We do untold damage when love’s not part of this ministry.
1 Corinthians 13.4-8
When Christians write the about the bit from 1 Corinthians 13 which defines love, we almost universally take it out of context. Myself included. ’Tain’t necessarily a bad thing: We quote it when we’re defining love. What love is, as opposed to what it’s not—as opposed to what popular culture, and sometimes even Christian culture, claims it is. The apostles defined it properly, so we’re adjusting our concept of agápi/“charity” accordingly.
But in context, the apostles defined it because they were correcting the Corinthians’ misperceptions about the supernatural. If you’re gonna strive for greater gifts, the only valid way to pursue them and do them is in love. If you’re not doing ’em in love, you’re doing ’em wrong.
And if you’re not entirely certain what the apostles meant by this “love” concept, permit ’em to straighten you out a bit.
1 Corinthians 13.4-8 KWL
- 4 Love has patience. Love behaves kindly. It doesn’t act with uncontrolled emotion.
- It doesn’t draw attention to how great it is. It doesn’t exaggerate.
- 5 It doesn’t ignore others’ considerations. It doesn’t look out for itself. It doesn’t provoke behavior.
- It doesn’t plot evil. 6 It doesn’t delight in doing wrong: It delights in truth.
- 7 It puts up with everything, puts trust in everything,
- puts hope in everything, survives everything. 8
ALove never falls down.
That’s the mindset we need to have when we’re striving for, or acting in, supernatural gifts. With love. Like this. Know any prophets, faith-healers, tongues-speakers, and teachers who act in love? I surely hope so. I do.
Now, d’you know any wonder-workers who are acting the opposite of all this? Likely you do. I sure do. Let’s play an irritating little game of “Spot the loveless”:
- Impatient. If you aren’t healed immediately, or can’t accept their prophecy or teaching, you’re to blame. Not the (supposedly) spiritually mature miracle-worker.
- Unkind. Rude, dismissive, condescending, needlessly harsh.
- Do act with out-of-control emotion. In other words, not gentle.
- Do draw attention to their greatness. They do love those titles.
- Exaggerate all the time. They only tell the big success stories… even though not even the bible tells only the big success stories. Some of our failures are teachable moments; some of our little successes can be more profound than the big ones. But for them, everything’s gotta be huge.
- Ignores others’ considerations. Are you offended by something they said? Tough.
- Looks out for themselves. It’s about their convenience; they’re busy people.
- Provokes behavior. And is actually quite proud of doing so. Sometimes teaches the Holy Spirit wants to be provocative… not restorative.
- Plots evil; delights in wrongdoing. And we’re not just talking about extreme cases of hypocrisy. Some hypocrites never commit big sins, but their lives are full of little trespasses. White lies, petty thefts, small cheats, sins of omission. They do add up though.
- Doesn’t delight in truth. If truth is embarrassing or inconvenient, phooey on truth.
- Puts up with nothing. Trusts no one. Hopes for little. Falls apart easily.
Because power corrupts.
Why did Paul and Sosthenes spend a whole chapter of their letter talking about the importance of love in supernatural ministry? Because we know from experience there’s a great lack of love in supernatural ministry.
Christians are pursuing prophecy because they wanna be prophets. Not so they can minister to others—which is the entire point of the gift of prophecy!—but so they can be prophets. So they can hear the voice of God. So they can wield the messages of God. So they can be called “the prophet” or “the seer” or refer to themselves by that title. It’s for their gain. As for God’s kingdom… well yeah, they’ll contribute to the kingdom too. But they still expect to be great in that kingdom. God’s heralds.
Y’see the problem? Humans covet power. It’s part of the self-preservation instinct, gone wrong when humanity went wrong. We want an advantage over our environment. Supernatural power is a supernatural advantage. But power corrupts. People think of themselves first, and others second. People with power think of themselves first, their hold on power second, and others as foes, who might take their power away. And yeah, even though the Holy Spirit gives us power, and only he can take it away, we still follow that self-centered instinct. Even when it comes to supernatural gifts. I’ve watched prophets get jealous of one another. It ain’t pretty. It’s killed at least one prophet in the scriptures.
Same with competing teachers, competing healers, competing prayer leaders, competing anything. Any minister who thinks of their ministry as their possession, their territory, the source of their honor and influence: They’ll fight others over it. Just as you’d fight for a job. It’s because they forgot God granted that position, and it’s his to assign or take away as he chooses. And it’s because they forgot it’s not about the title or duties, but about loving others. Sometimes it’s easier to love and serve others when you don’t have titles bogging you down! (It’s why I much prefer to work behind the scenes.)
But God’s kingdom isn’t about gaining, concentrating, and holding power. It’s about surrender. God has all the power, and he hands it to Jesus, who deserves it. Jesus sends out his followers to work for his kingdom, and the Spirit grants us supernatural abilities as necessary to further the kingdom. All of this is to be done in love, and with all the other fruits of the Spirit as he develops ’em in us.
Yet in this world, it’s frequently not done in love, not done with the Spirit’s fruit. It’s why the world is full of Christian horror stories, as misbehaving Christians exploit one another and damage their faith… all because they can’t stop coveting power, and have redefined the kingdom to suit their selfish desires.
Love eliminates this corruption.
All the traits of a selfish person get erased when we pursue and grow in God’s love. Yeah, it takes a lifetime; those instincts are mighty hard to remove. But we should at least be able to function in love when we’re working the Spirit’s supernatural gifts. ’Cause again: The only reason we’re doing them is, or should be, furthering the kingdom. Should be love.
Loveless power implies a loveless God.
As I said, you’ve likely seen miracle-workers who lack love, who are nonetheless running around doing the supernatural. I dealt with why in the previous bit, but I’ll recap.
The usual mistake people make is they assume if these people lack love, their miracles aren’t real. They’re frauds, or using the devil to do these works. These same people might’ve read 1 Corinthians 13, but they sure don’t know what it means: Christians can do supernatural things without love. It’s just our lack of love tends to undermine the miracles.
Now, when pagans encounter loveless miracles, what do they conclude? Well, they might think it’s a trick. The lack of love sure makes it feel like a trick, like someone’s trying to put one over on ’em, and maybe take their money and personal freedom. But just as often, they recognize it’s really God. Problem is, they’ve been introduced to a loving God via a loveless minister. What sort of picture of God d’you think they’re end up with? Right: A loveless God. A dark God, as is usually described by dark Christians.
God is love,
Whenever I encounter dark Christians, they’re some of the hardest nuts to crack. Part of it is their belief they’re absolutely right—and they’re afraid changing their minds will send ’em to hell. And part of it is because, no fooling, some of ’em encountered God. They saw miracles. Someone prophesied over ’em. Someone cured ’em. Someone restored their family, helped ’em out, or otherwise did for them in a miraculous way. And since God’s obviously in their lives already, why should they ever listen to me?
You see the problem. Right God; right miracles; bad ministers; bad Christians. If we work the supernatural without love, that’s the groundwork we’re laying.
Yikes. But learn from this: Pursue greater gifts—and do ’em in love! Never do them any other way.