Something Better
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Turn to I Corinthians, chapter 13. What we are going to find there is a fitting conclusion to the question: What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Notice the statement I have just made, please. The entire discussion of the question—not just the matter of the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues, but the entire discussion—finds a fitting conclusion in chapter 13 of I Corinthians. We will not discuss all of the chapter for we have discussed a portion of it already with you, but we will read the entire chapter which actually begins with verse 31 of chapter 12. We have emphasized to you before that the chapter divisions of our King James Version oftentimes come at an unhappy place, and I believe this is one such place. I believe the last verse of chapter 12 belongs to chapter 13, so we read:

I Corinthians 12:

31But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

I Corinthians 13:

1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Our King James Version says charity instead of love , but as you will learn as we progress in our discussion, better would be the word love, so we will use it.

I Corinthians 13:

1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2And 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.
3And 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.
4Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8Charity 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.
9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11When 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.
12For 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.
13And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

A More Excellent Way

Notice with me verse verse 31 of chapter 12:

I Corinthians 12:

31But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

In view of past discussions, you will understand the first statement of verse 31 to mean that you should leave yourself ready to receive whatever gift the Holy Spirit is pleased to bestow as His sovereign right. You should be honored when the Holy Spirit bestows any of the fifteen or sixteen gifts which were mentioned in the list, and yet the Apostle Paul said, “Though this is true; though you should be honored to receive the gifts bestowed upon you by the Holy Spirit, I want to show you a more excellent way.”

This last statement, “I want to show you a more excellent way,” has been translated, it has been paraphrased, it has been explained in many different ways. Some folk suggest that the Apostle Paul said he would show them a better way to exercise the gifts. Some folk say that the Apostle Paul had in mind exercising the gifts in a more effective way because of something else that would be done for you. I like the paraphrase of that last statement because I think it catches the spirit of what the Apostle Paul had in mind when, by inspiration, he wrote, “…yet I show unto you a more excellent way.” Paraphrased, it reads, “But let me tell you about something that is better than any of these. Let me tell you about something that is better than any of these gifts that I have been talking about.”

What in the world would be better than any of these gifts? In the first three verses, the Apostle Paul mentioned a number of possibilities. Some of the things he mentioned are related to the gifts that were in the original list. Some of them were not even in the original list, but they indicate a sincerity of heart on the part of the people involved in the discussion, and that is the reason he said:

I Corinthians 13:

1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2And 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 love, I am nothing.

These are gifts which he mentions. Then he adds:

I Corinthians 13:

3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, [Though I give everything away I have and have not love, it doesn't mean anything.] and though I give my body to be burned, [Here he is referring to the idea of becoming a martyr.] and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.

I am sure you recognize at the moment that the thing that is better than all the other gifts that have been mentioned, the more excellent way which the apostle mentioned, is described by the word love. This word love comes from the Greek word agape, and if you are familiar with the Greek words which are translated by our English word love you know there are three. This particular one, agape, is the highest one, for it speaks of the love of God. It does not speak of love for God, but it speaks of the love which is the character of God. This, I say to you, Beloved, is the more excellent way. This, I say to you, is better than all the gifts that we have been studying for the past several weeks, and I say that to you because this is not a love with which you are born. This is not a love which you can manufacture. This is not a love which you can grit your teeth and clench your fists to work up. It is not something that you can say, “I'll love if it kills me.”, for it is beyond you. It is completely out of the realm of your control.

Turn with me, please, to the book of Romans for a moment and notice chapter 5, verse 1:

Romans 5:

1Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
3And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
4And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
5And hope maketh not ashamed; [Notice very carefully now.] because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

Notice the last statement particularly: “…because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Immediately, we learn from this statement that no unsaved person could possess this love, for he must first possess the Holy Spirit before he can possess the love of God. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in the hearts of unbelievers. The Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers and controls those believers if they will permit Him to do it. I might say that that is the only way that the love of God can be shed abroad in your heart today—if you are a child of God. Yes, you can be a child of God without this love dominating your life because, if you will turn with me to Paul's Galatian letter, you will recognize the manner in which the love of God is shed abroad in the hearts of believers. We read:

Galatians 5:

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

What is the fruit of the Spirit? Not fruit, plural, but the fruit, singular, of the Spirit, is love. Each of these added words are but characteristics of this divine love to which we have already referred, which is shed abroad in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit.

Are you thinking with me? I want you to because this is a very solemn message. Why does the Apostle Paul say this is better? He says this is better because what he is talking about is a Christ-centered life. Instead of worrying about practical gifts such as we have been noticing the past several weeks, why was he concerned whether or not your life is Christ-centered?

The Christ-Centered Life

When you have time, you read all of I Corinthians, chapter 13. Turn there with me now, and everywhere you see the word charity , put in the word Christ. You will have to change some of the verb forms to make readable sense, but I suggest that you put the word Christ everywhere you see the word charity , and you will see why Bible scholars refer to the life described in this chapter as the Christ-centered life.

