The most excellent way
The church in first-century Corinth was plagued with social divisions and rivalries.
Paul explained to them that God gives different people different abilities—not so that some people can exalt themselves over others, but so that everyone will work together for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). No one is self-sufficient, and no one is unnecessary.
Near the end of chapter 12, he again explains that God appoints different roles in the church. He asks, Is everyone in the church an apostle? Of course not, he
implies. It’s silly to expect everyone to have the same role (vv. 28-30).
Nevertheless, some gifts are better than others, and Paul encourages the Corinthians to “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (v. 31). But even if they get better gifts, how are they to use them? He explains: “And now I will show you the most excellent way.”
This superior pathway, he says in chapter 13, is the way of love. Love is not a gift that some people have and others don’t—it is the way in which all gifts should be used. This is what the Corinthians needed most. Indeed, without love, all the other gifts were pointless.
Without love, we are nothing (verses 1-3) Paul begins with the spiritual gift that the Corinthians valued the most: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” No matter how special the words are, if they aren’t helping anyone, they are just noise.
“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 have not love, I am nothing.”
Eloquent preaching, deep wisdom and strong faith are all wasted if they are not being used to help others.
“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Even great sacrifices, if done for selfish purposes, fail to do anything for us. Selfish actions, no matter how good they appear on the outside, do not improve our standing in the eyes of God.
A description of love (verses 4-8)
Real love is not proven through spectacular performances. Rather, it is demonstrated in much smaller things we do in everyday life: “Love is patient,
love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”
This is a description of God himself, and this is the life that the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy with one another. This is the life God wants us to enjoy forever—
and the life he wants us to have now, as well.
Love “is not rude,” Paul says. “It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
God encourages us to participate in this life now: freed of selfishness, fits of anger and grudges.
The reason that God wants us to live this way is because this is the way God already is. He does not keep a record of wrongs—he has already forgiven us for everything we’ve done. He does not tell us to do something he has not already done himself.
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Unfortunately, we often fail. Paul is describing a way that we, of ourselves,
cannot achieve. But Christ in us has already achieved it, and God wants us to participate with Christ in his perfect life by trusting him and letting him live in us.
Dr. Michael Morrison teaches classes in the New Testament at
Grace Communion Seminary. More information about the seminary can be found at gcs.ambassador.edu.
Reprinted with the kind permission of Christian Odyssey