giftedness versus fruit

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

I am at the age and place in my life where I’m nearly, not quite, but almost allergic to something coming across so wonderfully, so smoothly from a person. Yes, those can be and probably are gifts of God to us humans. But none of it matters one iota if the fruit of righteousness in Christ by the Spirit expressed in love is not present and growing. And all too often, as we’ve seen in recent times, these two don’t necessarily go together.

This was true in Paul’s time as well. The Corinthian believers were oohing and aahing over gifted teachers, and not a few saw whatever weakness was evident in Paul (2 Corinthians 12) as a disqualifier. This is not a sign of maturity, but of immaturity, indicating the need to see what is supposed to be the heart of it all. That is found in the love which comes from the God who is love, worked out into every part of our lives.

I care less and less how I might come across when teaching, leading a discussion, or giving a message. I would much rather come across as weak, and have God’s Spirit working on me and on all of us there, rather than come across as a gifted whatever. None of the latter in itself matters. It’s only a means to the end of conforming us to the image of Christ who is the express image of the God who is love. In and through Jesus.

character first and one might say, last

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13

One of the things that has been indelibly impressed upon me during my years at Our Daily Bread Ministries, through the example of the leadership during my time there, Mart and Rick DeHaan, is simply the importance of character, and specifically a Jesus-likeness marked by humility and love.

There are the gifts in scripture, called the charisms. And they have their place for sure. And all believers have their gift from God, which probably consists of specific gifts. And that’s important, and a part of it all.

But without a change of heart and life that is characterized by love in an underlying faith, any giftedness is essentially worthless, as we see above. Jesus made that plain as well:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23

I would rather be around mourners and the broken who love, rather than those who are marked with greatness in what they do, but don’t love. For some it seems like it’s all about what they’re doing, instead of the love with which they’re doing it with.

When one considers the New Testament, the entire Bible for that matter, and life, it shouldn’t be a question of either/or, but and/both. We need the gifts God gives us as humans in creation, and the restored humanity in Jesus in new creation, for sure. But unless love accompanies them, they end up doing more harm than good, often feeding off the pride of those who have them, and that of their followers.

While I think I’ve come surely a long way over the years, though it can be so incremental, that one can at times only hope such is the case, I know also that I have plenty of room to grow. Of course with others into the maturity of the stature of the fullness of Christ is no small order indeed. I can withhold love at times, which isn’t Jesus-like. Being aware of such sins is half the battle in finding the change in Jesus that we need.

The gifts of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit, as well. In fact that fruit marking whatever gifts we have is what we all need, in and through Jesus.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

 

faithfulness (not giftedness) is what matters

Gifts are good and this post is not to downgrade them or deny the blessing they are. And of course all goodness comes from God; any good any of us can do is from the gift of God in creation or new creation.

But as I read somewhere recently, and I believe it at least has plenty of truth, in the end it’s not the gifts that matter, but our faithfulness, we can say our faithfulness with the gifts we have.

A person who is faithful with far less giftedness will end up accomplishing more than a person with great giftedness who lacks in faithfulness. What God is looking for is faithfulness, not giftedness. God doesn’t need great people; he needs faithful people. Those are the ones he chooses for the work of his kingdom. God delights to take humble gifts and multiply them to his glory; I am thinking now of the five loaves and two small fishes Jesus received from a boy to feed a multitude of thousands.

The irony is that people often don’t find out well what gifts they have from God apart from being faithful. Sampson comes to mind as a possible exception. He judged Israel for twenty years, but it seems to me like the good he did was largely hit and miss. He did some great feats by himself and as a Nazarite dedicated to God. But they were often in spite of himself; he was certainly a man of his times, and those times were not much in the way of faithfulness to God. And yet as long as Sampson remained true to his Nazarite vow, God gave him unusual strength. But when you consider his entire life, while he was a person of faith whom God used signficantly (see Judges and Hebrews 11), there seems to be something lacking which is hard to put one’s finger on. Sampson certainly was not exemplary in his moral life and seemed more or less driven by a personal agenda, though God was using even that. But not without consequences. And one can’t help but think that the story may have taken a twist not imaginable had Sampson lived more faithfully. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so spectaculor, yet it could have been far better.

Faithfulness is with reference to all of God’s will, both his general and specific will. It shouldn’t be about trying to do great things for God as much as it should be simply humbling one’s self before God and being faithful in the little things, as well as in everything else, while at the same time humbly stepping with the audacity of faith into whatever the Lord might be calling us to. That should be the tenor of our lives before God and as lived out in this world in and through Jesus. So that in the end we might here the words from the Master; “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.”