V1-3 Love is essential
- Recapping what we saw in chapter 12,
what is good about tongues and prophecy and other gifts?
- How can they be totally devalued, according to v1-3?
- How does this challenge the Corinthian lust for gifts?
- How must our priorities about gifts / love change?
Paul begins by speaking about tongues, prophecy and self-sacrifice. All of them he says are nothing without love. We've just heard of the great good of gifts and of serving one another, but now we find that these can all be nullified if one essential thing is missing. Love is essential. This also means that self-sacrifice is not the definition of love, a notion that would be popular today.
These are challenging words – forcing me to examine my motivation. If I am a Christian Union Staff Worker but have not love... If I blog but have not love... These are uncomfortable words. Yet Paul is showing Corinth, and us, the most excellent way. He's not saying pack up shop, give up, quit. Corinth is in chaos but Paul teaches them a better way.
v4-8 Love is edifying
- Who does love benefit?
- What does love do?
- How does this challenge the Corinthians? (see 5v2, 10v24)
- What difference would it make if people exercised gifts in love?
Only when gifts are exercised for the common good are they of any benefit. And Paul intends for ministry to happen – he intends for us to get stuck in and to love. This standard of love is not beyond reach. Rather, as 14v1 says it is something to pursue. Go for love. Go for love.
v9-13 Love is eternal
- What is the difference between gifts
(prophecy/tongues/knowledge etc) and love here?
- Why do we need gifts now? (9)
When do all gifts cease? (9)
- Why will they cease? (12)
- Why is love better than gifts?
When the perfect comes then imperfection passes. This is about knowledge of God. When we grow up we put things away, when we are fully grown into Christ then we'll be in heaven. Now we see a poor reflection, but one day we'll see face to face. This doesn't say we'll know everything. It says we'll have unmediated intimacy with God. Knowing fully rather than partially. Knowing face to face.
It's as if now we have a fuzzy black and white TV... and when we gain the High Definition Plasma Screen TV why would we want the old TV? Now we see the true picture partially. One day we'll see more. We'll have relational perfect relationship with God.
Some want to say that the perfect has already come (i.e. In Scripture). But that requires this to be as good as it gets. And the Bible promises us more than the good relationship we experience now. In the meantime let's pursue the gifts on offer to us to know God. And let us do it in love. There is faith, hope and love. But love is the greatest – it remains forever... all else passes away. Without love all else is nothing.
This chapter is a strong rebuke to the proud and self-seeking. And yet again there is no hint of "stop using gifts". Paul has the care of a pastor, the skill of a teacher and says, go for it but do it right. Paul is a reformer, constantly drawing even crazy Christians back to the gospel and gospel living... demonstrating the nature of love.
I'm forced to examine my motives, and then not rest in gloom at spiritual blahness™... but rather to get on my knees and pursue love from God. To pray for help to exercise gifts to confess Jesus as Lord, to grow the body... to benefit others rather than advance my cause. And then to get off my knees and get into relationship with the body of Christ... to take responsibility to love rather than react, to trust rather than suspect, to persevere rather than give up. To suffer together. To rejoice together. When an opportunity to serve comes, particularly one that is in view then I must humbly be examined by God - and my heart needs to be transformed.
Meanwhile, no weddings in view... except perhaps the wedding of heaven. And that is definitely something look forward to.
Section headings borrowed from Mike Kendall, St Neots Evangelical Church.