Did you ever get a cream donut and find it was all dough and no cream? I hate when I get something that isn’t what it is supposed to be – and so do most people. The other day I met a man who was a Christian, but his heart was filled with anger, suspicion, fear and hatred. He didn’t like immigrants. He didn’t like Christian programs on TV. He didn’t like politicians who claimed to be Christians. After talking to him awhile, I wasn’t sure he liked me, and I am not sure He like Jesus all that much. He was a cream donut missing all the good stuff. He was a man with judgment, but no love. He was, however, somehow surprised that he was unsuccessful at reaching people with the message of salvation. His grown children don’t take his calls. His family has no time for him. He is a Christian, but he is a very negative, very angry version of the original idea. He doesn’t know what he is missing, and he won’t listen if you tell him.
Do you ever deliberately use hyperbole when you share a story with someone? A hyperbole is a rather extreme form of exaggeration used in order to make a point. Some of them are humorous, but all of them leave you thinking about the point of the writer or speaker. The term comes from a Greek word meaning “excessive.” The truth is that even a boring story can “come to life” with its use. Consider these small examples from everyday life for a moment:
• “I’ve told you a million times”
• “She is so dumb, she thinks Taco Bell is a Mexican phone company”
• I am so hungry I could eat a horse.
• It’s a sleepy little town. I spent a couple of weeks there one day.
• I have a million things to do.
• I had a ton of homework.
• If I can’t buy that new game, I will just die.
• He is as skinny as a toothpick.
• That joke is so old, the last time I heard it I was riding on a dinosaur.
• You could have knocked me over with a feather.
• Her brain is the size of a pea.
• He is older than dirt.
One of my favorite examples of hyperbole can be found in Paul Bunyan’s classic opening of the American folktale “Babe, the Blue Ox” where he wrote:
“Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid ‘afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before.”
Isn’t that a catchy way to get you to picture the cold? Hyperbole works. Now, this isn’t a literature or grammar course, so perhaps you are wondering, “Why is he explaining hyperbole to us?” That is a good question! The answer is simple: understanding hyperbole helps set the context of the very well known and often quoted text written by the Apostle Paul to the first century church at Corinth found love in 1 Corinthians 12-14; particularly the passage that describes love in 1 Corinthians 13. You needn’t look too hard to really observe the fact that Paul wanted to bring an extreme comparison into the lives of believers who thought they knew how to place proper weight and value on things.
Here is the truth: We often set the wrong values on things in this life. We don’t see our life the way God sees the time He has provided for us on earth. We think we know what is important, but over the course of our lives, even what we think is truly important changes.
Let me see if I can make this point more obvious, but pardon me for a few moments as I set the text in its context… Paul introduced the gifts or Divine enabling of the Spirit of God in 1 Corinthians 12. When we studied the passage in a previous lesson, we saw that Paul brought to the attention of the believers five misunderstandings that invaded their thinking on the subject of spiritual gifts.
First, Paul wanted believers to know that God absolutely was in the business of speaking and engaging them (12:1-2). Believers weren’t like pagans bowing to mute statues – they had a God Who hears and answers.
Second, the Apostle wanted to offer the people a few tools to discern truth from error (12:3). People who taught that Jesus was Master were speaking for God; people who demeaned Jesus simply weren’t speaking for God at all – no matter how well they put words together.
Third, Paul wanted them to recognize the uniqueness of each believer (cp. 12:4-7). Not every believer was given the same gifts because God wanted us to have a variety of enabling abilities to do a variety of ministries.
Fourth, he wanted the church to recognize there were (and are) no “spare part” Christians – all the varieties of believers with their various gifts were essential (12:8-11). It didn’t matter if some were more obvious in their use by God; only that God used believers as He chose.
Fifth, Paul wanted to address the sense of over-importance in some (12:12-31). Some thought they were more important because of their family background and pedigree (12:13). Some thought they were more important because of their obvious use by God (like the eye or ear in 12:14-16).
In the final analysis, the problem was that some people envied the gifts of others, and some exercised authority over others because of certain enabling they had – even though they neither earned nor deserved it. People, even Christians, don’t always place value the way God does. Because of that, Paul “stepped in” with some words from the Spirit of God:
1 Corinthians 12:31 [You have a variety of gifts of the Spirit] But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.
