The "More Excellent Way"

by A.E. Knoch

WHO, in reading of the marvelous gifts in the twelfth of first Corinthians, has not been struck with the last verse of the chapter? "Covet earnestly the best gifts"--that is what we would like to do! But what do the closing words mean? "And yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." Can it be that there is something even better than the best gifts? If so, what is it and how may we enjoy it? The thirteenth chapter is occupied with the answer to this question.

This chapter is usually understood as an exhortation to love, especially in the exercise of the gifts. But it is far more than that. Love is the sum and substance of the more excellent way. Love will never lapse, but the gifts will go (1 Cor.13:8).

There are three distinct periods brought before us in this chapter. In the first one are all the gifts besides faith, expectation and love. Knowledge and prophecy are "in part" (verse 9), it is the time of childhood (verse 11), vision is through a glass darkly (verse 12).

In the second the gifts "fail," "cease," or "vanish" (verse 8), perfection comes and partial knowledge and prophecy are done away (verses 9,10), childish things are put away (verse 11), knowledge is "face to face" (verse 12) and only faith, hope and love abide (verse 13).

The third period is only hinted at. Love never lapses. But we know that faith will be lost in sight and expectation will vanish in the glory.

We may arrange the three periods thus, according to what remains:

(1) The gifts, faith, expectation, love.
(2) Faith, expectation, love.
(3) Love.

The vital question with us is Where are we now? It is best answered by asking Where was the apostle when he wrote? Was he looking forward to the resurrection glory of the saints or to another glorious change in his ministry?

In the original the question is settled for us. In our English version it is hidden by translating two different words now. "For now (arti, at present, not in the past or future) we see through a glass darkly..." (verse 12). "And now (nun, from now on, not, in the past) abideth faith, hope, love..." (verse 13). He was at the crisis between partial and full knowledge, between minority and maturity. To make this clear we would urge all to write the words "at present" for the now of verse 12, and put "from" before the now in verse 13. At that time they saw darkly. We do not. From that time to this faith, expectation and love remain, though the gifts have vanished.

Strange as it may seem, the principal excellence of the path of perfection lies in the lack of the special gifts or graces of which he has just been speaking! The more excellent way knows no gift of prophecy, or of languages, or of knowledge. These are to cease to function. Only three things are left on the perfect path --faith, expectancy, love. These are not special graces for a few, but freely enjoyed by all.

A striking contrast between the way more excellent and that which preceded it is brought before us under the figure of a child, growing up into maturity. The gifts were for the support and schooling of infancy and adolescence, the playthings of immaturity, unneeded and unheeded by the maturity of manhood.

Again, the less excellent way was only partial in its perfection. Knowledge was fragmentary, and needed continual additions. The perfect path brings us face to face with the full-orbed revelation of God, face to face with His primeval purpose and its accomplishment and to a full recognition of our own part in His plan.

We all desire to walk in the way more excellent. No one cares to linger in the lesser glory. But many of us have been taught that this perfect path is not for us now, but is reserved for the saints in resurrection. For such we have the most marvelous of all messages. The more excellent way is our present privilege and portion. Paul was not speaking of our resurrection state, but of the final phase of his ministry, which went from glory to glory. He was contrasting one of these glories with another. He was speaking of his final revelations as unfolded in Ephesians.

How can we be assured of this? The trinity of graces that remain are ample proof. Now faith and hope remain. They will have no place in the glory. Faith will be replaced by sight and expectation by fulfillment. Then we will not patiently wait for some future blessing, but rather enjoy the present. Hope will vanish for lack of those adverse conditions on which it depends. And so with faith. In His presence it disappears in perception.

These are the abiding graces for the present. In contrast with the lesser gifts, such as prophecy, languages and knowledge, these remain until the glory. Only love remains forever. Only love never lapses. It is the supreme, the essential, the eternal grace, the way most excellent.

But surely knowledge is not absent now! Some may question whether prophecy is still operative, while others defend it and point to revelations outside the word of God. Some claim that the gift of "tongues" is still for us. These three go together. If one is present, the rest must also be. Besides, that knowledge was not to be absent on the way more excellent is most evident from the apostle's development of the thought. The "knowledge" which shall be done away is fragmentary, a matter of installments. It was not to be displaced by ignorance but by another and fuller knowledge. That was a reflected perception, partial, distorted, and gives place to unhindered apprehension.

Moreover, is knowledge to be abrogated in the glory? Is ignorance an ingredient of celestial bliss? Surely such a thought is enough to send us back to seek some other solution to this assertion.

