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Love Tools for the Church

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14.1-4.

Having just spent the whole of the glorious previous chapter — 1 Corinthians 13 — teaching both what love is and what love is not, what love does and what love does not, Paul now begins this morning’s reading with the exhortation to pursue love but also to desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

There are one or two thoughts that strike me immediately as I read his words. The first is that the pursuit of love and the desire for spiritual gifts are not, in Paul’s book, either/or activities but unambiguously both/and activities. Where there is the one there should also be the other. Yet in many Christian circles today the underlying thrust, spoken or unspoken, is, “Let’s learn how to love God and love one another and leave all that charismatic stuff to the Pentecostals. It only makes things messy and causes trouble.”

Well, yes, by all accounts the “charismatic stuff” was indeed making things messy and causing trouble in the church at Corinth, but the last thing Paul wanted to do was put an end to it. Rather he wanted it to be harnessed to love because then, far from destroying the church, the charismatic stuff — particularly prophesy — would build the church up, cause it to grow, and make it strong.

The verb dioko means “to follow earnestly and after someone or something” and that gives me a lovely picture of what Paul means when he says, “pursue love.” I see “love” being almost personified — presented to me as a person on the move, dashing here and there, attending to this thing and that; and I see myself being given the task of keeping up with him, following in his footsteps, not letting him out of my site, going where he goes and doing what he does. And the “he” is, of course, Jesus. Jesus is love personified. When I read 1 Corinthians 13, I can substitute “Jesus” for “love” … “Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; Jesus is not arrogant or rude etc” … and I can do the same here.

But if that is what Paul means when he says “pursue love” — “follow in the footsteps of Jesus, go where you see him going, do what you see him doing” — then it becomes clear why I must also “desire the spiritual gifts.” Quite simply, without the spiritual gifts I do not have a hope of imitating Jesus. Luke starts the book of Acts by saying, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,” and the plain implication is that this second book is about what Jesus continued to do and teach through his church. And that is just what we find as we read the book of Acts, but it is a church whose “acts” are the exercise in love of spiritual gifts … left, right and centre. Without that, there would quite simply have been no continuation.

What are “the spiritual gifts”? Paul has spelled that out in the penultimate chapter. “Now concerning spiritual gifts,” he says, and goes on to list (some of) them: “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12.1, 8-11).

The spiritual gifts are meant to be the love-tools of the Christian who is following after Jesus, and without them I am going to be severely hampered almost to the point of uselessness. So I must “earnestly desire” them. The verb is zeloo from which we get the word “zeal” and that tells me that there must be no half-heartedness about my longing to have gifts of discernment, wisdom, healing, etc … and, above all, prophecy. But, at the same time, I must never forget that they are love tools, and if I receive them and use them without love, “out of Christ” rather than “in Christ”, for self-promotion and self-glorification, and just to get on a high by being “charismatic”, I will wreak havoc in the church. If I use them aright, however, there will be nothing but “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” for the church in which God has placed me.

Lord, give me the grace to follow after you and live out your love. And, to that end and for that purpose, give me, please, the gifts of your Spirit and teach me how to use them. Amen.

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9 comments on “Love Tools for the Church

  1. doug b says:

    thanks for sharing . The word to me was “love tool” that was straight from the spirit. Of course , Iv’e never heard it put in a way that was that powerful. I have been speaking out words of encouragement for 17 years in an episcopal church. I think that you have the gift Big Time. Use it often, don’t give in to fear. Peace. Doug B

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    1. Neil says:

      Thank you for your response, Doug. You are spot-on when you say that the term “love tool” was straight from the Spirit. It was. When I began the post I had never used the expression nor ever heard it used before but as I was writing it just came to me and I was as thrilled by it as you are. For me, now, spiritual gifts will always be “love tools”! Blessings, Neil.

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  2. Chaz says:

    Neil… The spiritual gifts…. a subject near and well… do be frank… a little confusing to my heart.

    I first accepted Jesus at age 19 (now more than 2 decades ago) at a Pentecostal church. I was quickly endowed with an expectation to speak in tongues. I thought I had received the gift but I honest do not know.

    I certainly believe in this gift and all of the gifts but I am not convinced that all we see in “charismatic” churches are authentic working of “the gifts”.

    I have seen some instances where unmistakably, there was a supernatural outpouring and a miracle resulted that there was no other explanation for. Including but not limited to my friends unexplainable total disappearance of (male readers brace yourselves) testicular cancer.

    And many, many others. I have met people with gifts of discernment who could tell you things about yourself that nobody else would know. I know an elderly Pentecostal minister’s wife who has an incredible gift for praying for couples having trouble conceiving and they almost always end up pregnant shortly thereafter. I have nieces and nephews who were born as a result.

    I guess the point I am trying to make is that among all of the authentic manifestations of the gifts, I feel I have seen the gifts “wishfully forced” in many situations and not very believable.

    I don’t think it is often that one tried to dupe another. But by and large, I just do not find all instances believable. And my personal experiences have included a placing of expectations on us to move in the gifts to the point were I think we fool often ourselves.

