What would you say is the most important thing about our relationship with Jesus Christ? What is the greatest benefit of knowing Jesus? Most of us would answer with "our salvation" which is most definitely a major benefit but such an answer reveals how self-centered we are. I'll be honest with you, it is how I would answer the question but as I pondered 1 Corinthians 14 this morning the Spirit shifted my perspective.
Paul was bringing correction to the Corinthians concerning their attitude with spiritual gifts. The Corinthians were a wonderfully gifted congregation but they lacked a great deal of spiritual maturity and it showed in where they were putting their priority in spiritual gifts. We have been given all kinds of gifts, each having a different purpose. The gift of prophecy (in this case meaning the anointed preaching of God's Word) is of the greatest benefit to everyone. The gift of tongues (a heavenly language used by our spirit to express things beyond words) is a private gift given for our own edification. The Corinthians, being as self-centered as they were, were using this private gift in place of the preaching. They chose self-edification over the edification of others. Paul wrote to them:
I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:18-19)
This can be compared to many different things we do in the Body of Christ today. The greatest task we have been given is the task of witnessing for Jesus. This is far more important than any personal need we may have but in the Church we continue to make the mistake of turning out selfish children; people who are constantly focused on themselves. You may hear them leave the worship service with such words:
"Something was off today. I didn't feel anything."
"They seemed too loud today."
"The poor pastor must not have gotten a good night's rest, he wasn't very good today."
It's all about what they felt, received or perceived. Consider for a moment what your focus is when you join in the gathering on Sunday. Is it to receive something or to give something? Do you come to be ministered to or to minister? We have allowed ourselves to become consumers and contribute very little to the Body. We have either never grasped or have forgotten what Jesus was saying when he said that we have to die to gain. We totally miss the point when Scripture says that we die and are buried and then we rise alive in Jesus. Most people do not even understand the symbolism of baptism. For most it seems like just a quick dunk in the pool not realizing they are stating that they have died to everything that is self and now the only way they function is through Jesus.
Salvation is a benefit of being in Jesus but the greatest benefit isn't even about us, it is about the salvation of lost souls. We are saved, that's great, but now the real work is what Jesus wants to do through us for others. He wants to work through us to benefit other people. We act as if he is our own little personal God for us to keep all to ourselves. Paul was so desperate for others to know Jesus that he stated we would gladly give up his own salvation if it would mean that they would be saved.
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. (Romans 9:3-4)
Now there was a man who understood that the old was gone and the new had come. Here was a man who understood the love of Jesus Christ and what his sacrifice for us on the cross actually meant. Here was a man who understood what Jesus meant when he told us to love each other as he loved us. As he loved us. As he loved us. As he loved us. Get it?
Jesus never sought anything for himself. His life was a life of service as he set for us an example of how to live a life by the Spirit of God. We, on the other hand, make a mockery of this by serving Jesus part-time, according to our availability and our desires. Our service is always measured against our needs. If we are too sick we don't serve. If we are too hungry we don't serve. If we are too tired, too heart broken, too depressed, too distracted, too busy, really too anything we don't serve. God is always about us, what we want, what we need, what we desire. It is about our agenda, our time table, our plans. Our prayers are often filled with ourselves or those who are close to us who affect us. If we are honest and really examine the matter and hold ourselves up to Jesus and men such as Paul we can see how twisted and distorted we have made it.
For us, the greatest benefit to following Jesus is our own salvation but that's because we are so self-centered. The greatest benefit should be that we are equipped, anointed and called for the salvation of others. That is our purpose, our focus, our mission regardless of what other gifts and talents we have. In our prayer closets God has equipped us for our edification with him but outside of that closet it is always about others.
But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.