The matter is most simple. Languages are not to be discard either now or in the glory. Undoubtedly then we shall speak by means of language, and assuredly we do so now. It is not language which is in question, but the gift of language. Prophecy is ours, as recorded in the Scriptures, but the gift of prophecy has ceased. Knowledge is fuller than ever since the Word of God has been completed, but the gift of knowledge is no more.

No one now gains a knowledge of the truth by supernatural, divine endowment. We must all patiently plod along and carefully scan the sacred page even though we have the spirit's illumination. All claims to inspiration, whether prophecy or knowledge will be found to be another spirit, and in conflict with the written revelation we already have. Knowledge, as a gift, has ceased, Prophecy, as a gift, has been abrogated.

But what of "tongues," or languages? The conclusion is irresistible that, if the gift of knowledge and prophecy have no longer place for exercise, then the gift of language has also vanished. It was to cease somewhere between the infancy and the maturity of the saints as a body, not at the resurrection of the individual.

Maturity or "perfection" is not applied to the glory but to the present status of all who are in Christ. "That which is perfect" has come. Even at the time this epistle to the Corinthians was written some were "perfect," and Paul spoke of the hidden wisdom to them (1 Cor.2:6). Some in Philippians attained to this experience. It was the apostle's mission to present every man perfect or mature in Christ Jesus (Col.1:28, see Eph.4:13; Col.4:12).

While all are mature because of the place into which the grace of God has put them, few of us know of our maturity or enter into the experience which accords with it. Like Israel, our hearts turn back into Egypt. Like children, we revert to the playthings of youth. We are much more fascinated by the gifts than by the faith, expectation and love which pave the path of perfection. We crave the spectacular and the exciting. We ignore the exhortation "in understanding be mature" (A.V. men, 1 Cor. 14:20).

And, with the vivid imagination of childhood, so seriously do we take these things, that the gifts (rather than their absence) are loudly proclaimed as the more excellent way!

The Scriptures stand and are true. Our experience is fluctuating and deceptive. It is the height of folly to interpret the Scriptures by our feelings, and the most exalted wisdom to judge our experience by the sacred oracles. Yet all true spiritual experience is in fullest accord with divine revelation and, while it cannot support that which needs no prop, adds its testimony to the truth. Hence we add a few lines of our experience.

While we have examined very few of the professed prophecies of later centuries, we have seen enough of them to fully convince us that the gift of prophecy is obsolete. While practically all seek to supplement the Scriptures and to keep in accord with the revelation contained in them, in every case the deviation is sufficient to show that the revelation is not from God. If it is supernatural or superhuman, as seems to be the case in some instances, the spirit that inspired it was not the holy spirit of God but another spirit, for such are expressly promised in the latter eras (1 Tim.4:1). Moreover, now that Paul has completed the Word of God (Col.1:25), there is no necessity for any added revelation. The whole orb of divine truth has been rounded out. There are no missing segments. Every attempt to add to it is an excrescence, not only needless, but destructive of the truth.

The gift of knowledge was necessary while the most important segment of truth was still unrevealed. It needed a special endowment on the part of some to know God's mind on matters concerning which there was no written revelation. But now no such equipment is necessary.

I have never known of any one who specifically claimed the gift of knowledge. I have observed that all who really have knowledge arrive at it by the patient and painful process of study. Those who imagine themselves especially endowed without previous preparation soon manifest the fruits of fanaticism.

Some have charged me with the possession of this gift. But I have the sober consciousness that many a thought which has come to me, when tested by God's Word written, has proved that I have the gift of ignorance. I do not desire to give out a single idea which has not been received from and subordinated to the Scriptures.

For many years I have lived in close proximity to one of the most remarkable "movements" in which the "gifts of tongues" is a prominent factor. I have heard the "tongues" and have had those who were afflicted with them come to me and tell me the whole of their startling experiences. While there may have been some deception, most were earnest, devoted saints who wanted God's best for themselves. Most of the tongues were "unknown," and, to a linguist, unknowable, for the succession of sounds was such as could by no manner of means represent rational ideas. Yet some were supposed to be actual living languages, and some of these, were put to the test of practical use. They failed utterly. Missionaries who had the gift of Chinese went to China, but found that the gift failed them altogether. Seldom was it kept in restraint, as the Scriptures direct. There has been a tendency to parade it as the highest expression of spiritual attainment, and some have even demanded it as a necessary sign of salvation.

The most serious aspect of the matter is its close relationship with spiritism. Rather than receiving a gift, the gift gets its victim. It controls, not only the utterances, but to a large extent the time and occasion of its exercise. The symptoms are precisely the same as in demon possession. The speaker in tongues becomes a medium controlled by a spirit which is not of God, though it imitates the spirit of God. To get rid of this spirit, once it has a firm hold on its victim, is almost impossible. Having been trained to "yield," the will is weak, and the medium is in a deplorable condition from which nothing but God's power and grace can rescue him.

