Kingdom Math: 12 + 13 = 14
Can I stimulate your thinking with a riddle, not unlike Samson’s, “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet”? The following thought came to me with some clarity recently as I was reflecting on Jesus’ Bride, the church.
Here it is: 12 + 13 = 14
For those of you who have been reading my articles lately you might be guessing where I’m coming from…. to others of you I offer this hint: think 1 Corinthians! Does that help?
The progression is really beautiful when you see it: Chapter 12 and the diversity of the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, is followed quickly by the “excellence of love” in Chapter 13. Finally, the question is asked, “What is the outcome then, brethren, when you come together?” and Chapter 14 unfolds an awesome description – really the best one in the whole NT!- of gathering together for mutual edification and functioning. “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation…”
The concept that came to me so powerfully is that without LOVE we will never have functioning with spiritual gifts the way God intended it!
We really need to see this in progression!! 12 + 13 really does get us to 14.
If we only have gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit we can have a “spirit-filled mess”, which seems to have been the case in Corinth and led to arrogance and super-spirituality. If we only have love without the power of the supernatural gifts, we may have a “sugar-coated Christianity” that won’t have the “kick” to see people freed from bondages and lacks God-given direction and discernment! As author Edwin Stube has written: “Spiritual gifts make love practical and demonstrable.” If my neighbor is sick, love says to bake cookies and pray for him/her; spiritual gifts ask that I visit that person in Jesus’ name, lay hands of them and pray for healing!
I think, if I may tell of my own personal journey, that in a desire to see Chapter 14 (read: functioning) re-established on the earth, it is very easy to skim through the Love Chapter! It is easy to get caught up in the “size” of the gathering vs. the “location” of the assembly vs. the “leadership” of the meeting vs. the “essence of the Presence”, etc. Ad infinitum!
Yet that which never fails is LOVE!
Paul says it quite plainly: “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing!” (13:2)
Let’s read a slice of the “Love Psalm” again:
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude…
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails… So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Please hear me out!
My wife, Maria, and I are at this point in our lives very (read: extremely) passionate about seeing God’s people shake off the grave clothes of centuries without experiencing, to any great degree, functioning and mutual edification “when we come together”! We have burned our bridges to any other way of doing / being church! BUT we must not read past the clear teaching of First Corinthians that “12 + 13 = 14” (ie. gifts + love = functioning). We long to be in such close, 24/7 fellowship with a group of God’s people, that when we come together, truly Jesus alone is Head and each one contributes as the Holy Spirit leads. The “Manifest Presence” guiding each one takes us further into Jesus than we often could get by following a leader or a program.
I am well aware that for Type A people (and many other “types” as well!) this way of meeting seems to be a sure recipe for disaster: gathering together without a “pre-ordained” order of service, with little formal leadership! “What if we sing too much and we never get to hear the sermon? Won’t sister Mary just tell her old, old stories over and over again…?” Not if 12 + 13 = 14 is happening!
Don’t you just long to be in a meeting where you “assemble”, like pieces of a puzzle (and that IS the biblical word-picture!) and you have no idea what the picture will look like until each piece has been put in place? Or imagine, as you are “assembling”, someone who is seated has an “at-that-moment” revelation, jumps up, and brings the spotlight of Divine truth into the gathering! (1 Cor 14:30)
The church is changing her paradigms. We see it all over! Now more than ever we need the “rule of love”! Some of us have burned our bridges, some are still on the bridge, others are just getting on the bridge for the first time! In all this, let us follow the most excellent way: “House churches are not boastful; cell churches are not arrogant or rude. The ‘new wine’ does not insist on its own way but believes all things, hopes all things…” Amen!
Finally, one last look in on love from a trio of great apostles:
Paul: “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.” 1 Thess 4:9
Peter: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
John: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,