Excellence of Charity – and its Danger

But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

Excellent means of great virtue, of great worth, of great dignity; eminent in any good quality.  The way of charity is much better than the seeming importance of possessing spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians, Chapter 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.

We should excel in proper attitude, not in fancy talk and spiritual showiness.

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.

We gauge status on ability to know and do great things, but from the eternal perspective, this is incorrect.

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.

Giving away and martyrdom – by themselves – are acts of self-abasement only. They don’t necessarily entail the right attitude toward others.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind;

Willing to endure discomfort to treat others with benevolence and care.

Charity is essentially the 2nd great commandment that Jesus spoke of: ” Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40

Believing this rule, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” is charity.

I am not more important than others. Others are not less important than me. That others might benefit I can suffer awhile, I can wait my turn.

…charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, 

Unseemly means indecent, unbecoming, obnoxious. I don’t need to penalize others with a scene of unpleasantness to announce my own importance.

… is not easily provoked,

It says “easily” and “long” suffering, which is to say, within reasonable bounds. Charity has done its job if we endure a reasonable amount of time and wait until we are greatly provoked. Since we often make mistakes and then turn and repent when we realize we were wrong, it is reasonable that we extend to others the same patience. But it’s charitable to rebuke and oppose evil rather than let it fester on our neighbour or spread to others. There is a reasonable limit to long-suffering: silent martyrdom isn’t charity.

… thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

The first great commandment can never be compromised in service to the second one.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God” means truth and righteousness is much more important than charity.

True charity never entails evil and never extends beyond the bounds of truth and righteousness.

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

That is, all things that are good, wholesome, right, true, etc.

8 Charity never faileth:

It is an enduring principle that will last forever.

but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

This is not “knowledge” in the sense of knowing God and Bible. It is talking about the gift of having a “word of knowledge” – mentioned in 1 Cor 12:8 – which is supernatural insight into a particular situation. This gift’s importance passes away because once that situation is past, the gift of knowledge about it is no longer relevant. So with the other showy gifts that only had importance in confirming to the Corinthians and other churches the supernatural verity of the apostles and their gospel (i.e., the New Testament).

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.

Charismatic gifts had their place, but mature faith doesn’t require constant magic tricks. Supernatural proofs have already established that the word of God is true, and now we move forward in faith.

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.

It is greater since faith and hope will one day see their fulfilment, but charity’s fulfilment goes on forever. But it will go on forever in the secondary place of submission to God’s righteousness.

Chapter 14
1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.

Charity is our heart’s attitude to love our neighbour as our selves – but doing this isn’t the primary function of the Church in this age. We must preach the word and announce the gospel of salvation by Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 4:2; Mark 16:15).

The saying, “preach Christ, and use words only if necessary” is a diabolical lie. Paul says, “rather that ye may prophesy” because people need to know the exact truth. Jesus Christ is the truth and the word of God, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32 (John 1:1, Revelation 19:11). Just being a “nice person” without proclaiming the words of God, and exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ alone, is not real Christianity.

Some great evils are promulgated by people who misuse this “Charity” chapter: #1 that the emphasis is put on loving our neighbour while ignoring the greater duty to obey God; #2 that feelings and emotions become our standards, rather than the word of God; #3 pretending that the chapter and its promises apply to non-Christians; #4 that charity is a means of salvation instead of being a manner of Christian living.

How do we have more charity and put this chapter into practice? Is it within ourselves to have this sort of attitude? No one is perfect, but by God’s help, yes, this chapter is about deciding to have the right attitude – and that is something we can always strive to do.

” Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13

The Holy Spirit within us reminds our “will” and coaxes us to desire to do the right thing, but we must chose accordingly, adopting this attitude ourselves, and must not resist his draw. And when we decide to make our “will” obey that call, then he also helps us within, and without, to do accordingly. So God is with us to think properly and to do properly, according to his will. We can love others as we love ourselves, while always putting God in first place.

Conclusion.

One day far in the future, basking with all the saints in eternal glory, I will not look back on my present lack of grand spiritual gifts with any regret, but of my present lack of charity, perhaps I will. Have charity!



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