This is part of a miniseries on the spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12-14 if you have missed the previous discussion on 1 Corinthians 12, you can start here. The last verse of 1 Corinthians 12 transitions from principles on the gifts to the foundation underneath the gifts.
Paul uses this transition to show us “a more excellent way” (one Corinthians 12:31b). This more excellent way deals with the operation of gifts with the foundation of love. If we don’t use these gifts in a loving way, they are ineffective.
Gifts – Love = 0 (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, ESV)
Paul presents four conditional statements to show that love is the basis for every gift. The gifts of speaking in tongues, prophecy, word of knowledge, faith, and sacrifice are mentioned through these verses. This is not a transition to a chapter we use for weddings. This is a continuation of Paul’s conversation on gifts.
He may give us insight into the kinds of tongues that can be used. There are two types of tongues Paul specifically mentions. One is the languages of humans used throughout the world. The other is angelic languages or heavenly languages. Humans don’t have the ability to translate these.
When love is not the basis for the gifts, speaking in tongues is only background noise. You could have the prophetic gift for the right moment, have knowledge from God of glorious things, faith that moves mountains. But if you don’t demonstrate love with your gift, it is meaningless.
You may have the gift of sacrificing for others but if you don’t love others through that gift, it holds little value to anyone. The height of Paul’s examples of the gifts matches the depth of results without love. He shows that love is essential to the operation of the gifts.
The Qualities of Love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, ESV)
As Paul describes love, he is still focusing on how the gifts are used among us. Later in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul will say that the gifts can be stopped or yielded while another speaks. That shows patience. There is a kindness in delivering our gift to serve others.
We’ve just learned to be humble in our gifts and to not think ourselves better than another. All of the gifts are best when used at the right moment by the prompting of the Spirit. There’s no need to envy others or boast about them. And we show deference to one another, not arrogance.
We don’t resent one another as we operate in our gifts. We need one another, and the body is best when the gifts are used in service to one another. No one rejoices if someone misses the
Spirit’s leading. We want to hear from the Spirit through his gifts.
Love is always on the side of fellow believers. If we don’t succeed individually, the body will never hear from the Spirit. We will miss his message crafted just for us. So we live in harmony and unity together to experience the presence of the Spirit.
Love Outlasts Gifts (1 Corinthians 13:8-12)
“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:8–12, ESV)
This is another passage that has been used by secessionists, people who believe that the gifts of the Spirit ended in the time of the Bible or some time in the early church. Paul says that love will never cease. But the gifts will.
He mentions a few gifts to refer to all of them. Prophecy, tongues, and the word of knowledge will all stop. These gifts are partial openings to see the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But we do not see everything. They are part of the foretaste of the Holy Spirit.
The controversial phrase is, “When the perfect comes.” What is, “the perfect”? Cessation lists point to the perfect as the completion of Scripture around 100 A.D. Others suggest that the perfect is the return of Jesus.
I submit that prophecy has not ceased, for the events of Revelation have not completely been fulfilled. Languages are still used every day and knowledge is expanding more in the “information age” than ever before. God is still using prophecy, language, and knowledge, foundations for the gifts.
Paul’s image of putting away childish things in his maturity shows the graduation in the completion of time. Now, we need these things like prophecy for us to hope, language to communicate our inner thoughts, and knowledge to know God’s plans.
But when Jesus returns, we won’t need these things anymore. He will complete all of the partial things we know, or even think we know. In the time of his return and everything has been perfected, matured, and completed, he will be the completion of all things. But until he returns, the Spirit will continue to use these gifts.
The Trifecta (1 Corinthians 13:13)
“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, ESV)
Paul concludes his thoughts on love as the foundation for all of the gifts and their operation by declaring the three greatest essentials for every Christian. Without faith, we cannot trust in God or please him. Faith is essential to walking with Jesus.
Hope is the foundation for faith. Faith is the engine and hope is the fuel. Faith is the concrete steps we take but they rely on the hope that God fulfills his promises. And love is the way we carry out faith based on hope.
All three of these are necessary for the Christian life. But without love, none of the others find their purpose. Love is the greatest of all because everything else rests upon it. And as we seek the greater gifts, love is the greatest way to use them..
Principles for Practice
- Without love, the gifts are ineffective and miss the Spirit’s intentions for their use.
- Love is the foundation for every gift we use. It determines how we treat one another as we use our gifts.
- We will not always have the gifts of the spirit but we will always need love.