Heart Meditations 8 - The More Excellent Way - David Mitts
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Php 4:8-9 NASB)
Meditation is counterculture. Most of us have been taught a culture of praying for our problems. A situation arises where there is some dire need, and we scramble the prayer chain. If we think about it, most of our prayer is anxiety-driven. We hear of a need or a crisis and to dissipate the feelings of concern that we have, we jump into prayer. Usually, our prayer then becomes an attempt to get God to solve the crisis. We quote scriptures at God or go into warfare regarding the issue at hand. What usually isn’t present is much peace about God and His will in the situation.
I once heard someone say that good is the enemy of best. Best is in the realm of excellence, which is different than our good efforts at prayer. Best requires mediation and mediation directs to us seek the excellent way.
The root of the type of prayer that I am describing and the meditation that is behind it is the legitimate compassion we feel for the needs of others who are in crisis. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 12:26
"And if one part of the body suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if a part is honored, all the parts rejoice with it." 1Co 12:26 (NASB)
Our compassion has us in the place of feeling the crisis, so we want to fix it with our prayer. Paul recognizes this desire and even points out how our ministry anointings will impact our response:
"Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" 1Co 12:27-30 (NKJV)
He is telling us that we are one body but also different in how we perceive things through the anointing of Messiah on our ministry. Some of us are prophetic and we want to find the why of the problem and get it fixed immediately. Others of us are apostolic and we see problems as opportunities for advancing the Gospel. Others of us want to teach and illuminate the deeper principles that caused the problem. Then there are miracle seekers who see every need as a miracle needing to happen. The helpers want to help with meals and finances, the admin types, want to fix the structure and the tongue talkers want to tongue talk. Finally, the interpreters want to figure out the profound meaning of the problems.
All of these are a good and legitimate expressions of the diversity of the body. Yet, they are all focused on us and our gifting. Nothing wrong with that but as Paul finishes the chapter, saying:
"But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way." 1Co 12:31 (NKJV)
He is indicating that as good as our individual giftings are there is a more excellent way, the way of love.
1 Corinthians 13 begins to describe the more excellent way!
He begins with a contrast of tongues with love:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1Co 13:1 NASB).
Understand that he is speaking this contrast after he has just illuminated the gifts in the body. Tongues is one of the giftings. Now I do not think he is speaking just about the prayer language of charismatic believers. I believe tongues is a special speech that he relates to men and angels. I think this is a reference to Shavuot-Pentecost when the Spirit-anointed the Believers to prophesy in a variety of tongues that were understood by the gathered peoples of the earth.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:4-6 NASB)
Whatever the actual gifting is that Paul speaks of the truly important thing is that he contrasts it with the more excellent way of love. Without love, the very good gifts of God lose their true value.
Paul continues the contrast.
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. (1Co 13:2 NASB)
Again, we have a powerful contrast between giftings and love. Prophecy, gifts of knowledge, and discernment of spiritual truths, even faith itself is called “nothing” without love. These comparisons reveal that not only is love the essential context for life to have any true value but also shows us the enormous difference between excellence and just good things.
I have heard it said that good is the enemy of best.
One clear example of this is in the case of Mary and Martha.
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore, tell her to help me." And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42 NKJV)
In this case, Martha was operating in her gifts, especially serving. Yet Mary was listening to Yeshua with her whole heart which is the sign of love. Excellence begins with an excellent spirit and an excellent spirit is from a loving heart. It isn’t that our gifts and our efforts aren’t good things. It’s more that they are often missing the more excellent way of love. We can be so busy trying to be productive that we miss the tender moments of love.
Another picture of this is in Matthew 7:21-23
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' (Mat 7:21-23 NKJV)
This should be a sober reminder that the Lord isn’t primarily concerned with our ministry. We can prophesy, cast out demons, and perform signs and wonders in His name and still miss it. Why? He tells us that it is because of iniquity or lawlessness.
The Lord warns us that this condition will mark the last days:
And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. (Mat 24:12 NKJV)
Since love is the more excellent way, lawlessness or iniquity is the condition of heart that dilutes our love, making us cold.
What is iniquity and how does it affect our love and excellence?
Iniquity is the inherited tendency to repeat the habits and patterns of our ancestors.
Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. (Psa 109:14 NKJV)
In this way, iniquity is tradition or religion. It is the learned patterns of survival that gain power through agreement. The challenge is that these patterns are rooted in fear. Fear drives us to self-righteousness. We strive because of fear to find things that work for us. In addition, our fear will cause us to judge those who do things differently than us. This is the root of racism and any other stereotypical attitudes towards others.
Iniquity also perverts the gifts of God that are embedded in our DNA. This is why Paul tells us in 1 Cor 13:
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (1Co 13:3 NASB)
These are classic religious acts. But without love, they are of no true profit for our soul.
Excellence requires us to learn to love.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1Co 13:4-7 NASB)
This is the description of the more excellent way!
If we read this verse with its intent, we see that the whole emphasis is on others and our heart attitude towards them
Love makes us patient, kind, not jealous, not arrogant, appropriate, or free in our relationships. Love is not self-seeking, not easily provoked, forgives wrongs, and is against unrighteousness. Love is a champion of truth, is strong, and full of trust and faith. Love gives us the power to hope and to endure.
Love is excellence itself! Paul then declares:
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. (1Co 13:8 NASB)
This isn’t a verse about the ceasing of the gifts. No! It is a verse about the supremacy of the excellence of love.
Paul contrasts the good of the gifts with the superior excellence of love. He continues:
For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. (1Co 13:9-12 NASB)
The “part-ial” knowing and prophecy which will be done away with is the iniquity distorted perspectives of our youth. This is the dimness we see in the mirror. Love leads us to a new and excellent way. In love, we seek openness of heart and transparency. We release the fear of vulnerability. This is the true surrender of the heart that brings us into the excellence of His ways.
Paul calls this process “becoming a man”. What distinguishes a man from a child? When it comes to love the focus changes. Children’s love is related to what others do for them. Mothers and fathers love their children, and the child lives in that love. A man chooses to love. A man lays down his life in love. Narcissistic men fail at love. They live a tragic cycle of trying to find love by looking to what they get from a relationship as opposed to what they give.
Paul calls this seeing in a mirror dimly. What dims the mirror? Less light. Light is the revelation of who we truly are. That’s the reason Paul goes on to say then, face to face. Panim a Panim in Hebrew.
This is a reference to Numbers 12. In Numbers 12 Moses is criticized by Aaron and Miriam for marrying a Cushite woman. They challenge Moses’ leadership on the basis of the prophetic ministry they all share.
Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, "Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?" And the LORD heard it. (Num 12:1-2 NASB)
This is exactly what Paul is speaking about when he calls prophecy without love, as being nothing. The next verse shows us the deeper prophetic reality of Moses and his relationship with God.
(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)(Num 12:3 NASB)
Humility, anah in Hebrew, means to be so absorbed in another so as to become one with Him.
God summarizes this with the statement: Then He said, "Hear now My words: "If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?" (Num 12:6-8 NKJV)
The more excellent way is the love way, the face-to-face way where we become one. We were created to know God and to know one another.
Activation: Open Face exercise. Close your eyes and imagine the smiling face of the Lord, Return that smile and seek to become one in that smile.
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