If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. –1 Corinthians 13:1-2
Paul spends 1 Corinthians 12 talking about gifts and abilities that the Holy Spirit imparts to build up the Body of Christ. These are supernatural releases that don’t come from earthly origins or means, and the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church to go after these gifts.
But earnestly desire and zealously cultivate the greatest and best gifts and graces (the higher gifts and the choicest graces). And yet I will show you a still more excellent way [one that is better by far and the highest of them all—love]. –1 Corinthians 12:31 (AMP)
Even gifts imparted by the Spirit of God are to be cultivated and desired, to edify and encourage other believers and establish the Church. Some people take this verse to mean, however, that gifts are all right–they are secondary, but what you really need is love (perhaps following a Beatle’s template there). And if I understand Francis Chan’s quote here (from Forgotten God) talking about 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, this may be how he feels as well.
This passage is so powerful because Paul redirects the focus from supernatural gifts to love. He specifically says that without love, speaking “in the tongues of men and of angels” and “prophetic powers” and understanding “all mysteries and all knowledge” mean nothing. The Holy Spirit is the one who fills believers with God’s love and the one who enables us to love one another.
I agree in the sense that running after a gift or insight or revelation for your own benefit will ultimately produce nothing, but I don’t think Paul is shifting focus away from spiritual gifts as he is continuing to clarify what he’s already said. Why go through all the exposition of spiritual gifts and the Body, telling them to eagerly desire the greater gifts, and then completely negate it in the next section of his letter? I believe what He’s saying is the “more excellent way” that he is showing is to express these gifts through love. In other words, these gifts are intended as a means for expressing the love of God. Jesus lived a life full of the Holy Spirit and power. He certainly loved people everywhere He went. How did He express the deep compassion He would feel? He would speak and teach. He would heal sick people. He would deliver those bound by the evil one. Loving the world, loving the Church through and with the gifts the Holy Spirit gives–that is what Jesus modeled, what the disciples then modeled, and what is expected of us today. I don’t say that flippantly. I can’t even say that I like it all that much. I would rather be able to love in other ways (i.e., more comfortable ways), but then it probably wouldn’t be the Holy Spirit. He is the only One who makes the difference here. They’re His gifts and through Him, we love in all the incredible ways 1 Corinthians 13 goes on to explain. As scary as it is, I want supernatural gifts and I want love–until when people who meet me and forced to encounter the greatness of God and His love toward them.
That’s the focus.
How about you? Do you see a diverging in these two chapters or a uniting? Why or why not? (Please don’t feel any compulsion to agree with me. I love respectful discussion).
Welcome to Chapter 4 of our book club discussion of Forgotten God (disclosure) by Francis Chan. We are taking a sentence, paragraph, or passage that inspires, encourages, or challenges and writing about it. We’re covering a chapter a week. If you have a response on your blog, add the link to the widget below. Either way, head over to my friend and co-facilitator, Sarah Salter’s blog for her thoughts.
Whether you’ve read the chapter or not, please dive into the conversation!