Paul was led to teach the Corinthians about spiritual gifts and also the diversity of such gifts among the church. Now the apostle focuses on love, the most powerful gift of all and that which the gospel is based on.
“1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)
Describing spiritual gifts are useless, much like a sounding brass or clanging cymbal which would fall short of melodious on their own without other harmonious instruments, Paul declares love, from the Greek “agapē” which translates to “charitable love” more powerful than any other spiritual gift.
“2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)
For the benefit of the believers in Corinth, Paul describes a person without love as “nothing” in spite of their gift or prophesy, wisdom and knowledge. It is through love Christians were redeemed and with love we are to fulfill our mission according to God’s perfect plan.
“3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)
All the good deeds in the world, even those bases on generosity, without love mean nothing to God. The law of Christ which replaced that of Moses is based on this love described by Paul. Love for our Creator. Love for Christ. Love for our neighbors. Without this love we are nothing.
“4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Paul describes the qualities of love and its power on those who embrace and cultivate it. This Christ like love is at the root of great things and the enemy of no one. The apostle describes “agapē” is blind love aimed at glorifying God rather than those who benefit from this faith driven charity.
“8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8)
Declaring the love of Christ as never ending, Paul compares this everlasting love to finite spiritual gifts he mentioned earlier in his letter to the Corinthians. The apostle’s goal was to inspire believers in Corinth to focus more on love rather than any other gift.
“9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-11)
The apostle point out the fact spiritual gifts were among them for a time until that which is perfect, or the word of God which is the completed bible containing both the old and new testaments has come. At such time believers would rely more on love as spiritual gifts would be “done away with” as part of Paul’s prophecy.-
“12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)
Using a mirror in his analogy, which was then made of polished metal producing a darker, less distinct image than mirrors of today, Paul compares believers’ sight of God as faint compared to that which would become clearer upon Christ’ return.
In this section of his letter to the believers in Corinth, the apostle Paul points to charitable love, agape as the most important spiritual gift of all. We should remember this and apply Paul’s teaching in our lives as we continue to walk the narrow path that leads to eternal life. Let us pray!