The More Excellent Way
December 4th, 1955 @ 7:30 PM
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
THE MORE EXCELLENT WAY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
12-4-55 7:30 p.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we brought the last message, the fifth one from the twelfth chapter of the first Corinthian letter. That was this morning. And tonight we begin at the last verse of the twelfth chapter, and go through the third verse of the thirteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter [1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3]. I will tell you, turn to the thirteenth chapter, and we will all read it together—all of us read it together. I will read the last verse of the twelfth chapter. Then all of us together, we read the thirteenth chapter together.
You have it? Share your Bible with some neighbor who does not think to bring it, if he does not have one in his hand. Now the last verse of the twelfth: “Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way” [1 Corinthians 12:31]. That is the sermon tonight: The More Excellent Way. And this is it, all right, together:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And 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 charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
[1 Corinthians 13:1-13]
And that is the more excellent way.
Could I, before I begin, comment on the translation of that Greek word “love,” in our King James Version translated “charity?” Where you got that word charity was this. When the Latin Vulgate was made by Jerome, Jerome translated out of the Greek language the sacred Scriptures into Latin. And the Latin Vulgate, as his translation was called, came to be the Scriptures of all the Western world. Wherever Christianity went west, it carried with it the Latin Vulgate. That is the official Scriptures of the Roman Catholic Church today.
Now when Jerome translated that Greek word for love, agape—when he translated it into Latin, the usual Latin word for love is amor. But the word for love in Latin, amor, was so identified with Venus and with all of the sexual orgies by which the ancient Roman worshiped those unspeakable goddesses; so, when Jerome came to translate the Greek word for love into the Latin word for love, he turned aside from the usual Latin word amor, and chose rather the Latin caritas, which is also a Latin word for love, but not that kind of love. Caritas is the word for precious in Latin, for endearing, holy, sanctified, sublimated love.
So when the King James version translated from the Greek and other translations, it’ll say, with the other revisions diligently compared and revised— when they translated the Greek word for love into English, the word “charity,” which is built upon the Latin word caritas, had then the same feeling in English that it had in Latin. Charity, in 1611, was a word for the endearing, precious love of God and as we have for one another, so, he took the word and made it English here. But as the years have passed—as three hundred years have passed—why, the word, love—charity—has become so identified with our service and our ministry to people who need us, that it has finally come to mean just this gift of love and ministry alone. But it’s a beautiful word. And if you’ll remember its background, you can still read it charity—love, a sublimated love, a precious love, godly love—and you’ll get the idea exactly as Paul wrote it.
Now let’s begin the message. These Corinthians were somebody to look at. Of all the churches in the world that I would most have loved to visit, I would have loved to visit the Corinthian church above all. They were gifted above any other people that ever aggregated themselves in the communion of the Lord Jesus. Paul began his letter with them saying, “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God bestowed upon you; that in every thing ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance, in knowledge; in the testimony of Christ so that you became behind in no gift” [1 Corinthians 1:4-7].
Whatever it was that a Christian was gifted to do; the Corinthians had that gift above anybody in the world. Were there gifts of miracles, those Corinthians had it above any other church. Were there gifts of languages and tongues, they could praise God in an ecstasy beyond any other thing that any other church ever attempted to do. Were there gifts of healing, were there gifts of interpretation, were there gifts of prophecy—were there any kind of Christian gifts, the Corinthians had it a double portion. Paul says: “I thank God that that is true.”
But, they had some colossal weaknesses in that church. One of their weaknesses—we haven’t time to exploit it tonight—one of the weaknesses was the weakness of divisiveness; a group over here and a group over there and a group over there.
“I am following Cephas.”
“Nope. I am following Apollos.”
“I am following Paul” [1 Corinthians 1:11-12].
Paul: “I am following nobody like that. I am following Christ.” And they had all those parties in their church [1 Corinthians 1:3:4-11].
