Are you trying to make the work of God successful by an appeal to the natural man? Now, I hold no brief for ugliness or fur crudeness; I believe that God is a God of beauty. But if we think we are going to make God's work successful or acceptable by display, by appeal to the soul of man - artistically, aesthetically, and so on - we are on wrong lines. Let me put it another way: the source of any 'appeal', any 'impression,' any 'grip,' any 'overwhelming,' must lie essentially and only in spiritual values, of an inward kind, not in what captivates or gratifies the natural fancies of people. The Arm of the Lord will not be revealed to the 'natural man' or to the 'world' in any way for its good; only against it.
As we move on in this letter, we find that the Cross touches so many other things. It touches our feelings - our natural emotions, our natural passions; there is much about there here. And, as with our mentality, so also with our emotions, the Lord says: 'None of that on My foundation, none whatever.' There is so much here to which the Cross says 'No,' as to building. I invite you to look at it more closely; it is not my purpose to give an exposition of the letter to the Corinthians. I want to come to the positive side.
For there is a positive side to this letter. What is it that God says may be put on His foundation? It would be very pathetic, would it not, if the letter were all negative, all: No, no! never! Take not of that, because you may recall that I said, earlier, that you can never come into God's 'Yes' until you have accepted God's 'No.' But there is a very mighty 'Yes,' in this letter. What is it? Perhaps we think we know it. Well, maybe we do know it, as to the words; but I suggest that we know practically nothing of the thing itself.
Misapplied Spiritual Gifts
Let us look, then, at Chapter 13. Here the Apostle writes off everything that is not spiritually constructive. It may have been something that God gave, but it has been taken hold of by man and used for man's satisfaction, gratification, pleasure, or even glory. The mentality and emotion of the natural man have been brought to bear upon Divine things - spiritual gifts, such as tongues, and so on - and have robbed them of their value to build up, and made them just occasions for display. There has been glorying in these spiritual gifts. The Apostle here writes that all off, and says that they were never given for that; even though given of God, the amount to 'nothing' - that is the very word he uses here - when it comes to building. "If I ... have not love, I am nothing." Paul dismisses these things; but notice that he is all the time reaching after the positive through the negative.
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal." Exeunt spiritual gifts which have failed to fulfill their purpose in building the House of God. Let us not cling to anything that does not serve that purpose.
"And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, "Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove" (Matthew 17:20). That is perfectly scriptural, and yet you can be perfectly scriptural and have faith like that, and it can mean nothing. If it fails to build up the House of God, if it does not result in this scriptural structure, it becomes negative. Exit all knowledge of mysteries, and secret lore, and faith that removes mountains. 'Out you go if you do not build up! That is the value of you - nothing!' "If I have all faith ... but have not love, I am nothing." With all that, I am nothing!!
"And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned ..." If I am a philanthropist, and am most charitable, even sacrificial, in my giving; even if I am a martyr, and give my body to be burned; that can all be done without any constructive value in the building of the House of God. If you do these things, "but have not love, it profiteth me nothing."
That, then, is the showing out of court of things - wonderful things in themselves - but which have failed to serve the purpose for which they were given, namely, 'spiritual building.'
What God Will Allow On His Foundation: LOVE
Now for the positive. Let us bring in that to which God says: Yes! He says 'No' to that, and to that, and to that; but now, where does His 'Yes' lie? Here it is LOVE!
"Love suffereth long ..." There were some who, because their rights were injured or taken from them, dragged their brethren before the magistrate, right away. "Love suffereth long, and is kind ..." You may put that on the foundation; that is something constructive, is it not? "Love envieth not ..." When you quietly work your way, like this, into and through every clause, do you not want to stop and say: 'Say no more - that finds me out too much!?' But we must go on,for, after all, it is what God is calling for.
(continued with # 2)