The gift of "tongues" has become an avenue for the entrance of seducing spirits (1 Tim.4:1) into the household of faith. That these spirits mimic the holy spirit and teach much truth only shows the subtlety of their seduction. Even if the Scriptures had not spoken specifically of tongues that "they shall cease," the history of the "tongues movement" is itself sufficient for the spiritual mind to prove that the imitation offered is spurious. It has led to more division and dissension than any other movement in the brief period it has prevailed.

The question remains, What of the other gifts mentioned in Corinthians, especially healing, which is not specifically said to have ceased? The answer is not far to seek. Physical healing is clearly promised in many a passage, but it has no place in the more excellent way we are considering. Ephesians promises all spiritual blessings among the celestials (Eph.1:3), but there is not a single word as to physical health on the earth. Philippians brings before us three of the most spiritual of God's slaves in this era of transcendent grace. Paul himself had a thorn in the flesh, and could not get rid of this physical infirmity, because it was necessary for the perfection of grace. God's power can only be perfected in infirmity (2 Cor.12:8) and Paul, who healed others, learns the deeper lesson of abiding under the power of Christ. This was after he began to walk the more excellent way.

Timothy, next to Paul, is the greatest of all the apostles for this era of grace. He, too, treads the path of perfection, and suffers "often infirmities" for which p304 Knowing Christ after the Flesh Paul prescribes a little wine, instead of exercising his gift of healing (1 Tim.5:23).

And now we are told of Epaphroditus, who risked his soul for the saints, and nearly died while he was staying with Paul, to his great sorrow. He was on the more excellent way. No one on this path ever used the gift of miraculous healing even though he had it (Phil.2:25-30).

Before Paul received this ministry he was the greatest healer of all the apostles. He more than duplicated all that Peter did. But when the great change came, as Israel's rejection of Messiah became more apparent, he decided no longer to know Christ after the flesh, he gave notice that the signs which accompanied the proclamation of the kingdom would cease, and intimated that God had something much better in store for the saints, not on earth but in heaven, not in the physical realm, but in the spiritual.

Knowing Christ after the flesh (2 Cor.5:16) refers to Christ's flesh, not Paul's. Paul certainly would not claim a fleshly knowledge of Him as the basis of his ministry hitherto. But he had been proclaiming Him as the Messiah of Israel, as to His physical relationship to the Circumcision. Christ was a Jew and lived and died in their land and will restore the kingdom to them on the basis of their physical relationship to Him. Gentile blessing on earth must flow through this channel. Paul had been proclaiming Him as Israel's Messiah. This is "knowing Christ according to flesh." Healing and all the other gifts were associated with knowing Christ after the flesh. They continued in connection with that ministry.

At that point in Paul's career when he wrote the second epistle to the Corinthians he decided no longer to know Christ after the flesh (2 Cor.5:16). He was entering the more excellent way. Christ according to the flesh corresponds to the regeneration, as the kingdom is called. Its proclamation leads to the kingdom and the millennium. That will be very good. It will be excellent. But Paul, in spirit, has come to the end of the millennium and enters the new creation (2 Cor.5:17). The result of no longer knowing Christ according to the flesh is that "if any one is in Christ, there is a new creation." This is the more excellent way. The new birth leads to millennial blessing of which the gifts were the sign. The new creation introduces us to an unutterably higher sphere of blessing, based on faith, which asks for no signs.

As he gradually entered this path his own health became impaired, he could not cure his dearest friends, he even left one of them, Trophimus, at Miletum, sick. Ask him, in his Roman prison whether the gift of healing has become inoperative. His answer might well be, If it has not, why am I afflicted, and why is Timothy often ill, and what of Trophimus and Epaphroditus? And there is not a single instance where healing did occur after the kingdom narrative in Acts had closed. Physical healing is a sign and pledge of the material marvels of the kingdom on earth. While that is no longer proclaimed, such attestations to its power are out of place.

The experience of Paul and his friends clearly accords with the absence of the gift of healing in the more excellent way. My own experience for over a quarter of a century in one of the centers of the healing movement confirms this interpretation.

Coming into contact with men who made the book of Acts and the church order of Corinthians a matter of present application, I could not but be struck with their inconsistency in denying the presence of healing and the other gifts in the church today. Being myself in feeble health, I determined to investigate the matter thoroughly, for, if there was healing, I certainly wanted it. My opportunity came when I was on a vacation for my health's sake on an island in the Pacific. The principal exponent of the doctrine of divine healing was also there, and I sought an interview, desiring the scriptural basis for the doctrine. He told stories of healing, but failed to satisfy my desire for the teaching of the Word on the subject. Moreover, as I grew better and he grew worse, his stories did not convince me. Since then I have heard of thousands of cases and have investigated a few. Most of them needed no investigation, for I prefer my own infirmity to their healing.

