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"Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet I show
unto you a more excellent way."—1 Cor. 12:31 .
THE Apostle James has declared that every good and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness or shadow of turning. Hence every gift from God would be a blessing. Even those upon whom God will execute the sentence of the Second Death may be said to receive something that is not really an injury to their best interests.
In thinking over these different gifts of God, the Apostle Paul enumerates some of those that were given to the Church in the beginning of this Gospel Age. We read in the Psalms: "Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell amongst them." (Psalm 68:18.) Some of those gifts were given to the men who became followers of the Lord Jesus. After Jesus had ascended, all His followers were to particularly wait until He would send them, from the Father, the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit, which was to come to each sincere believer, and which was to be accompanied by gifts—by some outward gift and manifestation, useful and to be used.
In our context the Apostle enumerates some of these gifts—apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, pastors; others received gifts of tongues, healings, power to perform miracles, power to cast out Satan, power to interpret tongues, power to discern spirits. Some received one of these and some another; some received several. St. Paul had various gifts, and declared that he spoke more tongues than they all. (I Cor. 14:18.) It would appear that the early Church thought very highly of the gift of tongues. They became very anxious to have God give them this particular gift.
But the Apostle tells them that God had still more valuable blessings than this of speaking with tongues, which they so earnestly desired. They were to distinguish between the different gifts, and they were to desire, were to prefer, the best—to exercise discrimination of mind as to which would be the best gift. He declares that he would rather speak five words in a known tongue than to speak ten thousand in an unknown tongue, and not be able to interpret. He told them that they should pray for interpretation—that they should not only desire to speak in unknown tongues, but also desire to give the interpretation, or the proper meaning in order to be understood. In his letter to the Church at Corinth, chapters 12 and 14, he expressed the thought that these different tongues and gifts were all intended to minister to the Church for their benefit as a whole.
The gift of tongues was given at that time to supply their lack otherwise. The early Church had no Bible. Being put out of the synagogues, they had no access to the Old Testament, and the New Testament was not yet written. Therefore God's people without these gifts would have had very little to help them—to teach them. None were qualified to teach the brethren. Only the power of God could give them this ability to teach. Therefore the Apostle Paul urged them not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. As they saw the great Day of Christ drawing on, they should have great desire to come together and to discuss these things of God's Plan.
And when they were assembled, it was of great advantage to them that some one should rise to speak. And they might desire, or pray, as the case might be, that God would send them some interpretation. In this way the Church was drawn together and held together. They did not know what Message would come in this way from the Lord.
We are not to suppose that God would thus give any very deep doctrinal matters. But it does appear that in this way He gave His people some milk of the Word, until the New Testament should be arranged—written and collected in an available form. The Apostle Paul led off with these gifts to the Church. The gifts of tongues, nevertheless, were surpassed by higher gifts, some higher arrangements for them. St. Paul would rather that they should be orators, public speakers, or have an interpretation of an unknown tongue. This would mean more of personal contact with the Lord. Therefore they should desire such a gift in preference to one of less importance.
Then the Apostle proceeds: "Yet show I unto you a more excellent way!" something still better than those special gifts which he had been discussing—better than speaking with tongues, better than working miracles, better than interpreting. He goes on to show that these things would pass away, and be no longer necessary to the Church, but he was going to tell them of things that would never pass away. Therefore they should discern and seek especially the best gift. They should not only discriminate amongst these gifts and choose the best, but they should be looking beyond these to a developed condition of heart which would be specially pleasing to the Lord, and [R5265 : page 196] would bring them into closer relationship with Him.
He proceeds to explain that this is Love. They might have the gift of prophesying, of working miracles, of healing the sick, of speaking with tongues, of interpretation, and yet come short of ever attaining the highest blessing of the Lord, unless they should incorporate into their lives this better thing—LOVE. No matter how well able they might be to speak with tongues or to interpret or to work miracles, etc., this Love was a far more important thing for them to have. Then he enumerates the various qualities of Love—meekness, patience, brotherly kindness, etc. The sum of them all is Love. It is love for the brethren, love for friends, love for neighbors, love for our enemies, which would do them good, and not at all wish to see them suffer injury. This, then, is the more excellent thing.
