 8 tell us about the attributes of love and charity: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 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”. He concludes that charity or love is more important than the gifts of the spirit. Verse 13 says “now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity”.
Paul’s conclusion is based on Jesus’s consolidation of the ten commandments to two commandments in Matthew 22:37–40. Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God and Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. If we think about the deeper meaning of the consolidated commandments and 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, they actually point to a life that is aligned with God’s expectation, a life that is pleasing to God. If we cannot love the brother we see, we cannot love our Lord whom we cannot see.
1 Corinthians 13:8 reads, “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”. All the prophecies given in the Bible and those spoken by man will be fulfilled before the Great White Throne Judgement. When Jesus creates a new heaven and earth, our human languages and tongues will come to an end when we are with Jesus in our eternal and everlasting life in New Jerusalem. But the Love of God will continue to be for those who are with Him.
It is very difficult to understand the Biblical secrets with our human knowledge and wisdom. It is only possible with the wisdom and knowledge from God. Colossians 2:3 says “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hid in Jesus. We can only understand the Bible with the Lord’s wisdom. In Acts 2:38, Peter said “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” If we repent and receive forgiveness and ask for the Holy Ghost anointing, we will receive the gift. Romans 8:26 says the importance of receiving the Holy Spirit: “the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” It is our responsibility to repent, pray and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost from God. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us in our Christian life. The Holy Spirit will enable and strengthen us to use the gift of prophecy, understanding all mysteries and all knowledge and faith.
God gave the apostles and the other 70 chosen and to all of us the authority and power to use the gifts of the spirit. Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 14: 1 to “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy”. This week we will enter into another period of Lent, which is a time to pause and reflect on the love Jesus exhibited by suffering for us. John 15:13 says “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. Receiving the Holy Spirit and the gifts and using them to our Lord’s glory is the best gift we can give Jesus for the love that He demonstrated for us on the Cross. Let us fast, pray and wait on the Lord to receive the Holy Spirit and the gifts. Let us use the gifts of the Spirit for our Lord’s glory.
I pray that our Almighty Lord pours the Holy Spirit on us and equips us to use the spiritual gifts in our everyday lives. I pray that we know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we “might be filled with all the fulness of God”. Amen!