(iii) SECTION THREE: The Most Excellent Way (13:1-13)

Map of Corinth / Map of Corinth's Location / Picture of the Temple of Apollo / Outline Chart/ Read The Letter

1 Cor 13:1-13

1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

2And 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, but have not love, I am nothing.

3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

4Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;

5does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;

6does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;

7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

9For we know in part and we prophesy in part.

10But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

11When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

13And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


As we have seen from 12:31 the 'most excellent way' is above and beyond what Paul was asking for in chapter 12 (i.e. a use of the variety of gifts in a healthy way just as a healthy body functions). The way that is over and above this target Paul has set is that all be done in 'agape' LOVE.

Not only were the Corinthians abusing their God-given gifts by concentrating on one above the rest and making it a sign of spiritual maturity, they were missing the whole point of God giving the gifts - He gives the gifts in love and expects them to be used in love!

Chapter 13 is a beautiful description of true love and may be seen in three parts...

(1) The Priority of Love (verses 1-3):

Paul starts off his famous exposition on love by hitting the nail on the head - the Corinthians has been elevating the gift of Tongues above the rest and misusing it. They were not mixing it with 'agape' love.

What are the three types of love and how do they differ ? Click here for the answer.

In verse one Paul states that we may speak in Tongues (of men - recognizable dialects used in the world today - and of angels - supernatural languages not normally used on earth) but without love! This is what the Corinthians were doing.

If we do the same, we become as 'sounding brass' or 'clanging symbols'. Click on these words in the verse above to see their meaning the the original Greek and find out what Paul is really saying. You will notice that Paul's main notion is that they enter into confusion, emptiness and purposelessness when using the gifts without love. They have no certain sound like a clear trumpet blast with a purpose (calling people to war etc..). Think how we can be like that in the church today. How do we misuse the gifts ?

In verse two Paul mentions two more of the gifts that can be misused - prophecy and faith. Without using these gifts in love our actions become as 'nothing'. Click to see the Greek word used and see what Paul is actually saying.

The gift of Prophecy is to forth tell or foretell the word of God so as to edify, comfort and encourage the body of Christ. It may be misused by speaking it forth with a judgemental attitude and in a condemning tone that has no love mixed with it. Many prophecies have been uttered without love and they accomplish NOTHING!

In verse three Paul moves away from Spiritual Gifts to actions of Christian service. He says that if these are also not mixed with love then again it means NOTHING. How may we help in feeding and clothing the poor and even die for what we believe in but do it without love ? Think on this for a while.

Paul is stating that the main priority in any Christian service is to move in 'agape' love. Without this all we do withers to nothing.

(2) The Character of Love (verses 4-7):

Here, Paul vividly paints a picture of true love. Click below on the meanings of each word that shows part of the nature of love.....

Love is.....longsuffering, kind, forebearing, ever believing, full of hope, enduring and never failing.

Look at each word above and think about how the Corinthians HAD NOT displayed this quality of love in the use of the gifts.

Love is not...envious, self-parading, puffed up, rudely behaved, self-seeking , provoked, evil-thinking and does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth.

Look at each word above and think about how the Corinthians HAD displayed these negative qualities, the opposites of true love.

(3) The Quality Of Love (verses 8-13):

Verses 8-9: All the gifts will eventually vanish and will not be needed but agape love will never fail and vanish. The main quality of love is just that, it will always endure.

Verse 10: The gifts are given only for a season, before that which is perfect comes. Many scholars use this to prove that these gifts (prophecy, tongues etc..) have now ceased as the perfect and complete Word of God (the Bible) is now with us. But is this the meaning of this passage ?

It also says that 'knowledge' will pass away when that which is perfect has come. Has knowledge now passed away ? Obviously not! That which is perfect is the second return of Jesus when the saints will be caught up with Him and have no need for the gifts as they will have fulfilled their purpose (of bringing together the body of Christ and building it into the spotless Bride).

Verse 11: The time when Jesus returns for His Church is likened unto Paul entering manhood from being a child. When he celebrated his 'coming of age' he put away childish activities and entered into the responsibilities of manhood (and into the fullness of his inheritance) . Paul is not saying that the use of the gifts are 'childish' but is using this illustration that we will go through a transformation into the next stage of our spiritual journey. When Jesus returns for us it will be for us to rule and reign with Him in our inheritance (if indeed we have been faithful to His call).

Verse 12-13: Look at the words used here. What is the difference between now and then ? What do now and then refer to ?

Paul shows that all the things the Corinthians are striving for (knowledge and the more spiritual gifts) will not last and are only in 'part'. They must strive instead for true love as that is eternal. When what we do is in love then it will last for eternity and will not be consumed when Jesus returns.

Faith and hope are two qualities that really are part of love (they are mentioned in the list of love's character).

We see in this section that the gifts can be used without love. In Chapter 14 we will see that the whole emphasis is on WHAT EDIFIES. Just as we have seen with the Stumbling Block Principle etc.. the KEY to our Christian life is walking always in love ... wanting the best for others before ourselves. It IS possible to say "Lord, Lord I did all these miracles in Your name..." but be turned away in the end because the motive was not LOVE but other selfish motivations.

Now you are ready for (iv) SECTION FOUR: In Church, Only What Edifies (14:1-40).

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