If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
–1 Corinthians 13:2
Paul began his famous chapter on love by proclaiming the preeminence of love. First of all, he said, love is superior to eloquent speech. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:1: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” The word “tongues” here means “languages.” When Paul mentioned the tongues of angels, he was not talking about some secret heavenly language. He was using hyperbole, saying, “If I could speak as eloquently as the angels, but my speech was not seasoned with love, it would be absolutely worthless.” In fact, he said it would be like “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
In the city of Corinth, there was a temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. And the worship of Aphrodite included the sounding of gongs and the clashing of cymbals, and worshipers would work themselves up into a frenzy and start speaking this ecstatic gibberish. Paul was saying to these Corinthians, “If you speak eloquently but it is not motivated by love, your speech is just as meaningless as that gibberish you used to speak when you were involved in pagan worship.” Love is superior to eloquent speech.
Second, love is superior to spiritual gifts. Verse 2 says, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” The spiritual gift of prophecy is not about foretelling the future but forth-telling the truth of God’s Word to convict people of sin and bring them into a right relationship of God. I believe Paul himself had the gift of prophecy. But he was saying, “If I have the gift of prophecy, but it is not motivated by love, my spiritual gift is worthless.” People involve themselves in ministry for all kinds of reasons. Some do it for recognition; some do it for power; some do it to alleviate guilt they feel. But any ministry that is not motivated by genuine love for other people is worthless, Paul said.
Third, love is superior to self-sacrifice. Just as you can minister to others for all the wrong reasons, you can also sacrifice for all the wrong reasons. Verse 3 says, “If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” A lot of people give money in order to be well-known and well-regarded by others. Paul said that is worthless. Even martyrdom for the wrong reason is worthless. When Paul said, “If I surrender my body to be burned,” he probably had in mind the famous tomb in Athens of an Indian monk who set himself on fire in order to attain immortality. The quality of love is superior in importance even to sacrifice. That is the preeminence of love.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “What the Church Needs Now” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2012.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org.