TODAY’S READING: 1 Corinthians 12–14
The people of God have consistently taken their eyes from the high goal of the mission of God for a more comfortable parochial application. We love the references in 1 Corinthians 12 to differences and diversity when we can apply them at the local level to the different members of our nuclear family or to the diverse races within our culturally isolated church. These are not untrue applications, but they were not what Paul was talking about.
Paul said that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body whether Jews or Greeks (v.13). Paul’s first point is that the body of Jesus (the church) must be defined by having members of every people group. The hand, ear, toes, and nose to which he referred are Arabs, Africans, Asians, Europeans, Latins, and Americans of every tongue and culture. Let’s begin up high with the grand view of diversity that God demands as central for His people, never losing sight of a multi-cultural church even as we recognize apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, helpers, administrators, and all (v. 28). Let’s not forget that “apostle” means “sent one” and is the basis for our concept of missionary. An apostle (missionary) is one sent to make disciples and plant churches where there are none. In this sense Paul’s question in verse 29 makes sense: Are all missionaries? Of course not! But all should love, hope, and have faith.
Our beloved 1 Corinthians 13 is a reminder to all missionaries and all the people of God that if we do not love, we are nothing (vv. 1–3). If the worst kind of suffering is eternal suffering, then the best kind of love is that which rescues from eternal suffering and assures eternal joy. We must be careful that what we profess as love is not carefully concealed hate. For if we educate, clothe, feed, nourish, and rescue practically but never open our mouths to warn of God’s wrath and tell of God’s ransom, then we have not loved, we have done nothing. Love suffers long abuse and rejection and is kind enough to keep proclaiming the gospel to resistant peoples (v. 4). Love does not envy the easier life that some friends live back at home, does not parade itself as better than the ones who send, does not seek to be recognized as brave or exceptional, is not provoked when forgotten but rejoices in declaring truth to the unreached (vv. 4–6). Love bears all the burdens of learning language and new cultures, believes that the hardest fundamentalist can be saved, hopes that God will send revival on the most resistant nations, and endures the difficulties that always accompany gospel advance (v. 7). Love never fails, and neither does missions, for we know that at the last when Jesus stands again on the earth, that all tongues and tribes will welcome Him back.
The “how” of spiritual gifts is incredibly important—all things in order without confusion and for the edification of all (14:33, 40). We know we operate rightly in the gifts when a non-believer can sense and see the power of God, even if he doesn’t have context, and thus convicted, falls on his face saying God is among us (v. 25). Let us stand then with Paul in his conclusion: He determined he would pray with his mind and his spirit (v. 15). Thus, so should we. Missionaries bring the most order and the most conviction when they pray and speak with both a Spirit-quickened minds and a Spirit-controlled tongue.