THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL
Lord, I truly desire the best gifts.
Read 1 CORINTHIANS 12:31b–13:13
Love Is Indispensable
And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
13 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. 2 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. 3 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.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
New International Version (NIV)
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Meditate for a minute on verse 12. One day the capacity for our personal knowledge and understanding will defy measurement.
So we come to the sublime! However, we must resist the temptation to treat this chapter as a detachment from its context in Corinth and the struggles of the Christian community whom Paul has been addressing. While this wonderful poem takes a different literary form from what has preceded it, every aspect of the description of love in these verses relates directly to Paul’s concerns about the aforementioned divisions in the church. The connection becomes obvious in the opening reference to the gifts of tongues and prophecy, but the discussion moves on to a deeper level. Paul goes to the heart of the problem by insisting on the emptiness and futility of the gifts of the Spirit apart from love when used for purposes of self-aggrandizement.
It is important to note that, although the misuse of particular charismatic gifts is a central concern of Paul’s letter, he is also clear that there are forms of theological knowledge which, in the absence of love, may be used to boost our egos at the expense of others in the church. Perhaps the most striking of all the statements in these verses is the contrast between present knowledge, which is partial, dim and childish, and that knowledge accompanying the unveiling of ultimate reality when we “see face to face” (9–12). Christians on both sides of the modern divide between charismatic and non-charismatic traditions would do well to heed the warnings of this overly familiar chapter. As Lewis Smedes (1921–2002), author of Love within Limits: Realizing Selfless Love in a Selfish World, says, “The Corinthians assumed anybody could love but only special people spoke in tongues or knew the secrets of God: Paul knew better. An ‘ordinary’ person, set in motion by another person’s need, is in a class with God. The gifts that put a person on stage are second-class. This gift [love] is always absolute; the others will someday be obsolete.”
Re-read this chapter prayerfully, seeking deeper knowledge of the love that “never fails” (8).
Lord, allow me to traffic in the caliber of love that You have for Your people so that I can operate as a better reflection of You.