1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
This passage from 1 Corinthians 13 (commonly referred to as the “love” chapter) should be familiar to most of us. If not, I encourage you to read Chapter 12 and then read Chapter 13 in order to have some additional context for what Paul develops for us in his discourse on brotherly love. In Chapter 12, Paul focuses on the spiritual gifts and how these are to operate within the Church (Body of Christ). He discusses and comments on the diversity of gifts appropriated by the Holy Spirit to believers, but emphasizes the unity and wholeness their exercise should create for the benefit of all believers. Paul finishes his thoughts and instructions on these matters by encouraging believers to desire spiritual gifting for the edification of the Church … but then remarks in 1 Corinthians 12: 31 … “And yet, I will show you the most excellent way.”
The most excellent way to what? In the context of Chapter 12, Paul moves on in Chapter 13 the most excellent way for believers to work together and use their individual giftings for the Church. These opening verses set the stage regarding the preeminence of love in our relationships. One or more manifestations of the Spirit are given to each of us for the common good. So regardless of which manifestation has been determined and distributed to each of us according to the Holy Spirit, it has not been given for the purpose of “personal benefit.” In other words, your spiritual gift(s) or roles (offices within the Church) are not for your personal edification or glory. If sincere love is not the highest motivating factor for exercising spiritual gifts, then Paul asserts our gifts will accomplish very little of value to the community of believers. To be sure, we are called to operate in our gifts for the Church, but loving one another is the only reason they were given in the first place. Without love in our hearts, the gifts of the Spirit are essentially useless in effectuating the common good: developing, discipling, equipping, encouraging, or ministering to the community of believers.
Paul will continue to provide some practical definitions for love to give us essential references on how love will manifest itself through our spiritual giftings, but I will save that for our next lesson….