In the face of people who didn’t lauded those with obvious gifts and easily overlooked other believers, Paul wanted to show they there was something far better than the best gifts and enabling work of the Spirit of God. It is something the church of Corinth needed desperately. It is something that every group of believers needs to recognize and reaffirm.
Look at 1 Corinthians 12:31 more closely. Do you see the word “excellent”? That term is the Greek word “hyperbole” – the term for an extreme. Paul said that all believer have gifts, and all believers are to be valued, but that isn’t the secret to seeing people come to Christ and having their lives changed. It isn’t even CLOSE to the best way to reach people. There is something EXTREMELY STRONGER that we can use. What is it?
Key Principle: The most superior (by far) method of drawing people into a relationship with Jesus that will transform them is by loving them while pointing them to the truth in the Word.
Love isn’t a second best tool for ministry – it is the best tool BY FAR. It is the EXTREME MEGA TOOL for showing Jesus to the world.
In this lesson, I am admittedly reaching back into the past to prepare us to move forward on the journey through the rest of this book. It is not intended to be a simple review; I am seeking to build a springboard from which we can explain the gifts more fully. Look at 1 Corinthians 13…
The opening phrase of the paragraph and the closing phrase act like bookends… “Love never fails” and “the greatest of these is love.” The point is the superiority of love over any display of gifted-ness. Your open heart and readiness to show love to someone will mean more and realize greater effectiveness than gaining five new enabling markers of the Spirit of God in your life.
In a world starved for truly loving relationships – God made the point that NOTHING WORKS TO CHANGE PEOPLE LIKE LOVING THEM. NOTHING.
Why? Paul explained:
Love is permanent; the manifestation gifts are temporary:
1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
Don’t misread the verse. He isn’t saying that love always delivers the outcome you want. You can love your children deeply and they can still stray. When he wrote “love never fails” he was saying that when the earth is dissolved and time gives way to eternity – LOVE WILL STILL BE LOVE. It will still matter who you showed love to, and where you found love. He went on to write…
Love is much more complete; revelatory gifts are incomplete:
1 Corinthians 13:9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
The simple fact is that no amount of preaching can replace what a steady dose of loving will yield. Revealing the grand truths of God from the Word is a supremely important function of ministry, but people who don’t believe you both love God and love them don’t care about your insights. Pain and rejection block receptivity to God’s Word. Practical love and genuine concern are essential to reaching into the heart of another.
Love expresses maturity; gift reliance is immature:
1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
Love is “other person centered” action. Selfishness is the natural watermark of the immature. With that in mind, it is clear that focusing on my “star power”(of personal attraction) or ability will only focus people‘s attention on ME will end in self-absorption, while love (by definition) focuses on those I am called to serve.
Love is more insightful (clearer sighted) than fervent self-hunger for acquisition and use of spiritual gifts:
1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
I don’t think it is a secret that we see many a ministry built on great gifted-ness, but much less built on love.
The greatest and most lasting outreaches won’t be built on sheer wit of piercing argument. Polemics will always have their place, but they will come and then fade. Love lasts after all the reasons are forgotten. That doesn’t make the reasons unimportant; it speaks to what is the strongest tool in the toolbox to pull the ensnared from peril.
The best churches won’t be the ones who have incredible pulpit talent when it is not borne along by a loving congregation that wants to show care to one another. People will come for the show, but not grow into the looking like the Savior without the shaping of loving believers around them. It won’t work in the long run.
We can so easily get caught up in momentary talent that we forget the fuel of ministry isn’t talent or treasure – it is an active, deliberate, consistent showing of love. Nothing else will do what love does in the lives of people.
I am not going “gushy and soft” here – this is straight, hard Biblical instruction that calls on each of us to put our lives where our mouths are. Paul knew the Corinthians respected famous athletes for their talent. They lauded powerful displays of the Roman navy, so frequently visiting their city. They liked a “man’s man” and the commanding sense of victory. The loved the music of the Odeion, they coveted the roar of the crowd for the soloist in the pantomime. They prized the laughter of the crowds before the skilled comics in mime performances of their local theater. Corinth loved talent and displays of ability – and they wanted the Spirit of God to “feed that desire” in the giving and use of gifts, but God wasn’t gifting them to exalt them.