Though the elements of Love are developed qualities and may, therefore, properly be called fruits, they may be called gifts also. From the apple-tree we get gifts of apples; from the peach-tree we get gifts of peaches; from the pear-tree, gifts of pears, etc. Since we have to do with the development of these qualities of the Spirit, they are styled fruits of the Spirit. And they are far more excellent and far more to be desired than the merely mechanical gifts, which at the first came to all of God's people, because of their special need, but many of which passed away shortly after the Apostles died.
The question naturally and properly arises, What is Love? The Bible answers, "God is Love." As it is impossible to fully describe God in all His greatness, so it seems impossible to fully describe all that would be comprehended in the word Love. Love is the most powerful thing in the world; therefore Love most nearly represents God, because He is the Supreme, Almighty One. We might say that God is not this, not that, not the other. And so with Love—we might describe it by saying what it is not. Nothing can be right that is out of harmony with Love, as nothing can be right that is out of harmony with God. The Apostle says, in describing Love, that it does not think evil, does not vaunt itself, has not the disposition to be puffed up, is not easily provoked, does not take pleasure in iniquity, etc.
We may, of course, remember that our word love is made to cover a variety of sentiments; for instance, the love of a hen for her chickens, her care over them; the love of a father and mother for their children, and their care over them. Love, then, includes this interest in all that are under one's care. God has this quality of sympathy which leads Him to look out for the whole universe—all sentient creatures, all that have life. He is bound by Love to look out for all these.
In human love—natural love—we find sympathy a very strong quality. Then we have a higher than mere sympathetic love—we have esteem, appreciation of some admirable quality. We say that we love certain traits in the character of some one. Again we have something more than mere sympathy and esteem; we have affectionate love. That is a very real and deep interest in every affair of the one we love—a deep, sympathetic love which would stop at nothing—even though it is an earthly love. The only thing that could be superior to it would be our love for the Almighty, which should dominate us as superior to this affectionate love.
Later comes in the spiritual love for the Lord's people which seeks to avoid all fleshly preferences, seeking merely to live as a New Creature, and to look after the welfare of the New Creature. Thus doing, we become closely united to the things of God and to all who are associated with us in the work of this Gospel Age. This is the highest type of love on any plane of being—this into which we have entered. God is Love. The more we grow up into this proper, spiritual Love, the more we are growing up into the character-likeness of our Father, of which we read, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."—Matt. 5:48.
This love does not stop with those who are appreciative of it, but also goes out to those who are unappreciative, knowing that something is hindering them from attaching any value to such love. Love, then, is so much of God's likeness, the thing to be most appreciated, the thing without which all else in life is useless. To be devoid of love is to be devoid of God-likeness. And so the Apostle goes on to enumerate the characteristics of this love—meekness, gentleness, long-suffering, brotherly [R5266 : page 196] kindness, godliness [God-likeness]—Love. All of these are merely parts or streams of Love flowing from the inexhaustible Fountain. These characteristics all proceed from Love, and are strong in proportion as our love is strong.
Next we inquire as to the way in which Love fulfils the Divine Law. Divine Law is not necessary as respects restraint from good deeds. There is no need of a law to say, "You shall not do too much for your brother, or give him too much money." No law is necessary along these lines. But Divine Law steps in and says, "You shall not come short of a certain standard." So the Law calls merely for justice.
The Apostle Paul points out that since the Law calls for justice, we shall not murder our neighbor either by our act or by our tongue. We must be perfectly just in everything pertaining to our neighbor. Every thought of our mind must be just, absolutely just. This is the standard of the Divine Law. We are violators of the Law if we give less than justice to anybody. Therefore the Law as set forth to the Jews, told them what they should not do. "Thou shalt not bear false witness." "Thou shalt not steal," etc.—telling them merely the things that they should not do. Whoever loves his brother would not wish to steal from him either his property or his good name. Hence love fulfils everything that the Law could demand.