Then the Corinthian church had one other weakness, and that was this. They were inordinately ambitious for these Christian gifts, these gifts of the Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:4-31]. To the Corinthian, his church—the church of Christ in Corinth—was not anything other than a stage upon which he aspired to be a most conspicuous figure. Were there gifts in tongues, they were ambitious to speak with tongues more than anybody every spoke with tongues. Were there gifts of healing, they were ambitious to heal in the most miraculous and astounding way that any Christian ever had power from God to do it. Was there a gift of prophecy? Then they were ambitious to have that gift and to prophesy beyond what anybody else had ever heard anybody do. They were exceedingly ambitious for these gifts of the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:4-31].
Now, Paul says, that’s fine, that’s wonderful. For you to be ambitious, to have a gift from God and to exploit it, to demonstrate it, to exercise it, to expose it—that’s marvelous. “Covet earnestly,” he says, “the best gifts: and yet I show you the best gift of all” [1 Corinthians 12:31]. If really you have it in your soul to excel in the things of Christ, to be great in His kingdom, this is the superlative gift of all God’s gifts: the gift of the spirit of love and of charity in your heart, identifying yourself with God’s interest in other people. That’s the supreme and the superlative of all of the graces God bestows upon us. Then he begins this incomparable chapter. “For though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not that gift of love in my soul, I am as sounding brass, and a clanging cymbal” [1 Corinthians 13:1].
So he compares it first with emotional gifts, emotional gifts; the ecstatic praising of God, inarticulate utterances. What a marvelous gift that is for a man to so open his soul to God, that the glory of the Lord can come upon him, and in words that are beyond what language could contain, he pours forth the praises of the glory of the God who saved him. Now I can understand that. I have sensed somewhat and have seen somewhat that in my own ministry, in my working among our own people. And I felt somewhat, sometimes, the glow of those unutterable praises in my own soul and in my own heart.
You can imagine—you can imagine how the sublime revelations of God, when they came into the lives of those common people, how it rocked human nature, as though you’d placed a great weight in a boat. It was something superlative. It was something divine, and the glory that welled in their souls could not be contained in language. And they expressed it in tongues and languages, in unutterable and glorious utterances; a thing like that you somewhat sense in a wonderful revival meeting.
Were you ever in a glorious meeting, an old-time revival, an old-fashioned meeting? Were you ever in one where everybody is singing? They get up in the morning singing. They go to bed singing. They’re singing about their work. They’re singing plowing in the fields. They’re singing washing dishes. They’re just singing and singing. Everybody is praising God. Everybody is happy. Everybody is in the Lord. And, they’ve been praying for people to be saved, and people are saved. And there’s rejoicing and gladness and glory everywhere! Were you ever in a revival meeting like that? And your heart was so glad and your soul overflowed, and you couldn’t say it in word or language. The sentence couldn’t contain it to bear it. That’s the Spirit. That’s the Spirit.
Comes to mind an old story that I’ve heard several times; there was an old Negro in the church, and he shouted. He was so happy and so full of the glory of God in his soul that when he’d go to church and the preacher would get, you know, in a weaving way going, he’d start shouting. Well, they had a new preacher there in the church. They’ve got a new pastor, and the old fellow’s shouting bothered the new preacher. He couldn’t preach with all that shouting going on. So they appointed a committee at the church to wait on the old colored fellow that’s doing all that shouting in the church. So they found him out in the field, between a plow handle and with the reins of the mule in his hand, as he’s plowing down in the field. And so they came up to him, and they let it be known they were a committee appointed by the church. And they said, “Now, this shouting of yours, this shouting of yours, it bothers the new preacher, and he doesn’t like it. And we come to tell you, you’re not to shout anymore in the church. Now you are to pipe down. You are to be quiet.” That’s what they told the old man. So the old Negro, he said, “Brethren, that’s right. That’s right. That’s right. I ought not to do that. I ought not to do that. I’ll be quiet. I know I ought to be quiet.” But he says, “You know, he says, you know, sometimes when I gets to thinking there in the church, and the preacher gets to preaching, and he gets to preaching about the love of God, and how the grace of God came into this poor, old, lost sinner’s heart and how the Lord saved me—and when I gets to thinking about how it’s going to be in glory by and by, say, brethren,” he said, “Hold these lines while I shout!” That’s something of the spirit of it. And it ought not to be deprecated!
