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. WHAT SOME OF THE BEST GIFTS ARE.
(1) They are not those which are external to the soul's nature, such as money, power, or reputation. A Christian man is not forbidden to seek these in the right way, and when gained they may be employed for high ends. Yet neither Paul nor his Master would number them among the best gifts.
(2) Nor are they all the gifts that touch our inward nature. Intellectual ability, taste, and culture are very precious, and Paul was far from despising them, yet he would be far from describing them as "the best."
2. Positively. He points us to those gifts with which love is connected.
(1) In regard to God, reverence, humility, and trustfulness.
(2) In regard to man, candid and generous judgment, and sympathy.
(3) As regards ourselves, patience, contentment, courage, and fortitude.
(4) As to things around, temperance of chastened desire.
3. That we may be convinced of their superiority, let us see how these differ from others. They —
(1) Enter deepest into our nature. The outer things of the world can scarcely be said to enter into our nature at all, except when their abuse corrupts it. Intellect, culture, and ambition may go deeper, but can they reach the centre? If the spiritual nature is left uncared for, the mind is a very cheerless home for happiness. The value of the gifts of love in the soul is that they reach the centre where happiness lies. As they go deepest, they become the ruling power, and make all else that a man possesses a blessing to himself and others.
(2) Are the most lasting. We know how very quickly outward possessions may take their leave. And intellectual gains are not over secure. The stores of knowledge are in the keeping of a treacherous memory. More melancholy than the loss of empire is the saying of poor Swift, when reading one of his own works, "What a glorious mind I had when I wrote that!" But let a man have the gifts of a loving, patient, self-renouncing heart, and the rule is that they grow richer and mellower as life advances.
(3) Are most God-like. It is in a small degree that we can share God's wisdom; in a still smaller degree His power. But "he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him!"
II. THE FRAME OF MIND WE ARE TO CHERISH TOWARDS THESE GIFTS.
1. We are to covet them earnestly. The Corinthians were coveting each other's place, honour, and talent. "If," says Paul, "you would only set your hearts on the right things, you may both desire and appropriate what belongs to your neighbour. Covet if you will, but let it be the gifts of charity and self-denial." Here the word ceases to have any sin in it. If we covet our neighbours' material possessions, we shall desire to dispossess him. If we covet his intellectual gifts, there will be envy. But if we covet his loving spirit, we are yielding to him our deepest affection and reverence. We are not so much taking from as rendering to him, lighting our taper at his fire, and adding it to the flame. The word of prohibition in the law thus becomes a word of command in the gospel.
2. We are to covet these gifts earnestly, making growth in them a constant and supreme desire.
(1) Try to discover what is best in those around you and to rejoice in it. This is one way of making what is good in them your own without taking anything from them. It is a blessed work to go through the world trying to put men and things in the best light.
(2) You should mingle much with those who have it in large degree. It is very difficult to live long among selfish people without becoming like them. But there is an unselfish world: live in that.Conclusion: In coveting earnestly the best gifts —
1. We can never harm any one, neither ourselves nor others. Is there aught else of which this can he said?
2. We are sure to gain them. Of what else can this be affirmed?
(J. Ker, D.D.)
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.