Love, The Key To Ministry - 1 Corinthians 13

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1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Stephen Caswell © 2000

Charming Compassion

I read recently of a teaching hospital that found out one of its young resident students had a marvelous effect on children. They responded to him with delight. They would do things for him and yield to his ministrations in a way that they wouldn't do for any other person on the staff. They assigned a nurse to discover what the secret of this young resident was. It wasn't until the second week when she was on night turn that she found out the secret. It was simply this: Every night on his last round he would kiss, and hug, and tuck in every one of the children. It was in that act of compassion, you see, in that act of sympathy, that he made his contact. Love is the vital ingredient that makes ministry effective.


Two weeks ago we saw how God gave spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. The Church is like the human body containing many members. There is a wonderful unity in the diversity of spiritual gifts. God has given different gifts to His people so that the entire body might benefit and grow. Unfortunately the Corinthians used their spiritual gifts as toys to play with and weapons to fight with rather than tools to build with. So Paul had to teach them the importance of love when exercising spiritual gifts.

Unfortunately many people today take 1 Corinthians 13 out of its context and make it a hymn to love. However Paul is still dealing  with the matter of spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:31 introduces chapter 13. But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.  In the original language this verse can be translated as either a fact or a command. Now you selfishly strive after the better gifts and yet I show you a more excellent way. Paul went on to speak of the away of love. He listed three important facts about love in chapter 13.

I.   Love Is Essential            II.  Love Is Effectual            III. Love Is Eternal

13:1-3 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And 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. And 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.

To show how important love is Paul describes the ministry of five gifts without love. These gifts are tongues which were being greatly misused. Then prophecy, knowledge, faith to work miracles, and giving.  J.B. Phillips paraphrase of these three verses is as follows. In verse 1 he says I produce nothing of value, in verse 2 he says I am nothing of value and verse 3 says that I gain nothing of value. Notice how Paul takes up some of the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8–10 and shows their emptiness apart from love. Paul describes these gifts being exercised to their fullest capacity to make his point.

a. Tongues Of Men And Angels

On the day of Pentecost when God poured out the Holy Spirit on His Church they spoke with other tongues. This gift enabled unbelieving Jews from foreign lands to hear the good news in their own language. These tongues were not babble but real languages listed out for us.

In Acts 2:6 & 8 the word tongue in the KJV is dialekto" which literally means language or dialect. They were languages known in the region as can be seen by the response of the people present [verses 6-12]. Some say that tongues is a special prayer language used by angels quoting 1 Corinthians 13:1 and Romans 8:26. To start with men cannot speak with the tongues of angels. Paul is saying that even if I could speak with the tongues of men and angels without love I simply make a loud noise for a moment. 2 Corinthians 12:3-4 says this: And I know such a man whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - How he was caught up into Paradise and hear inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for man to utter. So firstly men cannot speak with angelic tongues. And secondly tongues without love are simply noise, like a clanging cymbal.

b. Prophecy and Knowledge

Prophecy was a gift of the Holy Spirit that enabled someone to give new revelation from God. The Lord spoke through prophets to establish His Church on solid teaching. But prophecy without love makes the prophet nothing. This application can also be made to knowledge which is spiritual insight given immediately by the Holy Spirit. Again Paul is taking this example to extreme measures, because no one has ever understood all mysteries or all knowledge. But if some one could, without love they are still nothing.

c. Faith

Stephen and Barnabas were said to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Stephen was able to work miracles and wonders as he exercised his faith. Jesus said that if someone exercised faith they could command mountains to be moved. However no one has ever done this. Paul is not minimizing these gifts; he is simply saying that they will have no good effect on the individual or on the church unless love is manifested in the life of the Christian when they exercise of their gifts.

d. Giving

Next Paul describes giving away all of one's possessions to feed the poor. Yet this too is fruit less. Matthew 6:1-2 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. Only love enables believers gifts to truly help people. Christians who love the poor will not embarrass them to promote themselves.

Even if we go so far as to sacrifice our body, but apart from love, this act would amount to nothing. Paul is probably speaking of martyrdom. Therefore Love is the measure of all things. It is evident that the Corinthians were using their spiritual gifts and offices with an attitude of competition and not of love. The church was divided, and the situation was getting worse because the very spiritual gifts that were supposed to build the church were doing more harm than good! Preaching without love is just so much noise. Praying without love becomes an empty speech. Giving without love is just a ceremony. Is it any wonder that when Christ commissioned Peter he asked him, Do you love me? What is your motive for service? Do you exercise your spiritual gifts with love? Does your ministry accomplish something or nothing?

