“A Still More Excellent Way”

“Desire earnestly the greater gifts. And a still more excellent way show I unto you.” —I Corinthians 12:31, Revised Standard Version

THE APOSTLE PAUL states in I Corinthians 12:1, “Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.” He then names some of the gifts of the Spirit given to the Early Church saying, “To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom: to another the word of knowledge, … to another faith, … to another the gifts of healing, … to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits, to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.”

Thus God bestowed on believers in the Early Church one or more of these miraculous powers known as gifts of the Spirit, or spiritual gifts, which played an important part in the establishment of the Early Church, being a witness both for themselves and to the world of God’s dealings with them.

In the orderly use of these spiritual gifts, as suggested by the Apostle Paul in the 14th chapter of this same epistle, these might indeed be thought of as a way of life; in fact, an ‘excellent way’, in many particulars, and a proof of divine power exercised in the affairs of God’s people.

The Apostle Paul, after showing the superiority of some of the gifts over others—and that the gift of tongues should not be used in the church to any great extent, unless in connection with the interpretation of tongues wherein all might understand and be edified—proceeds to show that the Christian life and way consisted of much more than the exercise of these gifts, excellent as they are. “Yet” says he, “show I unto you a more excellent way.”

And what is this ‘more excellent’ Christian ‘way’? It is, as he outlines in the 13th chapter of I Corinthians, the way of love. The apostle then emphasizes the superiority of love, and the way of love, over any of the miraculous powers given for a time, and later to be done away with, after they had served their purpose. And even while the ‘spiritual gifts’ were exercised, he shows that they were of little value to the possessor unless love was in the heart at the same time. Says he, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (vs. 1) No one certainly ever claimed to be able to speak with the tongue of an angel, but here, for emphasis, Paul declares that even could such be the case, without love it would be but so much sound.

He proceeds, “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” (vs. 2) Here he names the ‘spiritual gifts’ previously mentioned in the 12th chapter: the gift of prophecy, the gift of wisdom to understand all mysteries, of knowledge beyond one’s natural powers, and of faith—not just ordinary faith but the miracle-working gift of faith, and that in excess of anything actually given—mountain-moving faith. If I have all of these, says Paul, “and have not love, I am nothing.” Love is superior, therefore, to all these things, and they are valuable only when accompanied by love.

“Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.” (vs. 3) Is it not good to give to the poor? Do we not honor Christian martyrs? Yes, surely! The poor might profit from being given to, even where the giving might be done to be seen of men. They would benefit, but without love on the part of the giver it would profit the giver nothing in God’s sight. Even with such a sacrifice as life itself, if we could think of it as being motivated by other than love, then, too, would it not have been to that extent unprofitable?

As a man of science might take a beam of light and pass it through a crystal prism and break it up into the component colors of the rainbow, so Paul takes this thing, love, and passes it through the magnificent prism of his inspired intellect and it comes out broken down into its component parts—the beautiful fruits of the Spirit. At least ten ingredients are ascribed to the spectrum of love:

Patience—“Charity [Love] suffereth long.”—vs. 4

Kindness—“And is kind.”

Generosity—“Love envieth not.”

Humility—“Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”

Courtesy—“Does not behave itself unseemly.”—vs. 5

Unselfishness—“Seeketh not her own:”

Good Temper—“Is not easily provoked.”

Guilelessness—“Thinketh no evil.”

Sincerity—“Rejoiceth not in iniquity.”—vs. 6

Joy—“Rejoiceth in the truth.”

Here, then, are the Christian graces and virtues comprehended and embraced in the one word love. Love “beareth … believeth, … hopeth … endureth all things,” and love “never faileth.” What wonderful qualities and graces, then, go to make up this sum of all graces—love! Truly “a more excellent way” indeed! An unfailing way, for it is the way of God. Yes! Love and love’s adherents will triumph. The more excellent way of love during this Christian dispensation leads to glory and honor and immortality.

Following this declaration of love’s constancy and triumph—that it never faileth—the apostle reminds the Corinthian brethren of the temporary nature and use of the spiritual gifts of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. “But whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away.”—I Cor. 13:8, RSV

The “gift of prophecy as it was given to some in the apostle’s time was a miraculous, God-given ability to excel in these respects, beyond the normal capacities of the individual. This miraculous gift of prophecy, then, has been done away, as Paul indicated would be the case. And the same is true concerning the ability to speak with tongues. “Though there be tongues, they shall cease.” (vs. 8) They, the gift of tongues, have ceased to speak.

“Whether there be knowledge it shall pass away.” This statement has been difficult for many to understand. What the apostle is saying is not that all knowledge shall pass away, but that the ‘word of knowledge’, that is, the gift of knowledge by special inspiration which had been possessed by some, would pass away. And so it has.

Later he does show that any of our knowledge is “in part” (vs. 9), and it shall be done away with in the sense that it shall be swallowed up in the fullness of perfect knowledge. But this picture is one of a vast increase of knowledge for the future “when that which is perfect is come” (vs. 10)—a fullness of knowledge, not a doing away with it. Paul further indicates that our knowledge has been expanding from childhood to manhood, and that even yet “we see through a glass, darkly; but then [in the resurrection when born of the Spirit we shall see] face to face.” (vs. 12) He continues, “Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known [by God].”

How beautifully, forcefully, and logically the Apostle Paul led the brethren of his day from any over-emphasis on the spiritual gifts which were to pass away, to an appreciation of a more excellent way—the Christ-like way, the way of love! And is this not in harmony with the teachings of the Master himself, who, when asked as to which was the greatest commandment, answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” And said he, “The second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”—Matt. 22:39

The ‘more excellent way’ is a way of hope and faith that works. by love. “Now abideth faith, and hope, and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love!”

Dawn Bible Students Association
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