I’ve heard 1 Corinthians 13 read at weddings so many times I could be excused for thinking that’s the reason the passage was written. While the passage is great to use during a wedding, the Lord’s primary intent when he inspired Paul to write these words was not for that purpose. This passage is central to Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 13 describes the manner in which spiritual gifts are to be practiced in the church.
Paul begins his discussion of gifts in chapter 12 by saying that the church is the body of Christ. Every Christian is a vital part of the body with an irreplaceable role to fill. God gifts every Christian for their part in the ministry of the body. Paul ends chapter 12 by saying, “But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.” This is his transition comment introducing chapter 13 where he tells us love is this most excellent way. After chapter 13 he transitions back to his discussion of spiritual gifts. Paul starts chapter 14 with the words, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts…” Read 1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1 a few times.
I want to focus on Paul’s comments in 13:1-3 where he tells us that even the most impressive ministry in the church is nothing if it is not motivated by and an expression of God’s love. Paul mentions incredible gifting in tongues, prophecy, understanding, knowledge, faith, giving and personal sacrifice for God. These activities and their results may look phenomenal, but Paul says they are nothing without love. Without love all our efforts are a waste of energy, empty and worthless. God is not impressed with the magnitude of our work. He expects to see his love flowing from our heart in all we do. The value of our activities is measured by the condition of our hearts.
We fall into a trap when we measure success by the size of our church, the greatness of an offering or gift, the impressive range of programs our church offers, the passages we memorize, the number of individuals with whom we share our faith, the number of church activities we cram into our schedule, and so on. These may all be wonderful. However, great gifting has great results only to the extent that they are expressions of God’s love. The Lord defines success by the love that is offered through service. This is a description of how we live the two great commandments (Mark 12:30-31). In this regard, the smallest act of service offered in love is of equal value with what we would call great ones offered in love.
Therefore, we can say service that arises out of love and that is an expression of God’s love creates eternal value. There is an incredible display of the glorious love of God in individual disciples and churches who take this seriously. Imagine the church where all Christians serve using the Lord’s gifts as an expression of his love.
* Make your first priority growing in your understanding and experience of the Lord’s love.
* Develop your spiritual gifts, but continually ask the Lord to show you ways to display love him and others through them.
* Accept the opportunities the Lord provides to express his love.