Love has done this by providing for the satisfying of the Law in respect to Adam, so that Adam can be freed from the Law sentence. Justice could not lay this obligation upon the Logos; therefore God could not command. The only thing He could do was to set before Jesus certain incentives. God set before Him the joy of being the savior of men, and the additional joy of high exaltation in God's Love and favor and to the glorious Kingdom privileges. So Love might use various inducements.
Love with us must also be just. We can never take what belongs to one and give it to another. The sympathy may be there, but Love cannot act in violation of Justice. Hence the advantage that Christians have who are students of God's Word. The Bible gives us the true conception of what justice is. It gives us the balance of a sound mind. The Heavenly Father has sympathy and love, but He exercises these qualities according to the [R5266 : page 197] principles of justice. We are not limited to justice. It was not our law that condemned our brother, but God's Law of Justice. So we are at liberty to exercise our love beyond mere justice.
Jesus gave the example of one who owed his master a large sum of money; and when he could not pay, his master forgave him. Then this man went out to one who owed him a few pence, and, because he could not pay the debt at once, began to inflict punishment. We ourselves cannot render perfect justice, and we cannot rightfully require it of others. God, who is perfect and just, has a right to demand justice.
Love, as we have seen, is that great and grand quality which more fully than any other quality represents our Heavenly Father. Love includes a great many things—not merely generosity and affection. It seems to include every good quality—things that can be appreciated outside of justice.
The Apostle's statement, "Love thinketh no evil," is not to be understood to signify that Love is blind to evil, or that those who have the spirit of love are blind to evil. On the contrary, Love is wounded every day by contact with evil influences, and Love cannot help knowing that it is an evil thing that is doing the wounding. Love is not, therefore, to be blind, and say that there is no evil thing—no such thing as sin, selfishness and meanness; all these various things exist. Love is in contention with all these unlovely things.
Love thinketh that there is evil, and our quotation from the Apostle does not contradict this. The imperfection in the translation may perhaps be charged with the apparent difficulty. "Love does not surmise evil," would seem to be the proper thought. What is it to surmise evil? We answer that we have various means for arriving at conclusions. We see some things. We gain knowledge in various ways, direct or indirect. And for Love to have knowledge of evil is not wrong. But to surmise evil—to imagine evil when we do not have the knowledge—is wrong. Love does not surmise evil.
If we saw some one do an evil deed or knew in some way that the evil deed were committed, and it came under our jurisdiction, Love would not hinder us from punishing the guilty person. Suppose the matter is mere hearsay and the report not well founded; then Love would be prompt to say, "I do not know that this is so. I will need to have proof." Love would wish to think well of every circumstance, every condition. If we saw that murder was committed, we would not be justified in surmising who did it. We might think who were the most probable ones, in order to make an investigation. We would think of the persons who had less love, but we should not hastily decide who is the murderer, simply because he or she has an unsavory character, an unloving character. We are to give him the full benefit of the doubt. We are to make investigation.
It would seem that some of the most serious wrongs have been committed by surmising evil. Evil has been surmised against people without a shadow of proof. It is not for us to say that any are totally depraved. Very few are totally depraved. But whoever surmises evil, even a little, shows that he is lacking in the quality of Love. Whoever surmises evil much shows that he has a very small degree of Love. Evil surmising makes countless thousands mourn. Surmising evil of others has caused more suffering in the world than all the battles that were ever fought!
The Lord's people are being taught of God, and hence are learning more and more to control their thoughts and words and acts. Our thoughts are to be kind! Our thoughts are to be generous! Our thoughts are to be just! We are not to allow an evil suspicion to lodge in our minds against anybody. The common law of man decides that no judgment shall be passed against any one until the thing be proven against him. Those who have done the most evil and caused the most difficulty are those who have surmised evil against others. But it is better if we learn this as a precept from the Lord's Word, and happy are we if we see the degrading power of evil-speaking and evil-thinking and entirely refrain therefrom.