Here is the truth:
• Gifts should bring us better ability to love and admire one another without encouraging us to focus on each other, but rather on the goodness of God’s Spirit in equipping the undeserving!
• Gifts should offer us a sense of greater personal humility when we are used of God, because we become aware none of us are not the true source of our Spirit-enabled abilities.
• Gifts should offer us a fuller view of what God intended us to experience as He works in and through us, and we learn to let Him lead in the dance of daily life.
Jump past chapter 13 and keep reading for a few moments… As you drop into Paul’s discussion already in progress, remember Paul is speaking to a GROUP not an individual. What he tells them, he says to them as a local body.
First, he tells them BOTH the pursuit of love and the desire for God to reveal truth are things the church should DESIRE and CHERISH.
1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
With all that we have said about love, don’t forget love doesn’t decrease the need to know the TRUTH from God that is revealed by that same Spirit. Prophecy in Scripture is simply “God’s view of the news!” Whether that prophecy relates to the future or to the present isn’t the point. We need LOVE to bind us to one another and TRUTH to offer us the marching instructions on the way we are to proceed.
Second, Paul highlighted a heart problem in those who wanted God to use them in front of others by enabling them to “speak in tongues.”
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.
Though tongues were from God, they were limited in use: Paul wasn’t “down” on tongues speaking, as that was a communication that God initiated as a manifestation of His own presence to the early believers at Corinth. He was, however, “down” on the fact that many who wanted that gift didn’t seem to grasp the extreme limitation of its use. Tongues without interpretation by another didn’t offer anything to the hearer, and tended to puff up the speaker. In the cases where tongues occurred in the Book of Acts, the languages appeared to be understood by some of the listeners who were from other lands, and recognized their “mother tongue” coming from one who didn’t study it.
The ultimate point Paul made was that prophecy requires no additional person to clarify it, and on its face will edify the hearers, while tongues could easily make the speaker feel special, but won’t help equip the body by instructing the hearers. Speaking great truths in a language no one can grasp doesn’t help confused people grab truth or wayward people experience conviction.
Though tongues were from God, they left could easily leave the “gifted” in an awkward position. Consider what Paul added.
1 Corinthians 14:4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.
Do you want to look good, be affirmed by others and be seen as more significant? That isn’t the right motivation for ministry. Go into entertainment – there is a place for you there!
The motivation for ministry MUST BE the exaltation of the Father and His Son Jesus, by bringing others closer to Him. The best use of the prophet’s tongue will always be whatever message will pierce the heart with clarity, challenge and care.
Paul wanted them to recognize that tongues may look neat, but if their heart was to serve, build and edify – it was actually quiet awkward when no one interpreted. It was just weird babble that didn’t make sense unless you knew the language that was spoken. When the act of speaking is more important than the understanding of the listeners to whom you are speaking – you are self-absorbed. When you enjoy the sound of your own voice more than the aid of your friend – you are on the wrong page in your sharing.
Paul clearly argued the most important thing must be what the “hearers” understood – not how important the speaker looked.
1 Corinthians 14:6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?
What if we used the standard for all our speech of “what will it help” before we started speaking. What if we applied that to our social media, our neighborly discussions with those around us? How would that change what we say? Paul wanted people to value the truth God wanted to share more than they valued themselves as the vessel of the sharing! If others don’t grow in their walk when I share my insight, is it just to puff myself up? That is a question we should all contemplate.
The truth at the end of the day is this: noise without clarity is just noise.
1 Corinthians 14:7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.
People wanted God to grab their mouth and let them stand in the congregation and begin to utter things in a language they had not learned. Paul simply pressed, time and again, “WHAT IS THE POINT?” The point was to be seen. Romans were a culture that loved being on display. Their progeny walk the streets of Rome today in the “Passegiata” or nightly stroll to see and be seen. Every Roman specialist will tell you that Romans felt measured by others on the basis of their public display. Women wore things that would make Lady Gaga blush – just to be seen.
We can turn this into a discussion about tongues, but we will miss the larger point. There is an unhealthy attitude within all of us. There is a hunger to be noticed that goes beyond what is right. There is a desire to have others affirm our worth that substitutes for the Divine nod.
