1 Corinthians 13:1-2

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 Paul continues his thoughts on spiritual gifts. We may have a chapter break in our modern bibles, but we have to remember how he just ended the teaching in chapter 12. He just gave us a long lesson on the importance of spiritual gifts, and then ends with “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” This ties the two chapters completely together. We know 1 Corinthians 13 as ‘the love chapter’ as that is the focus Paul will give us. But its about far more than love in our often shallow definition. Paul is going to school us on love from God’s perspective.

The Corinthians were enamored with spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues. Paul reminds them even the gift of tongues is meaningless without love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Spiritual gifts without the foundation of love are noise.  Clarke wrote “People of little religion are always noisy; he who has not the love of God and man filling his heart is like an empty wagon coming violently down a hill: it makes a great noise, because there is nothing in it.” There has to be the right underlying motive to make any gift serve God’s purpose.

Paul’s first connection between gifts and love addressed speaking in tongues, but he quickly widened the requirement that all gifts be based on love. “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.” The Corinthian Christians missed the motive and the goal of the gifts, making them their own goal. Paul draws the attention back to love. God gave and continues to give gifts for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. And the very foundation of that body and the work it is called to do is love.

Paul really shows how important love is when he tells the church that even if they had faith that would move mountains, which Jesus has said could happen if one had the faith of a mustard seed, even if they had that kind of faith – without love it would mean nothing. That kind of faith would be amazing and beyond what the church had seen. It still would be today. But without love – it is worthless. The very foundation of faith in God and His Kingdom is built on love. A man with that kind of faith can move great mountains, but he will set them down right in the path of somebody else – or right on somebody else – if he doesn’t have love.

Some believe gifts are a sign of being filled with the Spirit. But the truth is, gifts are not the measure – love is. It isn’t an issue of love versus the gifts. A church should never be forced to choose between love and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul is emphasizing the focus and goal of the gifts: love, not the gifts for their own sake. It is love that trumps all else and having gifts, without love, will lead to outcomes that are not aligned with God’s purpose.

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