Just a few cases. The most advertised instance in the leading mission worked for me, and told me of his wonderful cure. His crutch was still hanging in their hall as evidence. Stripped of all imagination, his case was simply this. He had been ill and was recovering. He might have walked without his crutches but was too downhearted to even try. Under the stimulus of the excitement of the meeting his courage rose and he walked without aid. Any mental healer or practitioner could have produced similar results at the particular crisis. Yet this was the great cure of which I had heard so much! What a reflection on the miracles of Christ to be classed with such a case!

Another instance. A neighbor, too ill to rise, under the stimulus of a magnetic and persuasive healer left her couch and crossed the room. How they rebuked me for my lack of faith! I had to keep close for a while! Within a month she was in her grave. Death denies "divine healing." Healers and healed die of disease. Had the kingdom come none of those healed would have died except by violence or sin or design. The gift would have preserved them in health and defied death.

A blind woman wished to be cured by a most notable healer. In preparation for it she paid for instruction, etc., in high hopes that she would recover sight. She is still blind. Has the Lord discriminated against her? Why cannot she be healed? She has proven her faith by her works.

This brings us to the real truth as to so-called faith healing. Some cases can be cured temporarily, but others are beyond its reach. The cases fall into precisely the same groups as other systems of mental healing. Functional diseases or functional complications which usually accompany organic maladies are usually mental in their origin and can be cured by "faith," however induced. It is merely the power of mind over matter.

Now we must concede that the appeal to God's Word is the strongest possible incentive to faith, and that mental healing under the guise of the miraculous should have for more success than appeals to philosophy or "science" or merely the power of repetition. These all depend on the fact that there is no organic disease, but only disturbances in the mental control of the body. If we add to this the immense psychological effect of mass meetings, we have one of the most powerful natural means of ameliorating functional disease.

Everyone knows the vivifying effect of joy and happiness, and the depressing effect of worry. The mental state powerfully influences the action of all the vital organs. Even blindness and paralysis may be caused by purely mental emotions. Such cases as these can be cured by the mental healers of today, and especially by those who seek to operate under the banner of the Bible. But not one of them can accomplish the healing which attested our Lord's messiahship or the nearness of the kingdom in the days of the apostles.

The more excellent way of faith, expectation and love involves the most exalted vision of God ever granted to mortal man. Not only is He the Healer of earth's diseases during the days of the coming kingdom (to which all the miracles of healing pointed) but He will heal the beans and minds of all His creatures in the consummation. A hopeful outlook is the most potent of all medicines, and the universal reconciliation is the balm of Gilead to every sin-stricken son of creation.

The immeasurable joy, the unbounded happiness which fills our hearts in contemplation of God's purpose is a sovereign panacea for all the ills of the mind, and the functional maladies which the mind affects. We do not need to force ourselves into the acceptance of a formula which we do not believe. We do not need to wrest the Scriptures which refer to the kingdom to provide a foundation for our faith. We need only allow the truth of God's great love and grace to permeate our minds and hearts. This will remove the strain. This will do away with our worry. This will let us relax. This will bring our functions back to normal. The satisfaction will relieve the blood pressure, calm the heart action, remove imaginary ills. The joy will draw more breath and oxygen from the air, stimulate the circulation, and increase the vitality. The joy of the Lord will be our strength. It will temper the physical afflictions which God graciously sends to His servants to keep them low and to magnify His power. This is the real "faith healing" of the more excellent way.

Paul's preparatory epistles, Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians, give us the great divide between the teaching of the Pentecostal and the present dispensations. The thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians is especially devoted to showing the relation between his earlier course and his latest ministry, which is recorded in the perfection epistles, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Paul's ministry, unlike that of the twelve, went from glory to glory. He did not receive all at first, but by gradual revelations, he ascended into the celestial heights of present truth. We should follow to the end, but, alas, we linger and lag behind. We imagine we have attained the summit of truth when we read of the marvelous endowments in the Corinthian ecclesias, but the apostle assures us that he knows of "a more excellent way," or a path suited to transcendence (1 Cor.12:31).

We earnestly urge our beloved brethren to search the thirteenth of Corinthians for themselves. The more excellent way certainly does not include the gifts for it is in direct contrast with them and could not come until they had been discarded. That is the way of childhood, of fragmentary knowledge, of blurred vision. We cannot dissociate the gifts from all these imperfections and disabilities. Now that the more excellent way has been revealed in Paul's later epistles, why cling to that which God has made obsolete? Let us pursue the path suited to transcendence, the way more excellent!

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