I prefer another term; I prefer the term, the Spirit-filled life, the Spirit-controlled life, for I believe that is what is described in I Corinthians, chapter 13. What is this thing that Paul said? Keep yourself open for whatever gift the Holy Spirit, in His sovereign wisdom, may wish to bestow, but be more concerned about something else.

I'll show you something in which you should show greater interest, and that is, is your life controlled by the Holy Spirit? Is your life Christ-centered? Is divine love supreme? Is it? I say this with all seriousness. Will you ask God to remove from your mind every distracting thought and ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to grade yourself as to your spirituality, as to whether or not your life is Spirit-controlled, as to whether or not your life is Christ-centered?

In view of the teaching you have had here, it should not be necessary for me to more than just mention that you might be Spirit-controlled while you sit in this building and by the time you get home be walking in the flesh instead of the Spirit, because you can get out of control that easily. I need merely to mention that the Holy Spirit can take control just that quickly again, if you are willing to acknowledge the thing that grieved the Spirit to cause Him to relinquish the control of your life. The sad thing is that most of us do not want to acknowledge that we have grieved the Spirit, and we let one thing pile on top of another thing until we are so far out of fellowship, if I may use a relative term, that it has been so long since the Spirit of God has had control of our lives, we have become so insensitive to the Holy Spirit, that oftentimes we are not even conscious that we are out of fellowship. We manufacture a form of spirituality that satisfies us and fools other people and thus hinders the plan and purpose of God for our lives. So I say to you that I would like for you to grade yourselves as we look at the characteristics of love.

Characteristics Of Love

Listen carefully. If you do not manifest these characteristics of love, then your life is not Christ-centered, and you are not Spirit-controlled. It is difficult to speak of spirituality by way of degrees, but we're going to do it today in order to help you to check up on yourself, for even though you may find some of these things true in your life, you may not find other things true in your life. So will you permit me, though there may be room for theological discussion for the accuracy of this statement, to ask you to grade yourself today to see if you are 10% spiritual, 30% spiritual, 50% spiritual, 70% spiritual. Will you examine your hearts before God to see exactly where you stand? Notice what he said about love. Look at verse 4, and notice the statement:

I Corinthians 13:

4Love suffereth long, and is kind…

We saw longsuffering to be one of the fruits of the Spirit; that's the reason this is a cluster of fruits and not a series of fruits. What does it say here? That love suffereth long. Somebody said that love is slow to lose patience. What about it today? So you lose patience quickly? Are you one of these impatient individuals who goes about almost boasting about it, saying, “I just never have been able to be patient.” Then, Beloved, love is just not in control if you are not patient. Did you notice what is related to this statement, and many people consider that one should not be considered without the other. Notice:

I Corinthians 13:

4Love suffereth long, and is kind…

The suggestion is that love, even if it has to endure much, even though patience wears very, very thin, the love of God still enables you to remain kind. What is this word kind? Someone says, “Oh, I smile even though I'd like to punch them in the nose.” No, that isn't what it means at all. This word kind comes from the Greek word chresteuomai which elsewhere in the Scripture is translated by the word serviceable ,” and by the word useful .” That throws a little different light on it, doesn't it? If the Spirit of God is controlling your life, if love is supreme, then you are going to remain serviceable and you are going to remain useful, even though you have been called upon to suffer beyond what you may feel is your right. Yes, you may have been criticized; you may have been hurt. Mean things may have been said about you to such an extent that you will say, “Well, I'll just not bother going around a group of people like that any more.” love is not reigning supreme if that is your attitude. When love is supreme and the Spirit of God is controlling, then you suffer long and you remain kind. You suffer long, and you remain serviceable, and you remain useful. Look again at verse 4, and read:

I Corinthians 13:

4…charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

We read this very carelessly most of the time. We read it something like this: “A person who is dominated by the love of God, a person who is filled with the Spirit, a person who is Christ-centered, will not vaunt himself, and he will not puff himself up.” That is not what it says. It says that this divine love of which we speak is actually incapable of showing itself, of drawing attention to itself, that this love is utterly incapable of puffing itself up like a toad does, for that is the literal meaning of the word. No, Friend, if you go about vaunting yourself, it is not the love of God that is the incentive. If you go about all puffed up because things have not been going the way you would like them to go, it is not the love of God that is the incentive. It's the flesh, not the Spirit.

