1 Corinthians 12:28-31
And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings…
I. SINCE EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT COMETH DOWN FROM THE FATHER OF LIGHTS, ETC., ST. PAUL'S LANGUAGE MAY BE APPLIED TO THE UNIVERSAL INTERESTS OF HUMAN SOCIETY.
1. The contrast has often struck observers between civilisation and Christianity. It is true that both have worked together; but in their aims and nature they are distinct, and may be opposed. And minds strongly under the influence of the one are apt to fear or shrink from the other. But no Christian can feel difficulty in believing that they both come from Him who has made man for this world, as well as intended him for another.
2. The world easily suggests very awful views of its own condition; but it would be far more dreadful if we must not see in its civilisation the leading and guiding hand of God. Nor should we be deterred from this because of its use, by luxury and pride, for impurity and wrong. The gifts at Corinth were foolishly and wrongly used.
3. Civilisation has indeed its dark side; there is much that is dreary and forbidding in the history of its growth; and who can look without anxiety at the dangers of its future? But its irreligious tendencies are not to be combated by simply decrying them. Let us look at the world as those who were put here to "refuse the evil and choose the good."(1) Follow the history of a great people, and consider what it brings forth. Observe the progressive refinement of human nature; how, as time goes on, men gain in power; how great moral habits strike their roots deep in a society — the sense of justice as justice, self-devoting enterprise, patriotism and public spirit. If nations have characteristic faults, there grow up in them characteristic virtues. Civilisation to us means liberty, a peaceful life, growing honour for manliness, unselfishness, sincerity.
(2) And it has disclosed to us in the course of its development more and more of what is contained in human characters and capacities. We are, in this age, drawing forth with amazement discoveries which seem to be inexhaustible from the treasure-house of material nature. Think of the great forms of history, so diversified, so unlike one to another, so unexpected in their traits. Think of what fiction, with all its abuses, has done for us; multiplying and unfolding for the general knowledge types which would otherwise have been lost where they grew up; think of its world of ideal histories, revealing to man himself. Think again what has been bestowed on man in the perfecting of language. Think of the way in which new faculties, as it were, spring up in us of seeing and feeling; how, by art, by poetry, our eyes are more and more opened to discern in new ways the wonders of the physical universe and their meaning. Count over all our great possessions. Shall we venture to say that all this does not come from the Source of all beauty and all wisdom and all light? And what He gives, it is for us to accept and improve. "Covet earnestly the greater, the better gifts." This is indeed one side of the matter. But there is another and a higher.
II. COVET EARNESTLY WHAT WOULD BE TO BE MOST DESIRED AND FOLLOWED, EVEN IF MAN'S PART ENDED HERE, BUT REMEMBER THAT THERE IS A YET MORE EXCELLENT WAY. Above God's greatest gifts is charity; for "God is love."
1. It would still be true, even if this world were all, that this perfection of character is the highest achievement of human nature.
2. But this world, with all its wonderful results, is not all; we have a place in something wider and more lasting. We are sharers together in a great disaster, and in a great recovery, even now begun "God so loved the world," etc. That by which He makes us to understand and draw near to Him is His love for us. Henceforth the world knows Him if it knows Him at all, in the Cross. The world never can be the same after that, as it was before it. It has brought a new spirit into the world, with a Divine prerogative of excellence, to which all other things excellent and admirable must yield the first place.
3. There is something else to be thought of besides civilisation. We are not necessarily growing better men, though we may be doing a great work when we are dispersing God's manifold gifts of knowledge or ability. And what we are here for is, if anything, to become good; and goodness now means that spirit of love which joins man to man and lifts him to God. Side by side with our brilliant successes and hopes abide the conditions of our state — pain, moral evil, death. When a man enters into his closet and is still, and by himself looks in the face his awful destiny, he can hardly help feeling that the gifts of God for this life are for this life; they cannot reach beyond; they cannot touch that which is to be. As St. Paul argues, they are incomplete, transitory, and, compared with what we are to look for, but the playthings and exercises of children; they share our doom of mortality. One thing only "never faileth." In the next world, as in this, it is by love that creatures receive and show forth the likeness of their Maker. Conclusion: God has placed us to develope our full nature here; but He has placed us here, we believe, still more to become like Himself. So, while learning to understand, value, and use the greatest endowments which the course of things has unfolded in human society, remember that there is a way for you to walk in which carries you far beyond them, and opens to you even wider prospects, more awful thoughts, a deeper train of ideas and relations and duties which touch us in what is most inward, to the very quick. We are sinners who have been saved by a God who loved us.
Parallel VersesKJV: And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.