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Charity, a Spiritual Gift

Rory Sorvala | The Voice of Zion April 2022 --

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. — 1 Corinthians 13:1

Would we wish to speak in tongues? This portion of scripture comes from Paul’s first letter to the new congregation of believers in Corinth because he heard of various troubles that developed there concerning the desire to speak in tongues. One trouble is that they began to look at the God-given spiritual gifts within themselves. They took pride in their work and they began to make comparisons, desiring gifts that might be admired by others. This type of wrong desire wouldn’t help build up this congregation. Paul has a godly love for these struggling believers and was compelled by the Holy Spirit to instruct and correct this wrong understanding.

In our text, Paul offers instruction regarding love in the congregation. He also addresses another gift and that is of speaking with tongues. The entire thirteenth chapter speaks of this brotherly love that must exist within the kingdom. Then, in the fourteenth chapter Paul writes on speaking with human tongues.

With regard to speaking in unknown tongues, Paul does not wish to diminish this gift and in fact speaks highly of it. Paul says, “I wish that all men speak in tongues” (14:5). And he furthermore states that he “speaks in tongues more” than the others (14:18). But he still has a word of caution: “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue” (1 Cor. 14:19).

So then, what exactly is the gift of speaking with tongues? I myself previously misunderstood this gift, thinking “speaking with tongues of men” is the translating of spoken Word of God from one language into another, a language that the listener understands. This is, of course, a necessary gift used today as it probably was then. An example of this is found in Acts. During Pentecost when many peoples of many languages came together in one place (Acts 2:1) and all people heard the joyous message of the Word of God in their own language. Many believed it with joy and were baptized.

The gift of speaking with tongues is not that type of gift. Rather, speaking with tongues is inspired speech to express the praise of God or other deeply felt emotion. When one is speaking with tongues their utterances may be indiscernible. There are sounds like words but without a meaning to the human listener, although, an interpreter may be able to translate such speech. This phenomenon, appearing in those days, does not happen today to believers. Some believers in decades past have been given to rejoice, also an act of speech given by God. That mysterious gift is not commonly witnessed today. We can consider these speech phenomena as spiritual gifts, given for the time.

Paul here says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” Could it be that the culture of this immoral city of Corinth looked with admiration on speaking in tongues? The individual who speaks in tongues is thought to be moved by the spirit and could be viewed as pious by others who do not understand that God gives gifts as He will.

A similar piety could be displayed in the giving of alms or praying in public. Jesus instructs regarding these as well. “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matt. 6:2,5).

Paul wishes that the Corinthians would understand what spiritual gifts are and to strive for those that edify the whole body of Christ. “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (1 Cor. 12:1). In this whole twelfth chapter of this first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul explains that there are many gifts God has given to the believers. They are God-given and all are necessary and important. No one gift is above another. He deepens their understanding of spiritual gifts by providing a picture of the body of Christ. Gifts within the congregation are like the members of the body of Christ. All members are necessary. In this chapter he enumerates many gifts which include wisdom and understanding, gifts of healing and working of miracles, gifts of prophecy, and of discerning of spirits, diverse kind of tongues and interpretation of tongues.

Later in chapter 13, Paul addresses faith, hope and charity as he writes, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor. 13:13). For without charity we are nothing. Charity is that which edifies the body of Christ. It is true brotherly love. That kind of love is not selfish, it does not look for a return, it is constant in season and out of season, it is patient, kind, longsuffering. Thus charity, or brotherly love, is ready to care for a distressed one, one who is faltering in faith, or one who becomes wounded by sin. It is also a ready preacher of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. We experience with wonder when a brother or sister in faith comes to us when we are downcast, distressed, weary, doubting, or wounded by sin. God through His loving mercy sends to us an angel. Is this not the kingdom of God where loving care is found? How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring good tidings!

We too are exhorted to have charity. This is a bond of perfection found in God’s kingdom. Is it not the hallmark of God’s kingdom? We are instructed to use this gift freely. Jesus’ words are recorded in the writings of St. John: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love one to another” (John 13:34,35). The kingdom of God is that golden candlestick that is before the world, a light that shines in a dark place. Jesus also instructs: “Let your light so shine before the men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Allow this charity to reign in the heart to care for one another that we may fulfill the law of love. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).

The Holy Spirit that dwells within a believer teaches us to cherish these good gifts that edify the body of Christ. Even as Paul writes in the end of the twelfth chapter: “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). Thus we see that all gifts are necessary in God’s kingdom. We do not begin to say that one is greater or lesser than the other. We being many, are one body: for we are all partakers of the body of Christ.

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