Can you begin to see now why the apostle said he wanted to talk to you about something that is better? I want to talk to you about a better way. How much better it is to be concerned about being controlled by the Spirit than to be concerned about whether one possesses one or more of the particular gifts. Look at verse 5:

I Corinthians 13:

5 Love doth not behave itself unseemly…

This word unseemly is an interesting word. What do you think it means? There's a lot of discussion as to what it might mean, but I like what is suggested by a very literal translation of the word from which the word unseemly comes. It comes from the Greek word aschemosune and this word means “shapeless.” What is he saying? Love does not behave itself in a shapeless fashion. I have always suggested to you that I have been interested in how scriptural our colloquialisms can sometimes be. Have you ever had anyone above you in authority say to you, “All right, shape up.”? It speaks volumes, doesn't it?

Your fathers may have had to say to you boys sometimes, “All right, shape up.” They know what you mean. They know that the way they have been living and the thing they have been doing is not to be done, and they need to straighten things out. When the Spirit of God is in control in a person's life, his conduct is always what it ought to be. Will you remember that? Young men, young women, will you remember that when you are out on your date and the flesh struggles to take control. Remember that if the Holy Spirit is in control, you will not behave yourself unseemly. You will remember that the moment you have behaved yourself unseemly, you have grieved the Holy Spirit. That very moment you are out of fellowship, and you will remain out of fellowship until you acknowledge this sin and the Holy Spirit takes control again.

Look at verse 5 again and notice:

I Corinthians 13:

5Love doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own…

That is, a Spirit-controlled person never pursues its own selfish advantages against anyone. It has the interest of others at heart. Look again at verse 5:

I Corinthians 13:

5Love doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

If you have no objection to marking your Bibles for emphasis, mark them for correction and scratch out the word easily because it is not in the original text. Our translators found it difficult sometimes to accept truth as the Holy Spirit of God wrote it, and I can just imagine some of the brethren back in 1511 when they were translating this particular verse, reading, “Love doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not provoked,” thought, “Oh, he couldn't have meant that! Surely He couldn't have meant that; that's too much to ask of anybody.”, and so they slipped in the word easily. Sounds a little better. You know, there are some of us who like to toot our own horn because oftentimes it does not get tooted unless we toot it. We say to ourselves and to others, “I'm not an individual who is easily provoked.” Well, if you are controlled by the Holy Spirit, you ought not to be provoked at all. “Come now,” someone says, “You're being too strict; you're expecting too much.” No more than the Word of God expects; no more than the Spirit of God has laid down. Does anybody want to read me his grade? Have you been grading yourself conscientiously today? How do you stand today? What kind of grade did you have up to this particular point? Keep grading yourselves because we're not through. Notice the last phrase of verse 5:

I Corinthians 13:

5…thinketh no evil;

What does this passage of Scripture say? It says that the individual who is controlled by love, the individual in whose heart the love of God is shed abroad, thinketh no evil. And I find some young man in the full vigor of youth with all of his passions at top metal saying, “How can you keep from thinking evil?” Well, I want to tell you, young men, I'm getting to be an old man; and with everything that is flashed across the screens today and with everything that meets my eye, I find it very difficult not to think evil, in the sense that you are thinking at the moment, in the sense that you are suggesting. Think no evil? The Spirit-controlled man does not think evil. That may be true in a sense, but that is not what this particular phrase means. The last part of this verse 5, thinketh no evil , has an entirely different meaning because the word thinketh comes from the Greek word logizomai . This Greek word is a word that an accountant would use. It is a word that was coined from the business world. It means literally “to keep an account in a ledger.” That's what it means literally, and so when we read in this passage of Scripture, “love thinketh no evil,” it means that love does not keep an account of evil deeds in a ledger. I don't think we need to worry about your own evil deeds. You'll be glad to forget those as soon as you can. But let's face it, Beloved, there are some of us who keep an account in a ledger of evil deeds of others, particularly if those evil deeds have been related to us, and we have been hurt by them and we have found it difficult to forgive them. We keep an account in a ledger and we go over the account, and we become more bitter than we were the day before, because those individuals who did that evil against us don't seem repentant. They don't even seem greatly concerned that they have done it at all.

When you have time, read what is found in Philippians, chapter 4, and notice Paul's suggestion of another ledger that we ought to keep: Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are honest, whatsover things are of good report, think (and it is the same word-think, keep a ledger) on these things. What a difference it would make if those of us who profess to be Christians would so let the love of God occupy our hearts that instead of keeping a ledger of evil deeds, we would keep a ledger of lovely things, honest things, things which are of good report. Look at verse 6. :

I Corinthians 13:

6 [The love of which I speak]) Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

