Summary: We learn that Christian love is the most important of all the gifts from God. We are called to pursue love, without which all of our spiritual gifts amount to nothing.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of spiritual gifts. Let’s learn about more about that in a message I am calling, “Love - Part 1.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:7:
31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:7)
About a year after living in this country as a foreign student, a fellow student took me on a trip from Chicago to Philadelphia. He did all the driving and I was the navigator. He gave me a map and told me to guide him from Chicago to Philadelphia. Things went reasonably well on the interstate. However, as soon as we got to the outskirts of Philadelphia, I had a very difficult time navigating because I was unfamiliar with the map and the roads.
Years later after I had become familiar with this country and also with maps, I had a much better time navigating from one place to another. Now, when planning a trip, I study the map and decide which route is the best one to take, and then follow it.
In today’s chapter, the apostle Paul continued to talk about spiritual gifts. He had, as it were, invited the Corinthians to look at a map. They were traveling with little understanding about where they were going. Paul called them to examine their situation in order to find the best way to exercise their spiritual gifts.
Paul was in fact in the middle of a discussion about spiritual gifts. Chapters 12 – 14 are a discussion about spiritual gifts. Even though chapter 13 is often called “the love chapter,” it is not in fact a description of marital love. Instead, it is description of spiritual gifts that are motivated by love.
The Corinthians were interested in personal fulfillment and prestige. They were not interested in building up their brothers and sisters in Christ. In this chapter, Paul gave them a new orientation toward life that focused on putting other people first. He taught them to love, knowing that if they loved one another rightly, they would use their spiritual gifts properly.
If there is any similarity between ancient Corinth and our modern-day church, it lies in our failure to love one another well. In fact, by many accounts we are often worse than the Corinthians. They had at least managed to stay united, in spite of the many abuses that were taking place in their fellowship. Today, most Christians are so self-centered that if we don’t get our way, we simply go to the church down the street. We do not place others first, and we certainly do not commit ourselves to loving others in the way that Paul teaches.
So, in our lesson today, we learn that Christian love is the most important of all the gifts from God. We are called to pursue love, without which all of our spiritual gifts amount to nothing.
Let’s learn about this as follows:
1. The Preeminence of Love (12:31)
2. The Necessity of Love (13:1-3)
3. The Characteristics of Love (13:4-7)
I. The Preeminence of Love (12:31)
First, notice the preeminence of love.
Paul introduced chapter 13 with the last verse in chapter 12. He said in 1 Corinthians 12:31: “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
Paul encouraged the Corinthians to earnestly desire the higher gifts. He acknowledged that some gifts were more visible than others. He also recognized that the Corinthians were abusing spiritual gifts by being enamored with some of them and looking down at Christians who did not possess them.
Paul was about to show the Corinthians a still more excellent way to live as a Christian in the body of Christ.
It would be difficult to overemphasize Paul’s commitment to love among Christians. Love was to guide believers in the way in which they worship God. Love was to guide husbands and wives in their relationship to each other. Love was to guide Christians in the way they participate in the Lord’s Supper. Love was to guide believers in restricting their freedom for the sake of others.