Paul wouldn’t deprecate it. In that next chapter, the fourteenth chapter and the eighteenth verse, he says: “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than you all” [1 Corinthians 14:18]. Paul had felt the glory and the surge of the Spirit of God in his own soul and his own life: “I thank God, I speak with tongues more than ye all.”
But, there is this that Paul would say about those tremendous emotional effusions. If they exhaust themselves in their expression—if that’s all—if the glory is just the glory of the feeling, and if the religion is nothing else but just the unutterable expression that language can’t contain or say—if it dies in itself, “though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels”—and that’s all, “then I am nothing” [1 Corinthians 13:1-3], says Paul, “but just like that sounding gong that you hear up there on the Acrocorinthus at the worship of Venus and Adonis.” It has to channel itself. It has to ensue in something. It’s got to be busy serving God. It’s got to be placed into action. It’s got to move. It’s got to serve, if it belongs in power and glory to the majesty and wonder of the grace of God in Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 13:1]. The emotional itself is wonderful, but if it exhausts itself in itself, then it’s nothing. It’s a sounding brass and a clanging cymbal.
One time I heard a preacher describe a revival meeting that he was holding way out in the country. It was a week in the meeting, two weeks revival, and he was in the middle of it. And right in the middle of the revival, oh! the thing burned and flamed, and the fires of evangelism began to glow. And people were getting religion, and they were shouting, and they were happy. And one night in the midst of that revival meeting, while he was getting ready to go to the brush arbor to preach again that night, up the road, up the road he heard singing and shouting. And he stopped and he listened, and he never heard such singing, and he never heard such shouting. And he stopped longer to look, and down the road there came a whole wagonload of people. And everybody in that wagon was a’singing and a’shouting and a’praising God! And he turned around to some of those brethren there in the church, and he said, “And who is that? And who is that?” And they said to the preacher, “Don’t you know who that is?”
“No,” said that evangelist, “I don’t know who that is. I never heard such in my life. Who is that?”
“Oh,” said the brethren, “Them’s the Hammondses. Them’s the Hammondses.”
“Well,” said the preacher, “I don’t know who the Hammondses is. Who’s the Hammondses?”
“Why,” said those brethren, “Everybody knows the Hammondses. Everybody knows.” He says, “Every year, when we have the revival meeting,” he says, “in the midst of the revival—right in the middle of the revival, when everybody gets religion, everybody starts shouting, praising God and people being saved”—he says, “Every year, in the midst of the revival, they’ll be coming to the arbor, and they’ll be coming in that same wagon, and they’ll be shouting and praising God, just like you see them tonight. And for the rest of revival,” he says, “they’ll be there every night, and they’ll be shouting and a’singing and a’praising the Lord. Then,” he says, “after the revival is over, you never see or hear the Hammondses again, until next year in the middle of the revival, and there they’ll be coming down the road a’singing and a’shouting and a’praising God.”
Well, I don’t have anything against the Hammondses. We need more of them, if somebody’d get a fire sometime, but it’s got to be more than that! That’s what Paul says. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and I am praising God in unutterable language, if I do not have the thing in my heart that ensues in the love and ministry of God for His people, I am like a sounding brass and like a clanging cymbal” [1 Corinthians 13:1].
Then he turns to intellectual gifts, intellectual gifts—from emotional gifts to intellectual gifts. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge… and have not this love, I am nothing” [1 Corinthians 13:2]. Christianity greatly appeals to a man’s mind. Christianity has been, I suppose, the challenge to the intellectual philosopher and the professor beyond any theory of this universe that any man has ever discussed or taught or thought of in all of the history of the human race. Just as there came upon the souls of those ordinary people a tremendous impact by the divine revelation of the love of God for man, there was likewise a tremendous intellectual impact upon those thinking Greeks and Romans and Western Europeans when the knowledge of the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus was first presented to their kin. And Paul would be the first to say that by all means we ought to explore the philosophical, the ultimate, the final, the deep, dark, mysterious outreachings and applications of the gospel of the Son of God.
