Lately, I have been exclusively in the Apostle John’s writings, in my personal readings, my blog writing, and my time with my wife.
John reiterates one theme, over and over again in my opinion, and that is that we are to love one another, to love like Jesus, to love.
It is refreshing to be reminded of the core mission of believers.
Love like Jesus.
Without Envy Reconsidered
In our last post, we considered that Christian love is not expressed through envy. We learned that envy and jealousy are two different emotions, and that envy is prohibited in the believers life.
And then I mentioned that envy is to be a positive characteristic in a believer’s life.
So now I am surely considered a lost cause. As my momma used to say, Carl you are speaking out of both sides of your mouth.
It may seem so, but bear with me.
The verse we primarily dealt with previously, contained the description of love as not envying.
1 Corinthians 13:4
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast
I then found that John 2:17 uses the very same Greek word for envy in describing the Lord’s motivation for cleaning the Temple. Kind of shook me a bit.
Then, as I was looking at the context of the passage above, an additional question rose in my thinking. Check out 5 verses earlier in 1 Corinthians 12:31
1 Corinthians 12:31
But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
What’s the problem Carl? Check out that the term “desire” is the very Greek word we were looking at above. Paul is commanding the Corinthian believers to earnestly desire the higher/best gifts, to be “envious” of the higher/best gifts, to want the higher/best gifts.
But Paul, you mention five verse later, that love does not envy! What is going on?
I see two issues to be addressed with this problem. The first is a misunderstanding of my common concept of envy.
Envy may have a positive characteristic in a believers life, in that it may be describing envy in the pursuit of good, righteous and holy things. The ESV translates the word zeloo, (translated as envy in verses discussed in our earlier post), as zealous in the following passage.
Galations 4:18 (KJV)
But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.
Paul is encouraging good “envy” in the believer, that emotion which fuels us to do good, to be zealous in a good sense. We are so often considering envy in a bad sense, and rightly so, but the New Testament is not restricted in this way.
The Lord himself, as considered above, was consumed with “envy” for the Father’s house.
His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
We are commanded to be zealous in Revelation 3:19
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Yet, I can’t seem to get away from the fact that Paul is telling the Corinthian believers to be envying the “better gifts”. This seems to be against the spirit of love, expressed in humility and preferring others that is taught elsewhere in the Word. (Remember it is only five verses later that Paul teaches that love does not envy!)
The context of 1 Corinthians 12:31 may give us some help in understanding the intent of Paul’s message.
Are we to be desiring the higher/best gifts? Let’s consider a few questions that may clear help the reader understand the point.
- I do not know of another passage that defines any gifts as higher/better than any other. The lists of gifts are lists, not rankings of quality. (Paul does describe a gift later that is “spiritual” that is to be sought, but that discussion will come soon enough!)
- Paul just finished with an extended passage speaking of the importance of accepting the gift you have, of exercising this gift or gifts that has been given to each of us. The ear is not to be seeking to be an eye!
- The Corinthian church is known for division, infighting and a competitive spirit.
Is this phrase in the last verse of chapter 12 describing the immaturity of the Corinthians. As baby believers, the Corinthians were seeking the showy, flashy gifts. Is he simply stating a fact, that is, you Corinthians are seeking the better gifts? I have read in the past that this passage may be translated this way.
It is an interesting idea, and seems to fit the context. Paul is going to show them a better way, a way that is better than seeking the “higher/best” gifts. This way includes not seeking what others have, which we have addressed in the previous post.
Another Monkey Wrench in my Mind!
Ok Carl, that may be, but how do you handle Paul’s clear exhortation for the Corinthians in the 14th Chapter
1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
Good question! (Tough question, but good question!)
Paul may be simply stating a fact in the last verse of chapter 12, but it is clear that Paul is commanding the Corinthians to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts. It is interesting that Paul uses “best” gifts in 12:31 and changes the modifier to “spiritual” gifts in chapter 14:1.
Could Paul be a bit sarcastic in 12:31? “You Corinthians are chasing the best gifts (in your opinion, that is!)”
1 Corinthians 14:39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
Paul summarizes the intent of his message regarding the the difference between prophecy and tongues in this verse, stating that prophecy is the gift to seek after. (The Corinthians can allow tongues.)
Consider the 3rd verse of this chapter, where Paul identifies the intent of the gift of prophecy
1 Corinthians 14:3
On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
Paul has spoken of love as being about others. Prophecy is about building up others. Pursue love Corinthians, and in doing that, find that prophecy is a clear expression of love.
Prophecy syncs with the better way of love. The gift of prophecy the Corinthians are told to seek is a natural outgrowth of true biblical love. Tongues seems to be a distraction for Paul, and I feel it was overemphasized by the Corinthians to the point of division.
If you are seeking another’s gifts or talents, stop. Put that envy off like an old shirt. Hoping to have someone else’s gift will only cause you pain and heartache. Wanting some one else’s abilities or talents is sin.
1 Corinthians 14:12
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
As believers, Paul instructs us to exercise love. Love is not exercised by envying another’s abilities, but in supporting their ministry. Find your own talent and ability and quit wasting time and effort on envying someone else’s gift.
Love does not envy.
Thanks for visiting. I do hope you found something of interest and of challenge in this post. Drop me a line to discuss and hope to see you in our next topic, where we look at the topic of boasting in the life of loving like Jesus.
Its going to be the absolute greatest post ever written in the history of the world!!!!
I look forward to comments and discussion. May the Lord give you an understanding heart and a willing spirit to consider the Bible and all it’s wealth.
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