Thursday, September 25, 2008

What If My New Bride Doesn’t Love Me Well?

Married only five months now, Bill already despairs that maybe he had made the wrong choice. He asks, “Where is that chapter about love, in the Bible? Wasn’t it in Corinthians?”

Oh right, the one that will say that she’s like “a clanging gong?” Yeah Bill, that is 1 Corinthians 13, but I don’t think you want to start quoting that one just yet. Men from generations past found that using chapter 13 on their wives only led to cold stares, cold beans, and rolling pin lumps. In more modern times, it leads to more marriage seminars. While many use chapter 13 to enhance their wedding ceremonies or to rebuke a grumpy spouse, the actual purpose of Paul’s writing it, was rather to help a disorderly church prophesy more effectively.

There are two reasons people mistakenly hold this chapter up to their increasingly frustrated spouse. One problem is human tampering with scripture, and the second one is the limitations of the English language. The scriptures didn’t originally have chapter headings or numbers. This is a letter to the Corinthian believers. It didn’t have chapters. And once someone sees a chapter heading, they think of it as a good stopping point. The end of chapter 12 is not a good stopping point. Neither is the end of Chapter 13. What is written in chapter 13 here, often called “the Love Chapter,” is part of an explanation of how to present spiritual gifting.

If you’ll read from the beginning of chapter 12 to the end of chapter 14 in one sitting, (you can do it, I just know you can), then you will not see “the Love Chapter” as how you or your spouse need to be behaving. Rather, you’ll see what your heart must be flowing with while you are exercising God’s gifts in “the most excellent way.”

The second problem in comparing chapter 13 with people, is that in English we have only one word for “love,” but in the original Greek, the Bible has 4 words for love. The word used in chapter 13, is the word “Agape,” which human beings do not even possess. Agape is “God’s love in action.” It is the love that God has, that we are to allow flow through us as we present His gifts to His children. If you are holding this chapter up to your spouse, you might as well accuse, “Hey, why aren’t you God!?!” Kind of loses the umph! Eh?

As chapter 12 starts out, Paul is helping the brothers and sisters in Corinth, who follow Christ, understand how people are entrusted with various spiritual gifts, all given by God:

“Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.”

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”

Paul then explains that each believer has a gift, and then lists several, such as: messages of wisdom, messages of knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discerning between spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting such tongues. Believers in Corinth were actively sharing these gifts, but they needed to see how all these gifts, being from God, also needed presenting in His love.

Paul then goes on to explain that each person uses their gifts to build up the whole body of Christ; that is the whole church. Just as our bodies have different parts, so the body of Christ has many different people who are each members of His body, with differing gifts. As we often do today sadly, the Corinthian believers were honoring certain gifts over others, and it was apparently causing pride and division. This is not how God sees His gifts or His people. Just before heading into the now famous “Chapter 13,” Paul writes:

“But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.”

Chapter 13 is talking about how we should minister in the gifts that are manifesting God’s presence among His church, believers in Christ. These gifts to the church include: apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healing gifts, helping others, administration, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. Notice we are not told how to present these gifts technique-wise. But we are told that, if to be at all effective, the gifts are to be expressed in the Agape of God. But when they are done without His Agape flowing: when instead they are expressed with boastfulness, rudeness, pride, anger, fault finding, and evil intent, then the gift is doing more harm than good. Without God’s love flowing through the gift-possessor’s heart, it is obnoxious; like the sound of a “clanging gong.” Without love as the motive and intent for using God’s gifts, they are not being presented with God’s heart. God is love.

“Who ever does not love, does not know God, because God is love.”
1 John 4:8

The way we offer God’s gifts to others is very important! They are the “gifts of the Spirit.” They are not ours. It is more like God intends to give the people a gift, and He has entrusted each believer with certain ones. Imagine sending me to a dear friend of yours, with a special present all wrapped up from you. But on the way, I hit traffic, the "check engine" light goes on in my car, I get drenched in the rain and then laughed at because my comb-over no longer is, and finally I stub my toe upon seeing your friend. By now totally miffed that you ever needed my help, I chuck the box at your friend, snarling, “Happy Birthday!” and storm off. How pleased would you be with me, when hearing how your friend received the gift you sent them? Presenting God’s gifts accurately means also using His tone of voice. And God is love. He isn’t easily angered: boastful, envious, proud, rude, self-seeking, or unforgiving. He is God our Savior. And when He entrusts you with a gift to give to one of His children, you must do so with His heart.

The love chapter tells us that God’s “Agape” is the greatest. Now see how Chapter 14 begins? Verse one is going right back to the spiritual gifts. That is because the writer Paul had never stopped talking about spiritual gifts. He’s not writing about your wife! He continues with:

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy.”

I know that some organizations teach that these gifts that are mentioned in chapters 12, 13 and 14 are not for today. They say these no longer are "in operation." They teach how these gifts were for back then only, in something called "the apostolic age.” I call these groups, “Non-prophet Organizations.”

Perhaps the reason some churches in America don’t experience more of these gifts, is not because God has ceased bestowing them, but that we have ceased letting Him love through us. Ask God? If He gives you a gift with which to build His children up, check your heart. Is God’s love for them your motive in presenting this gift? Are you excited because God loves them so much that He wants you to tell them something? Or are you just sick of the way things are and wanting folk to change?

Ask God to examine your heart before you deliver what you believe God’s gift to be. He may have lots of cleaning up to do in your attitude, before you can give the gift with His heart's tone. But as we learn to do so, the joy of using His gifts is so worth it! As we start giving His gifts to encourage and strengthen His children, His way, then He will entrust us to do so more and more.

In finishing with this subject of how to use the spiritual gifts, Paul writes to the Corinthians:

“Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophecy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

Make sure you are loving people, while you are ministering to your church family. “Chapter 13” is talking about God’s love; and not your spouse.’ Young married couples that find them selves struggling, just need to rest more. Rather than use 1 Corinthians 13 in your wedding invitations, here are some verses you might want to try instead. Space prevents me from typing them all out, and so you’ll just have to look them up yourself. In fact, don’t print out the verses on the invitations. Just let the recipients look them up themselves. Months later, when you and your honey are struggling to understand one another, look up these verses again, reminding yourself why you wanted to marry each other in the first place.

Suggested Verses:

Galatians 5:20
Job 19: 17,18
Exodus 13:36

And my personal favorite:

Ezra 2:27
____________ (Add your own here).
____________(Share them with others).

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