Spinoza tried. Plato tried. Many of those tremendous, speculative geniuses—they tried to make out of this unintelligible world—they tried to make a world view by which they brought order out of chaos, and made an intelligible system out of all the ramifications that they found here in life. Paul did that, and he did it with an energy and a tremendous intellectual capacity that would challenge any theologian or any philosopher. Speaking of Christ, whom he made the very heart and center of an intellectual appreciation for this world—he said that Christ:
In whom we have redemption . . .
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creation;
For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, in earth, invisible, visible, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him:
And He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, of the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the pre-eminence.
For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell.
And so Paul goes on. He makes Christ the center of his worldview, of his tremendous intellectual philosophy, by which he reads intelligence in all of the manifestations and diversities of life. But, Paul says, “Though I understand all mysteries, and though I have all knowledge, my intellectual appreciation for Christ and the gospel of Jesus is nothing at all, unless first, I have the love of God and the souls of men in my heart—in my heart” [1 Corinthians 13:2].
It is possible for a man to be a professor and teach the gospel of Jesus and not love God or his students. It is possible for a man to approach this thing intellectually, and be wise in his own conceit, and use his knowledge to deprecate others and to establish his own personal ascendancy. To be intellectual, to be taught, to be trained, is not enough. There is something else and other and beyond and beside that a true follower of God and disciple of Jesus ought to have in his heart. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels emotionally, but I do not have that, I am nothing. And though I am intellectually superior in the understanding of these mysteries and knowledge, if I do not have that in my soul, I am still nothing” [1 Corinthians 13:1-2].
Then he turns to the practical gifts. “And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not that love, I am nothing” [1 Corinthians 13:2]. That faith there—“Though I have all faith” [1 Corinthians 13:2]—that faith there is not the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by which a man becomes a Christian. What he’s talking about here in this faith is the faith of the man who is efficient, who knows how to do a thing and he gets it done.
Brother, there’s a premium upon a man like that, no matter where you find him. Out in the banking world, they’re looking for a man that can get things done. Out in the business world, in insurance, in merchandising, in engineering—everywhere—they’re looking for men that can remove mountains [1 Corinthians 13:2]. Things yield under their hands—they give when they strike—the man that can get it done! The faith; “I know how, and I can do it, and he does it!”
Well, you can’t help but long for and pray for men like that in your church. Oh, inefficiency, poor work is so sorry and inexpressibly depressing! Poor singing—I’m not looking at you. Poor singing, poor preaching, poor preaching; sorry, good-for-nothing deacons; sorry, good-for-nothing anything, it is depressing, I say. It’s discouraging. There’s a premium always in the fellow that can move the mountain. He can get things done. You’re looking for him, and you thank God for him when he comes.
But, the efficient man can be lost in his own efficiency. All he can think about, could be is just how best to do—what’s the smart thing to do, what’s the genius thing that lies back of this—and have no actual love in it at all. He could further the kingdom of God in the hearts of men and never be a citizen of the kingdom himself. “Though I have that faith that I can remove mountains and I don’t have that something in my soul, I’m nothing.”
Then he turns to philanthropic gifts. “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and I do not have that love in my heart, it profits me nothing” [1 Corinthians 13:3]. It’s possible for a man to be philanthropic, to be generous, to give much through personal ambition. He wants to excel out here in the Community Chest. He likes to stand up and read out, “I give so and so.” It’s possible for a man to give just for his own selfish reasons, just that he might be known, and elevated, and lifted up, and appreciated, and talked about. It’s possible for a man—and he goes to the extreme here in his illustration—to give everything he has to the poor, and yet not have a love for God or the poor in his heart. “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, though I give my body to be burned, and have not that love in my heart, it profits me nothing, profits me nothing” [1 Corinthians 13:3].
