(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Over my last few posts I have discussed the ministry gifts and spiritual gifts that are given to both individuals and to the church. These gifts are given for the purpose of building up either the individual or the church body as a whole.
The spiritual gifts are very important. They are critical to the growth and maturity of the church when they are operating correctly.
However, spiritual gifts are not the MOST important thing. They are not the be-all and end-all of the walk we have in Jesus Christ. Paul shows this after discussing the gifts in the previous chapter, which he finishes by saying, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” So let us now look at what could be better and what is “more excellent” even than the gifts of the holy spirit.
Putting Gifts In Perspective
The “more excellent way” that Paul discusses here is the way of love. Not love as mankind considers it, but rather the love of God, for God's love is the most powerful force in existence.
First up though, Paul gives us a comparison between various of the gifts of the spirit and love. Look at his words here.
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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. 3 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)
In the previous chapter Paul shows how important the gifts of the spirit are. Likewise I have spent the past few posts looking at the importance of the spiritual gifts both for the individual and the church.
But in comparison to finding and learning how to live in the love of God, all of these spiritual gifts are meaningless and next to useless. The main reason for saying this is that when the Lord returns and establishes His kingdom, these gifts will not be necessary. They are essential now while we live here and await His return, but when all is accomplished and we live with God, the gifts will not be needed. Only love remains for only love is eternal.
Look at his first comparison above which talks about speaking in tongues. I have spent some time in my recent posts, as well as some older posts, discussing the importance and the value of this gift, especially as it applies to individual worship and the ability to use it to walk in the spirit.
I have also said in most of those posts that while speaking in tongues is valuable and has a purpose in helping us grow and be transformed into the image of God, you do not need speaking in tongues for salvation. Conversely, if you do have the gift of tongues, it does not guarantee you will be saved.
And this is the point Paul makes here too. When he says in verse 1,
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
What Paul is saying that even those who have tongues if they do not also have love, are just making a lot of noise. To speak with the tongues of men may mean those who speak, teach, preach and make great orations either in or out of the church. And those who speak in the tongues of angels are those who have the gift of speaking in tongues, which Paul certainly did, as did the rest of the apostles and others in the early church. So too many people today have this gift.
But to do either of those things without doing it in the love of God is just so much noise. It is like blathering on noisily but without a heart for what is being said or done.
And it is the same with the other gifts Paul mentions in this section; prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, insight, faith and so on. Even giving away all your earthly goods as good deeds or giving up your life as a martyr is pointless and meaningless if there is no love involved.
Finding God's Love
By comparison with finding the way of God's love and learning how to live in His love there is nothing. Only love lasts. Love is the penultimate aim of our lives in and with Christ Jesus. As the Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ, who is in the image of God the Father, we are being transformed into the image of love since God is love.
Yes, prophecy, tongues, knowledge, faith, selfless giving and all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are important. But they pale in comparison with love. The gifts are meant to bring us to understand love and to teach us the ways of God's love. They are meant to help us transform into love and we need every one of the gifts as we continue our walk with Christ.
But the gifts will not ensure salvation and they will not commend us to God in any way.
Also do not think that if love is the only thing that is necessary, then why bother with the gifts or anything else. Why not just love everybody and leave it go at that? And I have heard these words actually spoken.
But how will a man know what love is? How can a man understand the depths of the love of God unless God shows him? And how will God show man His love unless that man comes to God as He wants us to, seeking His ways, which includes seeking the gifts that enable the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ who is the image of God who is love?
We can only find the fulness of the love of God in God Himself and in Jesus Christ. Jesus came to show us the example of God's love in the life He led while on the earth, and there has never been another man walk the face of the earth before or since that could compare to Christ.
So if we want to find the true love of God, we must find Jesus who is the image of love. And to find the love of God shown to us in Jesus, we must follow Jesus and learn to walk as He walked.
We cannot do this alone. We need the gifts of the spirit and the Holy Spirit himself to guide, protect and show us the way. It is in finding the way of the Lord Jesus Christ that we find the love of God. And it is by using the gifts of God which He freely bestows on those who seek them sincerely that we find the pathway of God's love.
The Power of Love
So while the power of the gifts, especially the miraculous gifts, seems amazing, it is the power of love that lasts. It is the power of love that transforms and changes people taking them from the evil of this world into the kingdom of God.
It is the power of God's love that lifts us out of depression, despair, heartache, pain, suffering and sorrow into the joy of the Lord. It is the power of love that up builds us when we are falling or fallen. It is the power of love that forgives our sins, for grace is the power of God's love.
All of the gifts and the working of them in our hearts and our lives, are powered by God's love. When we use the gift of speaking in tongues for instance, to walk in spirit while we are under attack or feeling low, it is the power of God's love that lifts us up as we walk in the spirit, turning the problems over to the Lord and humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God.
It is the power of God's love that restores us after we have been through disciplinary situations where we are being taught how to live and how to behave in all circumstances so that we will be made ready to live in harmony with each other as we enter God's kingdom.
All of the gifts of God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us in love, and they are all powered and operated through the Holy Spirit in love.
I am sure this is why Paul says elsewhere
“The love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14)
for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. – (2 Timothy 1:7)
And yet again;
God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – (Romans 5:5)
All the gifts and working of God are powered by His love. How could they not be since God IS love? And it is only love that lasts, which we will cover in the next few posts. Love is eternal but the gifts of the spirit are not, for there is a time coming when they will no longer be needed. But love will ALWAYS be needed and for now we need the gifts to lead us to understand and learn how to love as God first loved us.