After a long discussion and explanation on the importance of the different gifts God gives and how all are needed for the Body of Christ to function fully, Paul wraps chapter twelve up with an important segue.
“But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
~1 Corinthians 12:31
Contrary to what some people believe, Paul actually encourages and exhorts us to pursue and desire the “higher” gifts and be actively involved in using the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit to the build the Church of Jesus. Yet at the same time, he wants to make sure that we have the correct motivation and attitude in using these God-given abilities. While the gifts of the Spirit are wonderful, by themselves they are rather useless. They must be accompanied by love, which is the more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 13 is so often taken out of context. Frequently used in the context of marriage and other familial relationships, the actual context Paul wrote this passage in is that of the Church. While the truths about love apply to all relationships, the situation Paul had in mind when writing by the Holy Spirit’s leading was that of the community of believers—a group of people with different opinions, unique spiritual gifts, and distinct personalities. As we’ve seen in previous chapters, the Corinthian church had some issues. They were divided and polarized on various topics and issues. The unity that Jesus desired for His followers and prayed for was not a reality in Corinth.
Therefore, throughout this book Paul issues strong exhortations to fight for unity and restore the fellowship of the saints. And here in 1 Corinthians 13, he gives them the foundation and vital ingredient for unity in the church: love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
~1 Corinthians 13:1-3
The gifts of the Spirit are good and beneficial in building up the body of Christ; however, Paul makes it very clear that without love they are useless. Love is the glue that binds us to each other. Without love, the simple truth is that we are nothing. No matter how gifted someone is, without love their gifts and abilities do not build up and, therefore, have no benefit to the body of Christ.
Love must be our first goal. It is the more excellent way and the great gift we could give one another. According to Jesus, the two greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor. If we master this, everything else will fall into place.
But does that mean that the gifts of the Spirit are obsolete? Absolutely not! Paul is not saying that love is ultimate and, therefore, the supernatural gifts God gives are irrelevant. Rather, he’s emphasizing the point that regardless of which gifts you have or how good you are at different things, if you don’t first have love the gifts are of no use. Therefore, the more excellent way is love first and from this place of genuine love the spiritual gifts can naturally flow forth as God intended.
But what does this love look like? How do we love in a way that brings unity and peace?
We’ll look at answers to these questions next time, but in the meantime, let us desire the spiritual gifts but always prioritize love first so that we may walk in the more excellent way.
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