1 Corinthians 13:1 - 13
ESV - 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
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The context is all important. And even more important is following the logic of Paul's augment. If you follow the reasoning, then you can be sure you have a good understanding. Paul has in the previous chapter been telling us all about spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues. For Paul, speaking in tongues is not an important thing. "I would rather you speak five intelligible words than ten thousand words in a tongue," and he goes on to explain the details of that in the next chapter. But right here in the middle of all that he is explaining what the best gifts are, and the things a Christian should concentrate most on. And he introduces this by telling us he is going to show us the most excellent way. All the other spiritual gifts are nothing compared to these. And then he talks about faith, hope and love. Don't be so taken up with these other things, be taken up with faith hope and love, because these three outshine everything. If I can speak in every tongue imaginable, if I can prophesy about every mystery under heaven, and if I know all things, and can believe all things, and I have the greatest spiritual gifts in my church, fine. But if I don't have love, then the whole lot is rubbish. There is no point to them. They are useless. Love has to be the greatest thing in the Christian's life. If it's not, you are wasting your time chasing after spiritual gifts. Practice love and you are at the very centre of the Christian life. And if you want to know what that means, it's very practical. It means you are patient with others, it means you are kind to others, it means you don't get angry, you're not self-promoting, you put others first, you forgive those who wrong you and you protect and trust and never give up, even when you want to. That's what it means to love. That's what it means to live as a Christian, and no spiritual gift should be as important to you as that. Regards, Philip
I'm not sure that I am fully addressing the intent of the request in the question, but I would say that 1 Corinthians 13 is a component of the overall discussion on the proper use of spiritual gifts that began in 1 Corinthians 12. After explaining how such gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit to individuals for the purpose of benefitting not just the individual, but the entire community of Christian believers, Paul then proceeds in Chapter 13 to explain how even those gifts (as well as spiritual actions even to the point of self-sacrifice) are meaningless unless they are exercised in a spirit of love toward others by the person possessing them, because love is the greatest gift (or, as Paul puts it in the last verse of Chapter 12, "a more excellent way"), and the one that outlasts all the others. Love has both active postive aspects of its own, as well as positive features that stem from non-possession of potential negative interpersonal characteristics. Its positive qualities include patience, kindness, goodness, protectiveness of the object of the love, truthfulness, trust, hope, and perseverance. At the same time, it lacks any evidence of being envious, boastful, self-seeking; quick to anger, resentful on an ongoing basis over past slights, or associated with any kind of evil. In addition, love is enduring. Along with faith and hope, it shares an eternal quality that looks beyond this life. However, love is greater than either faith and hope, because after the objects of faith and hope have been realized or obtained in eternity, love (both of God for the redeemed, and of the redeemed for each other) will still exist.
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