A favorite passage of many mothers and a common passage choice for weddings, 1 Cor 12:31-13:13 is actually written for a much broader concern. This hymn to love is written in the context of a discussion about Spiritual gifts. Each and every Christian has a Spiritual gift from God and the hymn to love shows that those gifts are worthless apart from love. So the passage applies to our marriages, but it also applies to every situation and relationship in the church. There are actually two groups of three Spiritual gifts: the lower Spiritual gifts are prophecy, tongues, and utterances of knowledge (temporary gifts) and the higher Spiritual gifts are love, hope, and faith (permanent gifts). (Next time we will see that within the lower gifts prophecy is the most important.) And here we can see that within the higher gifts love is the most important. Love is one Spiritual gift that every Christian can have and also is indispensible for using any other.
The recording device ran out of space before the end of the sermon…the rest of the sermon text is below:
There is a hierarchy of Spiritual gifts and one that every Christian can have.
Paul opens this section saying, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts and I will show you a still more excellent way.” Actually this obscures a translation challenge. The word being translated more excellent is often used to intensify something but here it would be intensifying the word translated “way.” But it is weird to think of an “extremely way.” Ken Bailey notes that the word also can refer to a mountain pass. So Paul is giving us directions for a journey over a mountain pass. The metaphor is then developed throughout the passage by talking about higher gifts, faith that removes mountains, love that never falls – the ESV says ends, the NIV says fails – but literally the word is falls, and then the end of the passage where Paul again says that the highest of these is love. We might say that the way of love is taking the high road. In fact Paul has two lists of Spiritual gifts in this passage – those that are temporary: prophecy, tongues, and knowledge; and those that are permanent: love, faith and hope. And the temporary gifts are the lower gifts and the permanent gifts are the higher gifts and even within the higher gifts the Spiritual gift of love is the highest.
And not only is love the highest of the higher gifts but it is one that every Christian can have. Paul had made the point before that not every Christian is an apostle, or a prophet, or a teacher, or works miracles, or speaks in tongues. God has arranged the members in the body as He chose. But every Christian can have the highest Spiritual gift – the gift of love for others.
Indeed, love is not just a description of how many of our mothers treated us but it is the highest Spiritual gift and a permanent gift necessary for any other Spiritual gift to matter. Some of those temporary Spiritual gifts have already ended. But Paul was writing to people who were tempted at the time to say that they were more Spiritual than many because, for example, they had the gift of speaking in tongues. This was not very loving. And Paul says that none of the gifts are useful apart from the gift of love. If you speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love you are a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, if you have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have all faith so as to remove mountains but have not love, you are nothing. So whether one of the lower Spiritual gifts or even one of the other higher Spiritual gifts if not accompanied by the Spiritual gift of love for others it is empty. Our Spiritual gifts build one another up because they are used with the gift of love. But if one used a Spiritual gift for evangelism without love, it would not be very helpful. If someone were able to use the Spiritual gift of encouragement without love, it would not be very encouraging. If someone were to use a Spiritual gift for helping those in need without love, it would not be very welcome. If someone uses a Spiritual gift for teaching or preaching without love, it would not build up the saints for the work of ministry. Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love your moms today and all those who have been like a mom to you in the faith. But always use your Spiritual gifts in love just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Love one another as if you are loving yourself because together you are the body of Christ.