“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding bronze or a tinkling cymbal. 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 love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.” -1 Corinthians 13:1-3
This passage is the pentecostal’s worst nightmare and the non-pentecostals greatest excuse. First off, let me say I consider myself to be neither. After much experience, I prefer not to wear the “pentecostal” label… though I am filled with the Holy Spirit and I do have a prayer language that I use quite often. I prefer the descriptive term “filled with the Spirit” rather than the inclusive and possibly exclusive group label “pentecostal”. “I am filled with the Spirit” sounds entirely different than “I am a pentecostal”.
The oft-used phrase “filled with the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues” boldly, and rightly, proclaims that a prayer language is one proof of the indwelling Holy Spirit in a believer. But moving on in Christian living after the initial “second experience” as some have called it, requires caution. The experience of speaking in tongues is without a doubt thrilling and entirely supernatural; and overuse is an impossibility. However, the Holy Spirit Himself clearly tells us through the pen of Paul that neglecting to allow His influence on our inner man to be seen in both word and deed will cause us to become spiritual noisemakers at best. We are in serious and dangerous error when speaking in tongues becomes a spiritual status symbol by which we judge the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of fellow church members. Spirit filled prayer is not necessarily a sign of spiritual maturity. It is the method of prayer through which Gods Spirit “makes up the difference” when we fall short in our understanding in knowing how to pray in any given situation. When we don’t know how to pray, we can pray God’s perfect will by using our prayer language. 1 Corinthians 14:14 says “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” We can easily forget that this blessing we call our prayer language is not given to supplement our wisdom-filled prayers, rather it is given as the remedy to our failure in knowing how to pray.
Make good use of your prayer language, and enjoy the experience of “speaking with the tongues of angels”, but don’t become too impressed with yourself if you could say with Paul “I pray in tongues more than you all”. It is shocking but true that even praying in the tongues of angels is a useless racket unless we choose to live out love.
This passage is also a challenge to those who would consider themselves to be in the “word of faith camp”. Prophetic insight into the Word of God which reveals mysteries and provides supernatural knowledge produces within us the ability to operate in supernatural kingdom principles. One of those principles being faith-filled confessional prayer, speaking to situations in our lives which are out of line with God’s will for us and commanding them to change accordingly. However, answered prayer is also not necessarily a sign of spiritual maturity. Many times, God answering our prayer is part of the process that we go through on our journey toward spiritual maturity. His answer does not necessarily come because of our “ability through faith”, but because it is part of His grand plan for the shaping of our lives. Pride in what we might consider “accomplishments” in prayer can blind us to the truth that such “accomplishments” are wholly achieved by the God who “works in us both to will and to do His good purpose.” This is why we are told that only a tiny, “mustard seed” amount of faith is required to simply agree with, and invite an All Powerful God to move miraculously in our lives. Overestimating our part in mountain moving faith can deceive us and hinder us from having a “sober estimation of ourselves”.
Having faith filled words in our mouth is important, but not as important as having love on our lips. We are not warned in scripture of the possibility of loving too much and having too little faith. Rather, we are clearly warned that we can have all faith, and yet be nothing if we have not love.
There is yet one more group on the rise in modern evangelicalism who must watch their lives closely lest they be deceived, and that is those involved in the “social justice movement” in the church. We learn from this incredible passage of scripture that it is possible to be generous enough to give all of our money to feed the poor, but do so with the wrong motive and have it profit us nothing. I’ve written what I consider an important post on the topic of alms giving here, in which I suggest that in a large degree the church has neglected true alms giving… At times we meet the material needs of those in need around us or abroad, but we neglect paying the higher price of pouring our lives out in relationship to truly meet the deep spiritual need of those same people… that is, to know they are loved unconditionally. Many Christian families will send out a $30 check once a month to sponsor a child overseas but are much less willing to welcome into their home the troubled teen from down the street.
We can meet the material needs of a person without making them feel loved… and we can give away all our money without ever truly loving a person. Giving money is most definitely not equivalent to giving love.
The final portion of the passage I’ve quoted above is perhaps the most surprising… and as Christians in America, we give it very little consideration. While Christians around the world are dying for their faith, (at times gruesome, horrible deaths), we have yet to experience such persecution in our great nation.
This truth from scripture seems impossible… that a person could die a martyr’s death and profit nothing from it. “Though I give my body to be burned and have not love it profiteth me nothing”. Wow. It’s not as difficult as one would imagine… to explain how such a great sacrifice could be fruitless and without profit. The death of a deceived “christian”, though it be in the name of Christ, is no more profitable for the martyr than the award awaiting the Islamic suicide bomber.
This passage reveals to us that those things which love drives us to do can also be performed without love, and we should never judge our life or the lives of others based solely on what sacrifices we might make, but rather by the sacrifice of Christ alone. This thought is the basis of a principle found throughout scripture which is this: “obedience is better than sacrifice.” The honest believer, after a time of self-examination, will humbly admit that he has offered many sacrifices that were performed more as recompense for his disobedience than out of love for his brother, but a man’s greatest sacrifice carries no merit toward the payment required for the very least of his sins.
Prior to the beautiful exposition on love found in verses 4 through 13, these first three verses of 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen challenge us to consider that the daily fruit of our lives is much more telling than any of the significant acts that we may find the strength to perform. Love is more a daily behavior than an occasional accomplishment. To think of it as such is not only unprofitable, but potentially perilous to the soul as our hearts can so easily deceive us.
Allow love to move you to good works toward your fellow man, and make a pattern of it. There is no witness as powerful to the unbeliever as when you make a sacrifice on his behalf for the sake of the salvation of his soul. But watch closely your daily behavior with everyone around you, especially those closest to you, and examine the measure with which you show patience, kindness, humility, purity, and selflessness. For in these is love proven one situation at a time, day by day, over a lifetime.