Secondly  Love Is Effectual

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


Spiritual gifts have no spiritual effect on the life of the church if there is no love, for it is love that the Spirit uses to build the church. 1 Corinthians 8:1b Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. In all three of the body passages in Paul’s letters, there is an emphasis on love. [Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Corinthians 12:-13:]. The main evidence of maturity in the Christian life is a growing love for God and for God’s people, as well as a love for lost souls. It has well been said that love is the circulatory system of the body of Christ.

a.  Love is patient and kind


This word patient makroqumew means to be long fused. Love rises above petty things and is generous in the way it treats others. It is easy to love when people are lovable; how difficult it is to love when they injure or attack us in one way or another. Think of Christ’s patience with Peter after the times Peter sinned against Him, and you have some idea of what this means. Love not only patiently bears with wrongs, but it positively acts in deeds of kindness. David showed Mephibosheth kindness when he invited him to eat at his table like his own son. He restored to him all of Saul's property. David was not obligated to do this because he was really his enemy. But he chose to do this out of love for Jonathan. The Corinthians were impatient at the public meetings as they sought to show off their gifts. Church services became unruly and out of order. They needed to be patient and kind with one another.  

b.  Love never simmers with jealousy


Envy is a terrible sin; Cain envied his brother and killed him! How do we react when other Christians receive blessings or benefits that we lack? Do we allow the sparks of envy to burn and then come to a full flame? Love is pleased for others to receive blessing. Yet the Corinthians were envious of others gifts. Sadly, they weren't content with their own.

c.  Love does not parade itself or is not puffed up


The word vaunt or parade perpereuomai means to promote yourself. It refers to inward feelings of superiority. It refers to the outward displays of self-importance. The words puffed up fusiow mean to inflate. We say that a proud person has a swelled head. Pride starts in the heart then reveals itself in arrogance before others. Many of the Corinthians were proud of their spiritual attainments. They loved showing off their gifts in the services. They promoted themselves not the unity of the Church.


d.  Love is not rude or self-seeking


There is a graciousness about the person who acts from Christian love, a charm that the world cannot give. True love seeks only the good of others; it is unselfish. You can see this love displayed in Christ’s life! The Corinthians were rude looking after their own interests. This can be seen from their conduct at the Lord's table. Some of them were drunkards and gluttons while the poor had none. Real love seeks the welfare of others not self!

e.  Love is not easily provoked, thinks no evil

The word easily does not belong here. Christian love shows no irritation, as the flesh often does. Thinks no evil isn't a good translation. The word thinks logizomai means to reckon, consider, count. In fact it's an accounting term. Love does not keep account books of the evil things people do, or the hurts received from them. One of the most miserable men Warren Wiersbe ever met was a professed Christian who actually kept in a note book a list of the wrongs he felt others had committed against him. Forgiveness means that we wipe the record clean and never hold things against people. The Corinthians took believers to court for hurting them. They were keeping a record of wrongs.


f.   Rejoices not in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth

Love does not rejoice in iniquity, yet the Corinthians were boasting about sin in their church 1 Corinthians 5:1-2. They should have mourned over him but instead gloried in his sin. Like Noah’s sons, we should seek to hide the sins of others, and then help them make things right. Love encourages people to repent of sin. 1 Peter 4:8 says: And above all things have fervent love among yourselves, for love shall cover the multitude of sins. Love is never glad when others get involved in evil, but love is always glad when people are walking in the truth.

g.  Love bears all, believes all, hopes all, endures all


Through Christ’s love in us, we can bear up under anything, have faith, and continue in hope. It gives us power to endure in anything. Love always leads to victory! In these verses, Paul gently rebuked the sins of the Corinthians. They did not have patience with each other in the assembly. We can also see in these verses a picture of Christ who alone perfectly manifests the love of God to us. We can substitute the word Christ for charity in this chapter.

How to Hug

As a man was walking down the street he looked into a used book store. A book entitled how to hug caught his attention. Being a romantic by nature he went in to buy the book. To his surprise it was the seventh volume of an encyclopedia set that covered the subjects, How to Hug. Everyone knows that the Church is a place where love ought to be manifested. Many people have come to Church hoping to find a demonstration of love, only to find an encyclopedia on theology. 


The Lord ministered effectively because He loved us. Are you patient with others? Do you have a long or short fuse? Do you forgive those who wrong you or do you keep a list? Are you kind to people even if they don't deserve it? Are you glad when others receive a blessing or do you become envious? Do you put others first or promote yourself? Do you rejoice in the truth or do you take pleasure in sin? Does love enable you to overcome your enemies through good deeds? Does love lead you to victory?