The basis of this instruction—that we love our enemies—is evidently that our characters may be developed. Retaliation is a natural element of the mind, and particularly of the fallen mind—the fleshly mind. The more selfish we are, the more inclined we are to render evil for evil, slander for slander, blow for blow.
Our Lord taught the very reverse spirit. We are to love even our enemies, doing them good in return for their hatred, and ever sympathizing with their condition and desiring blessings upon them from the Lord, while they are feeling the very opposite toward us, as indicated by the persecutions they practise upon us. The Lord says that we are to do this in order that we may be the children of our Father who is in Heaven. We have been begotten of the Holy Spirit, and by practising along these lines we become more and more like Him in character.
Possibly at the beginning of our experience we may not see why we should do this. We must practise along this line in order that we may develop His character. Some one might ask, Will not God punish His enemies? Yes! "All the wicked will God destroy." Does not God punish those who sin? Yes, all who sin will suffer. Then why should not we practise along this same line? Because we are not yet qualified to do so. In time, we shall be judges of mankind, but we shall not be prepared for this until we have first learned the lesson of love. We would be too severe, and would not be inclined to do them all the good that God would have us do them.
Does God require us to love where He does not love? Oh, no! "God so loved the world"—when they were yet sinners! Has God then not a love for mankind? Yes, He has a certain love for all mankind. He will see that every righteous act will have a just recompense of reward. And He will make reasonable allowance for all with whom He deals. He has a broad, sympathetic love, and wishes to make allowance for these in the way which He sees to be best for them.
When we practise this love to our enemies, we are developing a side of our character which is much unbalanced. If we get this side balanced, the other side will become balanced also. Naturally we wish to see that everything wrong is punished, and everything right rewarded. In other words, justice stands nearer to us in our imperfect condition than does love. Therefore, in order to be used of God we must cultivate this quality of love. We see why God is sympathetic with mankind. To all the wicked He is a consuming fire; that is to say, He is so opposed to everything that is impure that it will be destroyed, sooner or later.
It is because the Lord sees in our human family, the human race, certain elements of Godlikeness that He is dealing with them at all, we may be sure. If from God's standpoint He had seen that men were only evil, continually evil, we may feel sure that He would not have made any arrangement for Restitution in the next Age. It is [R5267 : page 198] because God sees that some of the human family would rather be right than wrong that He is going to all this trouble of redemption, taking all this time, etc., to give these everlasting life. In the meantime He is granting the experiences of the present, which will be helpful to them through all eternity.
We do not suppose that God has a love for Satan, although at first He did have a love for him. But since Satan is now of an evil, vicious character, it would be wrong for God to love him, and it would be wrong for us to love him. Even the worldly condition we must not love. We cannot serve God and Mammon. We cannot love God and Mammon, because they are opposite. But as regards Satan, it is not our part to slander him, nor to express vituperative sentiments toward him. He is God's enemy. And God is able to attend to that case much better than we. So we are not to judge Satan nor to revile him. We read that even Michael would not bring a railing accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke thee."—Jude 9.
We are to do all the good we can, and be as helpful as possible. We are not competent to judge, to decree. It is therefore our duty to be fully submissive, and in due time the Lord will manifest the principles of righteousness, as in contrast with the principles of error. He will render His just verdict in due time, through His appointed Channel.
In respect to those who ignorantly seem to be adversaries of the Church at the present time, we are to have a sympathetic love—not the love of a brother. God refuses to accept any of these as His children; He merely exercises toward them sympathetic love. He does not wish to do them any harm. Rather He is preparing to assist them. By and by He will provide for them everything that will be helpful in bringing them out of their sinful condition. We would rather assume that all of the human family are what they are because of the fall and not because of wilful love of sin. To take any other viewpoint would be judging, and we are not authorized to be judges now.
Taking this viewpoint, we recognize that some of our race fell more in one direction, and some more in other directions, and that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God"—the glorious standard which God has set. We ourselves need Divine sympathy, and we ought to be glad to render sympathy to others. (To be concluded in our next issue.)