Before he explains what he means by the greatest gifts, Paul interrupts his argument to explain something more important than all of the individual gifts: love.
In 1Corinthians 12-14, Paul addresses a group of believers who are judging each other speaking in tongues. They think a person who doesn’t speak in tongues is a lesser Christian.
Paul made two main points in 1Corinthians 12:
- The true mark of people who have been influenced by the Holy spirit is that they say (and mean) Jesus is Lord.
- There is both unity and diversity in the body of Christ. The unity is the way the Spirit works the same in all of us to give us all saving faith; The diversity is how the Spirit works differently in each of us to give us each a unique role and calling.
1Corinthians 13 is an important interruption in his argument. As he leads up to 1Corinthians 13, Paul encourages them to be zealous for the greater gifts, which he’ll explain that further in 1Corinthians 14.
Before he explains what he means about the greatest gifts, he reminds them there is something more important than all the gifts: love.
13:1If 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. 2If 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. 3And 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. – 1Corinthians 13:1-3
- Paul lists a variety of actions God might ask us to take on this journey of faith. He exaggerates the list, picking extreme, impressive examples of actions we would be impressed by.
- Outrageously big religious acts that are not motivated by love mean nothing.
- You Corinthians are in the foolish position of trying to prove your spirituality by speaking in tongues while acting hatefully toward your fellow believers. By your own unloving attitude, you render your so-called gifts meaningless.
13:14Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – 1Corinthians 13:4-7
- See the previous podcast for a detailed discussion of this list.
- This list stands in contrast to the way the Corinthians are treating each other.
- Paul defines love in a way that highlights how seriously the Corinthians have gone wrong in their behavior.
- Speaking in tongues while I condemn my fellow believers is not spirituality.
13:18Love 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. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When 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. 12For 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. 13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1Corinthians 13:8-13
- Paul is not saying the person who loves never stops loving. He’s saying love will never pass away. All the gifts we have in this life have a place of significance now but that significance is going to end in the kingdom of God. But love will never lose its significance.
- Childish knowledge is done away with because it is replaced by adult knowledge. It doesn’t matter that you were good at encouragement and I was good at teaching because one day we will both be made whole, complete, perfect and mature. We won’t need teachers. We won’t need encouragement. We will have arrived at adulthood.
- Corinth was famous for its polished bronze mirrors which are fuzzy and blurred by today’s standards. We don’t see as clearly in a mirror as we do when looking at reality.
- Our spiritual gifts are provisional, but love is not.
- We need faith and hope now in this life. But when we get into the kingdom of God, we won’t need hope anymore because all the promises will be realized.
- Similarly, we won’t need faith because we will have what we have been trusting God for.
- But being a loving person will still be important.
- Being the kind of person who loves is part of what we are hoping for and it is also our destiny.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.