    One might argue that this is done out of love, but surely there has to be some other motive. Maybe we want the gifts more than we want God? I honestly do not know and I do not wish to sound accusing.

    I find it far more believable when frankly, “non-charismatics” operate in the gifts because I am less prone to suspecting that it is forced by the cultural expectations.

    So on goes my journey.

    Thanks for this post… it is a good bite of toast for the day.

    Ciao.

    Chaz

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    1. Neil says:

      Hi Chaz, thank you for that long and interesting response. I think it’s true to say that anyone who has spent any time in a “charismatic” church has experienced just that same mix of the authentic and the spurious as you have. And the spurious are, of course, damaging to the body of Christ and difficult to deal with – which is why I suggested at the start of my post that non-charismatic churches (or post-charismatic churches) are by and large happy to keep themselves that way. Back in the late sixties I was expelled from a well-known evangelical church for “leading the young people into error” by encouraging them to live in the Spirit and to discover and use their spiritual gifts. Some years before that, at another church, I myself had been powerfully filled with the Spirit and, received the gift of tongues when Rev Michael Harper (who was one of the “founders” of the charismatic movement in the mid-sixties and wrote most of the books that shaped our doctrine of spiritual gifts back then) laid hands on me and prayed for me. After the very painful experience of being accused of heresy and chucked out of a church because of it, I did, however, become far more cautious about spiritual gifts, to the point where I’m pretty sure I was “quenching the Spirit” a great deal of the time. I did still exercised the gifts occasionally, but really quite reluctantly, and I have ended up in a (presently) non-charismatic church … so yesterday’s passage and the stuff I got from it were, for me, a real call from the Lord not to “call unclean what he has called clean” and to start using and teaching about the spiritual gifts once more. Blessings, Neil.

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  3. Chaz says:

    Neil…

    A Vineyard minister I heard speak once shared that when he was growing up, having been raised in a conservative Plymouth Brethern household, his parent became concerned when he was staying out late.

    He confessed to them that he had been out drinking with his buddies. To which his PB parents expressed relief that he was haning out with “sinners” and not “Penetcostals”.

    So it was a little tongue in cheek I am sure but your account reminded me of this story.

    Back to topic at hand… I am of the mindset that I am looking to “let” the gifts happen rather than strive to “make” them happen. “Making” them happen, of course, is them not happening at all.

    My church experience, I feel incorporated a lot of “making” them happen. And while many gifts may have flowed, they would have been hard to distinguish from the real ones at the time and certainly confusing for newcomers like me at the time.

    I had also been many years ago to a Rodney Howard Brown meeting. Not sure if you know if him … he is South African minister who seems to have gifts, particularly laughter, manifest at his meetings.

    What I witnessed first hand by some of the people in attendance did not seem in the least bit authentic. It looked like people so rampped up to have an “RHB Laughter Experience” that they forced it to happen.

    I am reminded of Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

    Which to me describes our propensity toward self-deception… or at least vulnability to it. And the use of the word “wicked”, not sure if it is in the same context as modern day as other translations of the Bible state this verse a little softer.

    But suffice it to say that self-deception can apply to our zeal for the spiritual gifts as it can to anything else in our lives. And surely we can thereby complicate the gifts into something they are not…. innocently out of a zeal for what we hope God will do in us.

    Glad the Jer 17:9 goes on to say that God can help us discern truth in our own hearts.

    Anyway…. will stop by again soon.

    Ciao.

    Chaz

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  4. Nadine says:

    Hi,
    Amazing! Not clear for me, how offen you updating your passthetoast.wordpress.com.
    Nadine

    Like

    1. Neil says:

      Hi Nadine

      I try to post something every day apart from Saturday and Sunday.

      Neil

      Like

  5. bk says:

    Neil,
    I appreciate your post very much. I attend a pentecostal church in NC, USA. I think many of us (in my local church) have seen abuses of gifts, and are afraid to desire to use them. Also, sometimes, it is hard to know when to say something that I feel fairly certain will not be received.
    Sometimes I ask questions in small-group studies that I hope will motivate us to look more carefully at the scriptures, but I think sometimes I’m taken as being disruptive (or argumentative!) which is not what I want to be. I’m trying to learn the lessons of humility and love (to be quiet when I need to be) as well as wisdom (to know when and what to speak).
    I appreciate your honesty in relating how your personal pain affected your actions, and I also appreciate your optimism.

    Like

  6. Chaz says:

    I really wonder if we as the church have overstepped our responsibilities and tried to become distributors of the gifts.

    Rather than just teach of what we know and testify of what we have seen and experienced then leave the rest to God.

    I often wonder if the church has been apprehensive to say, “I honestly don’t know”, in response to a question about the gifts or any other unclear matter.

    Rather than inadvertently forcing an answer or result based on our zeal to see the gifts manifested. I deeply believe that if the gifts show up, we won’t be able to stop them.

    Yet we cannot let our disappointment force us to make the gifts happen when we feel we are missing out when we don’t see what we expect.

    I frankly do not understand God’s timing and God’s distribution system for certain manifestations. But I will no longer put my agenda ahead of his… as I feel in many of my church experiences, I was pressured to do.

    Ciao.

    Chaz

    Like

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