Thirdly Love Is Eternal

1 Corinthians 13:8 Love 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.


a. Spiritual Gifts Will Be Removed


There are many views on how these verses should be interpreted. However all scholars agree that spiritual gifts are temporal whilst love is eternal. Long after spiritual gifts have served their purpose and ceased to operate love will remain. Why is this so? Because love is part of the very nature of God. Love is always necessary for healthy relationships between people. This will still be the case in the eternal state in heaven. Spiritual gifts won't be needed in heaven because God will have perfected His children.

Prophecy, knowledge, and tongues were not permanent gifts. God spoke through His Prophets to instruct the early Church. They provided the teaching needed for these young Christians. They continued their ministry until the New Testament was written. 1 Corinthians was the fifth New Testament book to be written. God also gave men a word of knowledge to apply this teaching to every day living. Knowledge does not mean education, but the immediate imparting of spiritual truth to the mind. Tongues was used to share the Gospel with unsaved foreigners visiting the Churches. Interpretation made it possible for the rest of the Church to understand the message too. These were gifts that some of the Corinthians prized, especially the gift of tongues.

But when will these gifts cease? When Christ establishes the new creation all spiritual gifts will cease. However some will cease before then. Some of the gifts were foundational and only required to establish the Church. Others will remain till Christ completes the Church.  In Ephesians 2:20, Apostles and prophets are called the foundation along with Jesus Christ the chief Corner Stone. Paul lists three gifts that will cease before the rest. These are prophesy, knowledge and tongues. Prophesy and knowledge will fail. The same verb is used to describe both prophesy and knowledge. The word fail katargew means to render inoperative, to make obsolete. However, tongues will cease. The verb cease pauw means to cease, to be brought to an end. The word cease is a middle verb meaning they will cease by themselves.

b. Spiritual Gifts Will Be Replaced


1 Corinthians 13:9-10 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.


When God started the Church on the day of Pentecost believers had an incomplete knowledge of the New Covenant. This was because God hadn't revealed everything to them yet. Paul describes this by saying, that they know in part and prophesy in part. God progressively revealed the New Testament to them during the apostolic age. The perfect spoken of in verse 10 is a neuter gender noun referring to a thing. I believe that the perfect refers to the Word of God which would be completed in about 40 years time with the book of Revelation. Now, we have God's complete revelation in the New Testament. Paul uses two illustrations to explain this, a child growing up and a mirror.

1 Corinthians 13:11 When 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.

Childhood to Manhood

Paul explains that these special gifts were necessary during the infancy period of the church. A child understands very little. We educate them so that they will become mature and gain practical knowledge. Tongues sound like an infant learning to speak. A child makes unintelligible sounds as he learns to talk. Paul uses this simple example from childhood to describe this. We don't condemn a child because he talks like a child, but we do condemn an adult for using baby talk. Paul says, It is time, for you babies to grow up and start talking like adults! Grow up! Tongues and other special manifestations belong to spiritual childhood.

The Corinthians were like children playing with toys that would one day disappear. You expect a child to think, understand, and speak like a child; but you also expect the child to mature and start thinking and speaking like an adult. The day comes when he must put away childish things. Children live for the temporary; adults live for the permanent. Love is enduring, and what it produces will endure.

The Mirror

1 Corinthians 13:12-13 For 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. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


Paul then says that they see spiritual truth in a darkened mirror. I believe that the mirror is God's Word. James 1:22-25 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.


Why was the mirror a dim reflection? Because the New Testament wasn't complete. But when God's full revelation was completed the mirror would give a clear reflection. The Spirit of God uses this accurate reflection of believers to help transform them into the image of Christ. As believers behold themselves in God's Word they see the areas that need transformation. 2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.


At the end of the apostolic age God had established His Church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. He had also completed the New Testament. So the Lord withdrew these foundational gifts from the Church. There is a maturing process for the church as a whole and also for the individual believer. We will not be fully completed until Jesus returns, but we ought to be growing and maturing now. The church grows closer to perfection through love: believers loving Christ and one another; holding the truth in love; practicing the truth because they love Him.

Ephesians 4:15-16 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.


c. Spiritual Graces Will Remain

1 Corinthians 13:8 says that Love never fails. The spiritual graces will remain forever. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says this: And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Note that all three of the Christian graces will endure, even though faith will become sight and hope will be fulfilled. The greatest of these graces is love; because when you love someone, you will trust him and will always be anticipating new joys. Faith, hope, and love go together, but it is love that energizes faith and hope.


Tonight we have seen three important qualities about love.

I.   Love Is Essential  - Spiritual gifts without love accomplish nothing!         

II.  Love Is Effectual  -  Love builds up! It is the circulatory system of the body!

III. Love Is Eternal     -  Spiritual gifts will cease to function, while love always remains!


2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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