If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
This is the beginning of what so many people call “the love chapter”. It is comprised of some of the most beautiful prose ever written, it is quoted in most weddings, so many people say it is their very favorite of all Bible passages, but it is really about spiritual gifts, more than it is about love. Remember that we are in the middle of a three-chapter section in this letter in which Paul is dealing with misunderstandings about spiritual gifts, and love is not a spiritual gift.
No sir, love is a commandment:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
In our three verses, Paul mentions love 3 times, but in those same verses, he mentions 5 spiritual gifts, and his very obvious point in writing is that it is more important to have love than any manifestation of the Spirit. The real question we should be asking ourselves is why did he feel it necessary to make this point?
If we have been reading through this letter, we already know the answer: There was division in the Corinthian church along socio-economic lines. The people were proud and liked to show off their lofty positions. They also enjoyed showing off their intellectual sophistication. Of course, they would prize spiritual gifts that tended to place them in “the front of the room” as they taught in strange tongues, showed off their great knowledge, wisdom and discernment, or while they spoke prophetically.
Yet while they may have been quite gifted, they appear to have lacked one of the very fundamentals of the faith, for they lacked love. That lack has been on display for us in each of the sections we have covered thus far.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Looking at these verses, we see a whole list of attributes that the people in Corinth had in abundance, but that are not a part of the way of love. Sad to say, the attributes that Paul mentions here are all too common in human society, but to follow Jesus Christ is not to follow the ways of men, it is to follow the way of love.