That is, it does not gloat over wickedness of the people of God. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails. How do you feel about the sin of other believers' lives? How do you feel about it? Do you rejoice? “Why, no, of course not. I wouldn't think of rejoicing over the evil in other believers' lives.” Then why do you talk so much about it? Why is it that you can't wait to get to the phone to tell somebody about some manner in which some Christian has fallen that you have recently heard about? And why is it that you get so provoked because the line is so busy and why is it that you find yourself terribly disturbed when you may not be able to analyze the disturbance because somebody else has gotten to that person with that juicy morsel before you got it to them? Don't fool yourself. Don't build up a false piety and a form of spirituality that does not have its roots in the Holy Spirit of God by evidencing a false concern that you term a prayer request. Be sure before you call somebody and say, “This is in all confidence, and it's because I'm so concerned, but we must pray for So-and-so; this terrible thing has happened to him.” Before you do that, be sure that it's concern and not just evidence of a lack of Spirit-control because you rejoice in iniquity and not in truth. Look at verse 7:

I Corinthians 13:

7 [love] Beareth all things…

How many sermons have you heard with the suggestion that if you have the love of God in your heart like you ought to have it, you'll just be able to bear anything? They'll be able to kick you in the teeth, and you'll smile and say, “Kick me again; I love it. I bear anything; I love the Lord.” That is not what this passage of Scripture means. “Love beareth all things.” Do you know what it means? The word beareth comes from a Greek word which means “to roof over”, or “to cover.” That is somewhat of a surprise to some of you, isn't it? Here you've been putting up with a lot of things that you didn't need to put up with, and you thought you were doing it because it manifested the love of the Spirit of God. You've been failing in the real area where you ought to be active because this love of which we speak today is such that it covers a lot of things. It is the same thing that Peter had in mind when he said, “Love covereth a multitude of sins.” No, Peter and Paul didn't mean that you should be a party to hiding something evil, that you should be doing something evil and dishonest; but he did mean that if the love of God is in your heart as it ought to be, you'll be quick to be sympathetic with the man who is fallen. You won't be quick to tell the evil he has done. You will be inclined to cover as our God has done, with the blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Someone said to me, “Do you believe in God's grace?” I said, “Yes, yes, I believe in God's grace, and there is not a man in the world that needs God's grace any more than I do. If I had my just desserts, if God treated me on the basis of what I am, God help me. I believe in His grace and I believe in His love and I have consistently asked God to let me learn to cover all things in the sense in which I have been speaking. Glance now again at verse 7:

I Corinthians 13:

7[love] believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

When we read “believeth all things,” we are not suggesting that love is a characteristic that causes you just to swallow everything whole without investigating it. Really, it would be better to say that this kind of love never loses its trust. Oh, don't we lose trust in one another so quickly? Someone says, “You know, he was such a fine Christian, but I'll never be able to trust him again.” That's the flesh talking; that's not God talking. If God were talking that way, you'd be out in the rain, too. Love believeth all things; love hopeth all things. What does that mean? Simply that God never loses hope.

Conclusion

Listen to me. If you are discouraged and downcast and distressed, if you have lost hope, then you are not in the control of the Spirit of God. You are out of fellowship. What does this passage of Scripture say? “Love endureth all things.” Very literally, it doesn't mean that you endure, you put up with; it means that love outlasts everything else. That's the reason the Holy Spirit can be in control and keep control if you will let Him. We're going to stop here. Much more might be said.

Prayer

Shall we bow our heads together for prayer: While our heads are bowed and our eyes are closed, you may not want to take advantage of this quiet time before the Lord, but I'm going to give you the opportunity to take advantage of it. Did you follow my suggestion and grade yourself on the basis of this passage of Scripture? What kind of grade did you get? Did you wind up at the conclusion of this brief test with the solemn conclusion staring you in the face that you are not even spiritual at all, that you've been walking in the flesh, totally? Do you recognize after examining your heart and life in the light of this solemn test that you ought not to be worrying whether you have the gift of prophecy or the gift of healing or the gift of tongues or the gift of something else? You ought to be concerned about whether the Holy Spirit is in control of your life. Is He? You are the only one who has the answer, and you don't have to go out and think about it; you don't need to go out and talk it over with your wife and say, “Do you think I'm Spirit-controlled, Dear?” Right now in the quiet of this moment, you know the grade you've made on this examination.

I never examine a passage of Scripture like this without feeling that more Christians are out of fellowship than are in fellowship, that more Christians are walking in the flesh than in the Spirit. That's the reason I'm not surprised that so very little is done by Christians who have dwelling within them the power that raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. It's there, but it is not operative because love is not supreme. As we wait quietly before the Lord, let me make this one other suggestion: If you recognize from what has been said today that you are not under the control of the Holy spirit, confess your sin—not to me; confess your sin right now to the Lord. You don't have to have a confessional box or an altar at which to kneel. Right where you are, to the Lord confess that thing that has broken your fellowship and leave the building Spirit-controlled. Oh, true, before you get home and eat your dinner, you may be out of the control of the Spirit again because of the way somebody drives down the street, and you're so used to being provoked, you get provoked again. But don't let it pile up and wait till after dinner to confess it. Confess it right then, and you'll learn to walk in the Spirit. That is what is sorely needed.


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