Let me as a pointed question: “Why did you wear what you did this morning?” For some perhaps, it was what they had clean! For others it was carefully thought out to attract the attention of others. Fair enough. Looking nice is a good thing, but it can be something more…
Can we not see that one can even MINISTER to be seen of men? Jesus chided Pharisees for that very point – and yet they live. They live in our churches, in our ministries, and indeed – they live in US.
Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly: “Our attitude as believers MUST BE to build others and not “place feathers in our own cap.”
1 Corinthians 14:12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. 13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. 16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. 18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Here is the key point to the whole discussion on tongues: people who want to BE important aren’t as interested in God being important.
The noted Scottish professor from the first part of the twentieth century named James Denney once noted: “No man can preach Christ and himself at the same time!” For some movements, the tongues issue is still wrapped up in selfish garb. For other movements, it is the preaching gift that elevates – the Pastor is elevated to worship level. Still others elevate the service gift, oddly making celebrities even of greatly gifted servants. In the end, the problem is the same.
We must teach people to see Jesus, and we must stop “hogging” His glory. The greatest honor of our lives is to bring Him glory, not to be known. Personal affirmation will evaporate in the light of His presence.
I plead with you…Servants of Jesus must make every effort to stop feeding on the affirmation of men. It is a trap that will lead us to disaster! We must find our significance in Jesus and not in any status that will slip into oblivion and darkness with the ending of our sojourn on earth. Jesus is important; and our service empowered by Him is JUST THAT.
Stop for a moment, and look at Paul’s whole address. People wanted to be important, and that became more important than simply exalting Christ. Can you see that as a problem in YOUR life?
Let me ask a direct question: “How do you get people to really see Jesus in you and follow Him?
Some people think fighting will do the trick. They argue their politics and morality and think that represents Jesus. All they are doing ins inflating their ego and claiming Jesus’ blessing on it.
Pastor Brian Bill of Edgewood Baptist wrote something that stuck with me: “A man from Illinois decided to travel to Wisconsin to go duck hunting. He shot and dropped a bird, but it fell into a farmer’s field on the other side of the fence. As the flatlander climbed over the fence, a dairy farmer drove up on his tractor and asked what was going on. The hunter said, “I shot a duck and I’m retrieving it.” The old farmer replied, “This is my property and you’re not coming over here!” Well, this made the hunter mad so he said, “If you don’t let me come over the fence I’ll call my Chicago lawyer and I’ll sue you.” The farmer smiled and said, “Apparently you don’t know how we do things up here. We settle disagreements with the Wisconsin three-kick rule. I’ll kick you three times, and then you kick me three times, and so on, back and forth, until someone gives up.” The Illini liked this challenge because he thought he could easily take the old farmer. The Wisconsin Badger climbed down from the tractor and planted the steel toe of his heavy work boot into the man’s shin. The man fell to his knees. His second kick went directly to his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. The farmer than landed his third kick to the side of the hunter’s head. The disoriented man slowly got up and said, “Okay, you old codger, now it’s my turn!” To which the farmer responded, “Nah, I give up. You can have the duck.”
In Paul’s words we can see that “We must surrender our bodies, minds, and wills to God and have a proper estimate of ourselves before we can effectively serve.” Your life will be able to present Christ, or present yourself. You will draw men, or you will repel them from Him into YOUR ARMS. Our calling it to bring people to the Savior.
The superior method of drawing people into a relationship with Jesus that will transform them is by loving them while pointing them to the truth in the Word.
About 20 years ago, when Saddleback Church in Southern California had grown to approximately 500 people, Rick Warren, the Senior Pastor, said, “Folks, I’m out of energy and the church is getting so big that I can’t do much more. As I read the Bible it doesn’t say I’m supposed to do it anyway…I’ll make you a deal. If you’ll do the ministry God’s gifted you to do then I’ll do my part which is to make sure you’re well fed.” Warren said they then “shook hands” and made a pact together. It was after that the church began exploding with growth (From Rick Warren’s sermon, “Unwrapping Your Spiritual Gifts”). What a great deal!
Let me make a similar deal with all who would be a part of the people of Grace. I will work tirelessly to teach and model – will you join me in taking your gifts and love people to Jesus? Can I count on you?