The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 13
(Part 2)

In last week’s article we introduced the general purpose of 1 Corinthians. This was essential in order to fully comprehend the purpose and intent of chapter 13. Considering that there had been divisions forming within the congregation in Corinth, Paul was combating the disposition to divide them-selves along the lines of their favorite teachers. As was mentioned in that article, other forms of divisions were manifesting themselves, particularly in their regard of certain gifts of the Holy Spirit, those miraculous manifestations which were intended, not to divide the church, but to serve in edification, in unifying all members of the body of Christ, and would serve the purpose of obtaining a unity of faith.

In the last verse of chapter 12, having shown that there were several gifts which were given through the laying on of his hands, and that, although there being a diversity of gifts, all came from the same Spirit, Paul now introduces the next point: that there are three things which are more excellent and more powerful than the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor. 12:31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

Of course, to covet the possessions of our neighbor is a sin. In fact, covetousness is equated to idolatry.

Col 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
Eph 5:3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;

That they were to covet the best gifts only means that they were to desire them. In chapter 14 Paul shows that there are certain gifts which lend them-selves more toward edifying the whole congregation, and some which would provide more edification to the individual who had a particular gift. It would be shown that those gifts which affect the greater number of saints were considered to be a greater gift.

In particular, the speaking of tongues which, through its use, made evident that this was a power which came from God. Yet, Paul puts it in its proper perspective, in that even as great a demonstration it might be, and that the one exhibiting this ability was certainly given that gift from the Holy Spirit, its use benefited the user more than the rest of the congregation. Paul instructed them that it was prophesying which benefited the entire congregation, and therefore was a greater gift.

1 Cor. 14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for great is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

Now, to discuss the importance of the gifts relative to a more excellent way, chapter 13 shows the necessity of love as a motivating factor in the use of any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor. 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

These two verses show us just how empty any of the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit are when considered alone, without being accompanied with love (charity). Whereas, in our own English language, we use one word, “love,” to refer to a multitude of concepts (i.e. friendship, brotherly attachment, romance, and so forth), the original language in which the New Testament was written (Greek) uses four different words to uniquely identify the form of love to which the author meant. Irrespective of what our common use of the term “charity” has come to be known (as alms for those in need), the translators of the King James version used the term “charity” to refer to that form of love which transcends all others. It is better than the love we hold toward our family, our friends, and even our own spouse. It is a kind of love which, regardless of how we might feel toward someone, is tempered by our intellect, our will, and our resolve to work toward those ends which are best for the one to whom this love is directed. It is the kind of love God has for His own creation; the kind of love which motivated Him to give His only-begotten son.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Verse 4 continues further, not with miraculous gifts, but with great works one might do as evidence for his faith in God. Jesus taught us that we should not focus so much on the laying up for ourselves treasures on this earth, but focus primarily upon the accumulation of treasures in heaven. Why? Because:

Matt 6:21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

In bestowing all of one’s goods to feed the poor, one would be storing up treasures in heaven. However, considering 1 Cor. 13:3, to do so without love would not benefit him at all: if one has no love, then no treasure is stored. Even if one would die the martyr's death, if it were not motivated by love, then that death would be meaningless.

This all sets the stage, so to speak, for the discussion of the intended longevity of the miraculous gifts. With a proper appreciation for this, then the eventual discontinuing of them is not difficult to understand nor to accept.

Curtis A. Little, Royse City, TX
Curtis A. Little
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