The Excellent Way

1 Corinthians 12:27-14.5 / 18-19 / 27-32 / 37-40

As the sermon ended the preacher called on the Holy Spirit to come. He then descended the platform and began walking between the rows of people laying his hands on each. When he got to me he slapped one hand on my shoulder, wrenched back my head with the other and said “Open your mouth and let the Spirit pour in!” The preacher was famous for his anointing, but due to the overly physical way in which he handled me, l felt nothing of the Spirit and was horribly shaken. I was a new convert and this preacher had left a very bad impression. This testimony begs a question; do we need to think more about the way we minister when praying for people?

While talking about ministering in the gifts Paul says “I will show you the most excellent way” (l Cor 12:31) and then he goes on to talk about love saying “Love is patient, love is kind… it alway protects … always hopes … perseveres.” You know the verse; it is from a chapter known as the “Love Chapter” (1 Cor 13: 4-7). Couples like it read at weddings. But Paul was not talking about marriage, he was talking about the way in which we minister in church. Paul is saying that when we minister we should not be rude or proud, but kind, protecting and persevering. Even if we pray for healing and none takes place, the person we are praying for should leave feeling loved. Preachers can be very brief, and even rude, treating the needy person as a mere number. Often the preacher is this way because he is just one person and there are so many people to pray for. But this is the result of a bad ministry model. The preacher should never be the one who prays for everyone. The preacher is supposed to train everyone to pray for each other. Every person in the church is supposed to operate in the gifts. This was the situation at Corinth in Paul’s day. The congregation operated in prophecy, words of knowledge, tongues and healing. The leaders are just supposed to watch over the people for balance and saftey. When the whole congregation operates in the gifts its easy for the needy to get personal attention and to leave feeling valued and loved. This is the excellent way.
In many sectors of the church today ministry in the gifts has become something of a show. The preacher tries to make healing and prophecy seem as dramatic and spectacular as possible. But Paul bursts the showman’s bubble when he say, “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears” (I Cor 13: 8-10). Here Paul is saying that to be loving is more important than to operate in the gifts. The gifts are temporary; they will only last until Jesus returns, but love will last beyond this life and into the next (I Cor 13: 8-12). Some people have tried to use Paul’s statement here to teach that we need not operate in the gifts, but this is not what Paul is saying. In fact he says “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Cor 14:1). For Paul, the gifts should always operate, but in a loving way.
Lulu (not her real name) was a large, loud woman. Her church allowed members to speak out prophetically between songs on Sundays, and she never missed the opportunity. In fact if you did not hear Lulu you would wonder where she was. But there was a problem. Lulu’s prophecies had an odd feel about them, they were void of inspiration and seemed to cut across the flow of worship. It took quite a while for the church leaders to pluck up the courage to speak to Lulu, and when they did she left the church. We need to discipline ourselves before someone else has to. And if we have to be disciplined by others we must be humble enough to receive it. Love involves discipline, this is quite clear for Paul. If we are going to love the church and not be insensitive and self-centred like Lulu, we will need discipline. And in order to assist the Corinthian church with their obvious lack of discipline, Paul drew up a few rules. He told them that only two or three prophecies were allowed, and one at a time; so everyone could get a chance to speak what God has given them (14:27-31). Sometimes we do need to lay down local rules to help our people with their particular set of weaknesses. If we are going to love one another, we must be considerate of each other; this is what Paul calls the ‘excellent way’.
Now sometimes people like Lulu will hog the space and say “The Holy Spirit made me do it.” Knowing this Paul says “You can all prophecy in turn … the spirit of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.” In other words, prophetic people are not taken over by the Holy Spirit in such a way that they lose all control. Even if they are burning with the word that Is in them, they can still make sure that it is delivered at an appropriate moment. The Holy Spirit prompts us to speak, but expects us to deliver the revelation in a godly way. Love is God’s priority.
Paul goes on to say “If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored” (I Cor 14: 37-38). These are strong words from Paul, but I think all prophetic people would do well to heed them. Paul is claiming that all ministry including prophetic ministry must be in submission to a leadership and be prepared to follow that leadership.
People who are new to running a church or a small group sometimes invite a gifted person to minister who is a lone ranger and not accountable to any leadership. This can have disastrous consequences. We should never expose the sheep to a person who is operating without accountability. Such people usually have a problem with humility and submission and are more into themselves than the people they are ministering to.
Some believers want nothing to do with the gifts of the Spirit because they have seen too much abuse. Others are so hungry to see the work of the Holy Spirit that they abandon all caution. It is neither good to ban the gifts nor practice them without due wisdom. What every church needs is a nurturing environment. A place where learners can make mistakes without those mistakes causing damage. We cannot learn without making mistakes. And the key to safety is a leadership that teaches love and inforces accountability and coaches its members.
It was the final session of the conference. People were receiving personal prayer all over the room. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see a middle aged man with a warm smile. “Can I pray for you” he asked. I didn’t know him but I said yes. He returned his hand to my shoulder and I closed my eyes. There was a few moments of silence and then he spoke quietly and said “I sense the Lord is saying that he is in control and you don’t have to do anything. But a time will come when you will need to step out in faith.” He stopped and I looked up at him in complete amazement. What the man had said was very simple but it was exactly what I needed to know. At that point I said “Who are you?” and we introduced ourselves. Then he said “I was tired and did not want to pray for many people, so I asked the Lord to just show me one person that I should pray for and he showed me you.” I thought “Wow, God singles me out in this crowd, then he answers a question that only I know has been on my heart the last few days!” I left feeling loved, even highly valued.
The conference I had attended was a Vineyard conference in the UK. The Vineyard Movement has a long history of creating environments that are free and safe for the gifts to operate. Their model encourages ministers to give personal attention to each person they pray for so they don’t feel like a mere number in the crowd (love protects).They encourage the minister to take time in prayer with each person (love perseveres). They are instructed to never to tell a person that they don’t have enough faith if no healing occurs (love is kind). They are told not to claim healing has occurred until it is manifestly obvious (love always delights in the truth). They are taught to avoid risky language like “The Lord says” and to use safe language like “I sense the Lord might be saying” (love is not proud). They are taught to be down to earth and humble when operating the gifts and to avoid the temptation to draw attention or be spectacular (love does not boast). These practices and many more are essential to building a healthy ministry environment. They are habits that teach the excellent way. The Love Chapter is all about how to operate in the gifts. Paul was on to something powerful. We may not always hear God correctly, we may not see many miracles, but let’s make sure we love as Jesus loved.

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