1 Corinthians 13–14: Love & The Gifts

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 15: Sunday

But you earnestly desire the greater gifts.
And I will yet show you a more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 12:31 LSB

Sunday’s Bible reading of 1 Corinthians 13–14. continues  Paul’s discussion on spiritual gifts. Now in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 he concentrates solely on spiritual gifts and their practice in the church, but right in the middle is chapter 13, a chapter that puts the gifts into perspective. The introduction to chapter 13 is in the last half of 12:31, And I will yet show you a more excellent way. What is the more excellent way of chapter 13?

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind, is not jealous, does not brag, is not puffed up; it does not act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered; it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails, but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. When I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
But now abide faith, hope, love⁠—these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13 LSB

In the first paragraph Paul lists some of the spiritual gifts he has mentioned in chapter 12, and he makes the same point over and over again about all of them; Don Carson titles verses 1–3, “The Indispensability of Love,” and writes:

“In the context of these three chapters [12–14] , the point of Paul’s argument in these verses is clear. He says, in effect: You who think that because you speak in tongues you are so spiritual, you who prove your large endowment from the Holy Spirit by exercising the gift of prophecy, you must understand that you have overlooked what is most important. By themselves, your spiritual gifts attest nothing spiritual about you. And you who prefer to attest your rich privilege in the Holy Spirit by works of philanthropy, you must learn that philanthropy apart from Christian love says nothing about your experience with God. You remain spiritually bankrupt, a spiritual nothing, if love does not characterize your exercise of whatever grace-gift God has assigned you.

“In none of these instances does Paul depreciate spiritual gifts, but he refuses to recognize any positive assessment of any of them unless the gift is discharged in love.”1

As Paul goes on to describe love in the next paragraph, he gives us characteristics we all can see and recognize, but that obviously flow from within—from a changed mind and heart. They are things that can’t be faked; they are so evidently true that they are self-authenticating.

Paul makes a further comparison between love and spiritual gifts by affirming that love never fails, but all of the spiritual gifts will—they will all cease. He concludes with his famous triad: faith, hope, love… but the greatest of these is love.

In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul turns to discussing specific gifts of speech. The chapter begins with Paul saying, Pursue love. James 3 speaks of the dangers of the tongue and the damage it can do. Gifts of speech are easily used for self-gratification and easily lead to being puffed-up. Spiritual gifts are not given for our self-conceit, but to help each other. Notice how concerned Paul is the Corinthians build each other up. He uses the word edification four times in chapter 14 in vv. 3, 5, 12, 26. In verse 26 he writes, Let all things be done for edification.

Anthony Thiselton comments:

“The key to an accurate understanding of Paul’s arguments and declarations in this chapter depends on a full appreciation of two factors initially. (a) vv. 1–25 relate integrally to what Paul has said about love in 13:1–13; (b) vv. 24–40 reflect the concerns about differentiation and ordering which Paul has expounded in 12:4–31. The first section concerns respect for the needs of others which characterize the activity of God himself as one God, one Lord, and one Spirit (12:4–6).

“(a) Each stage of argument in 14:1–25 focuses on the building up of the other. This not only reflects back on 13:1–13 but also on concern for “the brother or sister for whom Christ died” in 8:7–13…

“(b) Paul summarizes the position about worshp by insisting that the congregation cannot simply leave everything to supposed “inspiration” or to “spontaneity” alone. This leads simply to anarchy, whereas it is the nature of God, and of the Spirit of God, to bring “order” or “peace” out of chaos or “disorder…

“…the chapter as a whole places the issue of concern for the other and communcative intelligibility at the center of the discussion.”2

Thiselton notes the themes of “controlled speech” and “order.”3 He also points out:

“In OT Wisdom literature “A person of knowledge uses words with restraint” (Prov 17:27), while unethical, wicked people are characterized by “a loose mouth” (cf. Ps 50:19; 59:7; Prov 25:28).”4

Paul closes by saying:

But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
1 Corinthians 14:40 LSB

Remember your gifts are not evidence of your spiritual maturity. Rather pursue love, and let all things be done for edification.

Love is “The Mark of a Christian.”

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34–35 LSB

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Heart: [foto & Concept by paul b. toman]. Plismo. (CC BY 3.0).
1D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI: 1987) 60–61.
2Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapid MI: 2000) 1074–1075, 1146, 1131–1132.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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