Some Christians go to great lengths to impress others of their faith in God, their faithfulness as a servant of God and their determination to continue in their Christian walk. Thinking that their activities and roles are the proof of their commitment and discipleship, they use them to demonstrate how committed they are.
There are also those who have decided that proof of their relationship with Christ is the extent to which they can earn or create religious titles. Along with those who seek these titles through higher education are those who, without the higher education normally associated with these titles, strive to attain the titles by demonstrating their abilities and commitments to leadership within the church. And then, of course, there are those who, rather than strive for these titles in this manner, and seeking a short cut, assign themselves titles, such as, Bishop, Apostle or Evangelist.
And then there are those who feel that having a high-level position in the church is proof of their relationship with Christ. Therefore, they work within the church body to demonstrate their ability to hold such offices, hoping this will enable them to gain the confidence of the pastors or other church leaders to assign them to a church position that will give them the recognition they seek. The higher the position, the better, and the more they feel they can demonstrate their commitment to Christ.
Some Christians inspire to teach others. Providing this inspiration is for the purpose of helping others to grow in Christ, it would be a noble effort. But some are drawn to this role because of its perception as demonstrating a closer, more knowledgeable relationship with Christ. Therefore, these regard this level of success as an indicator that they are indeed engaged in a close walk with Christ.
Noticing the attention given to those with the ability to counsel others within the body of Christ, some seek for and use this as a means of demonstrating their closeness with Christ and their ability to assist others regarding their struggles to achieve healing and growth in Christ. Feeling that this demonstration of their spiritual discernment will impress others of their closeness to Christ, they relish this role.
Although there are many Christians who, rather than committing to a consistent study of Scriptures, rely on their pastors to supply them with whatever Scriptural knowledge they need, there are also those who conclude that acquiring and demonstrating knowledge of Scriptures is proof of their discipleship. Therefore, they study Scripture for this purpose, to impress others and gain recognition for their knowledge of Scriptures and their ability to quote and expound on Scriptures.
And of course there are those who choose to exercise their gifts of judgment of others. These apparently believe that their discernment of others’ faults and failures and their ability to cite these weaknesses are a clear demonstration of their superior spirituality. Therefore, they grasp every opportunity to point out any weaknesses they see and use these opportunities to counsel others, or worse, to criticize those demonstrating these weaknesses or failures.
And then there are those who have concluded that the demonstration of spiritual gifts is the ultimate means of showing their close relationship with Christ. Heeding the encouragement from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 12:31, and not paying particular attention to the second part of that Scripture, they are encouraged to seek spiritual gifts:
31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. NKJV
But this Scripture leads us into a discourse from the Apostle Paul on the subject of love, which he call a more excellent way. This discourse begins in I Corinthians 13:1-3 and continues in succeeding verses:
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
2 And 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, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. NKJV
The Apostle Paul was well aware of the tendency of Christians to seek and gravitate toward outer appearances of discipleship. He knew that many prefer the spiritual gifts that would seemingly indicate their love for Christ and their devotion to His service. Therefore, he attempted to set in order the relevant priorities of the followers of Christ.
In succeeding Chapters and verses in I Corinthians Paul continues to emphasize the importance of love as the genuine indicator for discipleship and included in his discourse an outline of the attributes of love. This description is shown in I Corinthians 13:4-8:
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. NKJV
It’s important for Christians to note Paul’s perspective on the relative importance of love as compared to the manifestations of spiritual gifts. Of course this perspective would also include the relative importance of many of the other activities and roles that are the subject of such attention and aspirations. He is explaining that, although those spiritual gifts, titles, knowledge and other works are important for self-promotion and the advancement of God’s work, they pale in comparison to the need for love within the body of Christ.
This principle is reinforced in John 13:34-35:
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." NKJV
Here Jesus is speaking to His disciples. After the Feast of the Passover Jesus proceeded to enlighten His disciples regarding what was soon going to happen. He included in this discourse what he described as “A new commandment”, which was His means of declaring the importance of love within the community of disciples. He was making clear that above all of the other indicators, the primary proof of their discipleship was their love for one another.
This principle continues. No doubt God would be pleased with any of the accomplishments that are intended to advance the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, the proof of pure discipleship is love for one another. Those who have attempted to displace this principle and instead emphasize the more self-serving demonstrations of discipleship have not only violated this principle, but in the process have served to weaken the real spirit of discipleship and actually hinder the growth of Christianity.
Observers of Christianity, many of whom are searching for acceptance based on who they are rather than what they have to offer, are often turned away from Christianity because what they observe seems to be a system of status and skills, rather than an outreach of love. Since so many of these are in dire need of love and acceptance, they don't see that Christianity has anything to offer to meet their needs.
As the Apostle Paul declares, “Love never fails.”
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