The more excellent way [1 Corinthians 12:31]; the gift of God is this thing that all of us, says Paul, however otherwise we may be gifted, this thing that all of us ought to seek for, that God would pour upon us a double portion of His Spirit of grace; the identification of ourselves with God’s interest in all other people and the yielding of ourselves—everything that we have, all that we are—for God’s sake, for Jesus’ sake, that they might be helped and furthered, that they might be won to God, that they might be ministered unto. That’s the greatest gift in the world, says Paul [1 Corinthians 13:4-7].
Way down there in the South in one of those Southern cities, in the days when the yellow fever raged and raged, in one of those summertime epidemics of yellow fever that was scourging one of our cities in the South, among the poor the dead carts drove down those squalid streets every evening picking up the dead, picking up the dead, hauling them out, dumping into those graves that were already pre-prepared—awful, tragic. There was a poor, poor mother who had a little boy, in a summer of one of those terrible sieges of yellow fever—alone, in a little squalid hut, just she and the little boy, and the mother said, “Son, by sundown, Mother will be in heaven. But, baby boy, Jesus will come and take care of you.” And the mother died that day. And when the dead cart came down that squalid street, her body was placed on the dead cart and behind it followed a little orphan boy. Out there in the cemetery she was buried in a grave, and the dead cart went on. And the little boy cried heartbrokenly over the fresh-made grave. And he cried himself to sleep, and the next morning when the sun arose, he awakened and began to sob and to cry again. And a man passing by stopped, walked over, addressed the boy, “And what are you doing here, son?” And the little fellow told him the story. That was his mother, and she’d been picked up by the dead cart the day before and buried there. And he said, “But Mother said before she died, ‘Son, Jesus will come and take care of you.‘” And the man gulped, and he swallowed real hard and looked into the face of the boy and then said it. “Sonny, Jesus sent me to take care of you, and from now on, son, you are to be my boy.”
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not that love in my soul, I am as sounding brass, and a clanging cymbal. Though I have the gift of prophecy, can preach like an angel, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, though I have all faith so I could get the job done, and I do not have that love in my soul, I am nothing” [1 Corinthians 13:1-2]. The excellent gift of God is the moving in the heart when somebody is lost, when somebody needs help, when somebody turns his face to God, and we are answering with our lives and our highest best. This is the more excellent way [1 Corinthians 12:31].
While we sing our song of appeal, somebody you give his heart to Jesus tonight,, come and stand by me. Somebody you come into the church, “Here we are, pastor. We’re putting our lives with you here in the church, and we’re so happy to come. Here’s a family of us.” Or, one somebody you, while we sing this appeal and while the pastor is here at the front, would you come and stand by his side? “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I’m making it now.” Would you so, would you so, while we stand and while we sing?
marvelously endowed by the Spirit (1 Corinthians
1. But a colossal
weakness – divisiveness(1 Corinthians 1:10-13,
2. Another weakness –
inordinately ambitious for spiritual gifts
says to covet earnestly the best gifts; and shows them the best gift of all –
gift of love and charity(1 Corinthians 12:31,
II. Emotional gifts
of feeling – break into rapturous inarticulate utterance
The feeling of a revival meeting
a. The old Negro
The experience of joy unutterable not to be made light of; must not deprecate(1 Corinthians 14:18)
1. But not good if it
terminates in itself(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
III. Intellectual gifts(1 Corinthians 13:2)
greatly appeals to a man’s mind
It has been the challenge to the intellectual philosopher beyond any theory of
Paul would be the first to say we ought to explore the deep mysterious
outreachings and applications of the gospel(Colossians
is greater to be filled with spirit of love than with spirit of prophecy
IV. Practical gifts(1 Corinthians 13:2)
that could remove mountains – not faith by which a man becomes a Christian, but
faith of the man who is efficient, who gets things done
But the efficient man can be lost in his own efficiency
V. Philanthropic, sacrificial gifts (1 Corinthians 13:3)
is possible for a man to be philanthropic, generous through personal ambition,
even to extremes
VI. The more excellent way(1 Corinthians 12:31)
of the Christian faith – love of God and of man
However we may be gifted, we ought all to seek that God would pour upon us a
double portion of His Spirit of grace
1. Yellow fever – mother
to son, “Jesus will come take care of you”