Did you ever think that you could do a kind thing and not be doing the will of God? Me either. But Paul taught in his first letter to the church in Corinth that God's will is not found in the act, but in the love behind it. With God's love behind it, our kindness is God's kindness. Without it, we're just banging and clanging.
“If I speak in tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)
If you’ve been to a Christian wedding ceremony, you’ve probably heard a reading of some or all of 1 Corinthians 13. Understanding Paul’s focus in this chapter requires the context provided by Chapter 12. When reading the two chapters together, we discover that Chapter 13 is not a discussion about love in the marriage relationship as is often thought. It’s really a discussion about putting spiritual gifts to their proper use and the depravity of intentionally, or unintentionally, using those gifts improperly.
(Be sure, citing Paul’s description of true love from Chapter 13 in a wedding ceremony is not improper at all. It speaks into the narrow focus of the relationship between God, husband, and wife—one of the many relationships the passage can be applied to.)
Paul’s list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians includes working of miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, and the power to heal. Other spiritual include hospitality, administration, giving, and mercy. Most of us would immediately associate such things with God. If we experienced someone using these gifts we would assume that God was behind it. But that is not always so!
Understanding that spiritual gifts can be misused (or worse, hijacked by Satan for his misuse) is very important. Consider a chainsaw. In the hands of a skilled lumberman it can be used to quickly create a stack of perfectly formed logs. In the hand of an untrained, inexperienced user, it can maim or kill operator and bystanders alike. The same is true with the spiritual gifts God gives to people of faith. They are tools designed for a purpose and they are to be used in accordance with that purpose. Whatever gifts God has entrusted to us, we can’t take these gifts or the responsibility for using them lightly. We do great damage when we do, many times without even knowing it.
Thankfully, God’s Word gives us the simple, direct way to measure the use of a spiritual gift. Start with asking the question, “Which came first?” Now we’ve heard the similar, paradoxical question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” This is not a question like that. This is a question with a clear answer. Let’s use two basic truths to examine the use of spiritual gifts:
Truth One: The two imperatives
When asked, Jesus boiled all of the Jewish Law down to two commandments:
Therefore, any use of spiritual gifts that does not accomplish one of these two objectives falls outside of God’s will, tumbling into the category of misuse. So our evaluating question must always be, “Did love come first?” We can’t assume that the act of using a spiritual gift is automatically righteous. We must ask the question, “Was there sincere love for the other person first, and was the act that followed performed in response to that love?” An affirmative answer to this question is required. If not, we don’t do the will of God, we bang gongs and clang cymbals instead.
Truth Two: God is love, Satan isn’t
Satan longs to convince as many people as possible to reject God’s offer of an eternal, love relationship with Him by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Satan uses loveless application of spiritual gifts as a method of deception to this end. Using the gift in our passage as an example, if we speak in ‘tongues of angels’ without love, we confuse. No one can understand what we’re saying. Those confused by our actions will turn away from our witness. If we speak and interpret tongues in love, we edify and inform. Those informed by our actions will experience God’s love and be drawn to it. Satan loves loveless miracles, loveless healing, loveless prophecy because he knows God is not in them! They contribute to the confusion he thrives on. The more phony, loveless, God-less acts there are, the easier it is to convince non-believers that God is really not necessary, not real, not important. . .
There are two paths a believer can take in the use of spiritual gifts, and as much as we would like, there is no neutral territory for their use—they are either used as a means of expressing God’s love to others or they are used in a way incompatible with God’s purpose for them. That’s the truth.
If you speak in tongues of men and of angels but you have not love, you are only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If you have not love as the central motivation for using any of your spiritual gifts, you do not use them in accordance with God’s will. If you have not love, Satan is surely nearby, ready to use your gift for his purposes.
©2008, 2010 Dan Buckhout
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Internatonal Bible Society.
Used by permission of International Bible Society.