Summary: In today's lesson we learn that, because of its enduring quality, love is God's greatest gift. It contrast to love's permanence, spiritual gifts are temporary, partial, and elementary.
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 2.” This is a continuation of a message that I began three weeks ago.
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13, although I shall be focusing today on verses 8-13:
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.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 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. 12 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.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13)
Chapter 13 in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians is often called “the love chapter.” And although it gives us a wonderful description of love, it is not fundamentally about marital or sentimental love. Chapters 12 – 14 are a discussion of spiritual gifts, and chapter 13 in the middle of this discussion.
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.
I would like to review briefly what we covered last time. In our last lesson we learned 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.
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 was about to show the Corinthians a still more excellent way to live as a Christian in the body of Christ. And that still more excellent way is the way of love.
II. The Necessity of Love (13:1-3)
Second, let’s look at the necessity of love.
As we move into chapter 13, it is important to note again that Paul was talking about the way in which Christians exercise their spiritual gifts. Chapter 13 is not about sentimental love. It is about the necessity of love in the exercise of our spiritual gifts.
The six conditional statements in verses 1-3 each follow the same basic structure: “If I have this particular gift, but have not love, then I am nothing.” In essence, Paul said that a particular gift is useless without love. Let’s see how he put it.