The Most Excellent Way
Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way. – 1 Corinthians 12:31
Alone, this verse doesn’t make much sense. But it’ll be revealed piece by piece, and then further explained – so here we go!
The greater gifts: this is referring to the spiritual gifts that are listed off in the previous verses – healing, speaking in tongues (Holy Spirit speaking through you in a different language), miracles, helping, leadership, and being in the position of apostle, prophet, teacher. The author, Paul, does not say which ones are the ‘greater gifts’ – which then means he’s not saying one gift is better than the others. It’s summed up well in the New Living Translation, which says “earnestly desire the most helpful gifts” – which is different for each scenario. A person suffering from a disease needs healing more than a message in tongues. A healthy person seeking God’s will doesn’t need healing, they could use that message from the Holy Spirit or perhaps leadership. The need of the situation changes what spiritual gift would be the most helpful.
Back to the verse, what is “the most excellent way”? Continue on to chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians – it’s obvious. Love. In Paul’s words, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels…had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains…if I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” (verses 1-3)
Love is worth more than all the other spiritual gifts – which is saying something. What kind of love is he talking about here? I don’t know about you, but when I hear people talk about ‘love’, they seem to be referring to either lust, or some form of ‘tolerance’ (“I won’t tell you what to think and you won’t tell me and we’ll just believe we’re each right so we won’t get in a debate over it”). Neither is really love.
As a follower of Jesus, our love should be much different than those things. We are supposed to love others – not just those that are easy to love, but those that are hard to love – your enemies. Love is not a feeling. Feeling does come with/from love, but love is not based on a feeling. So many couples divorce now because ‘they just don’t love each other anymore’ – no marriage will ever last when based on feelings. Love is also tough – for both sides involved. Let’s take Jesus’ example – He is the perfect example of true love, as no other force is powerful enough to drive someone to suffer and die for people that most of the time don’t appreciate the sacrifice. Did He promote tolerance in the way that it’s paraded around these days? Not at all. He called out sin, bad attitudes, and anything that was wrong. This is opposite of today, where ‘tolerance’ is called the loving way. Let me ask you this question – if one of your friends was constantly drunk, what would be more loving – confronting them about it, or just staying quiet, allowing them to live the life they want? We know the answer.
Everything we do, especially our witness to others who haven’t accepted Jesus as their savior, needs to be guided through true Christ-like love. It needs to be done out of a motivation to serve and genuinely help people, and needs to be done in a loving way – gentle, calm, patient, but confronting when necessary – ready and willing to speak the truth. Pray every day that God would develop in you a love for people and bringing them to Christ.
The BOTTOM LINE: love is more important than any talent or special ability, and has far better results.