In chapters 12 to 14 of the book of 1st Corinthians, Paul continues his teaching on spiritual gifts. He finished off chapter 12 by stating, “But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a more excellent way”, 1 Cor 12:31. In Chapter 13 Paul shows us the more excellent way.
In verses 1 to 3 Paul uses a common figure of speech to emphasis his point. We all use figures of speech each day to assist our language and to get across our meaning. In the same way figures of speech are used in the Bible. When Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil”, Mark 4:26, Jesus is using the figure of speech called simile. He was comparing the kingdom of God to a sower of seeds. He also said in Matt. 13:9 “He who has ears, let him hear.” Here metonymy is used. Jesus used the word “ears” to mean a person who desires to hear the truth.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul uses the figure of speech called hyperbole. Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration to emphasis a point. For example we might say, “these books weigh a tonne”, meaning they weigh a lot, or “I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse”, this time meaning I am very hungry.
Here Paul uses hyperbole to emphasis the greatness of love. He uses the example of speech and says that even with the power of all manner of speech, with out love he would make just as much sense as a noisy gong. Likewise he emphasises the greatness of love over prophecy and other spiritual gifts. He shows that without love, giving all his possessions and even his body is pointless. As he states without love, “I am nothing.”
Paul then goes on to show what real love is and what it isn’t. Today, just like in Paul’s time there is a lot of confusion about just what is love. We all want love, but do we really know what it is? For many, love is a feeling they receive from others. Paul shows that love is something we give to others. Our Father showed us that form of love when He gave us His Son, John 3:16. Jesus gave us an example of this love when he willingly gave himself for others, Phil. 2:3-11. Christian love is not an emotion we feel, it is that which we give to others.
The attributes of true Christian love are things that go out from us, not those things that come to us. Christian love is not dependant on the recipient but rather on the one giving love. God loved us, not because we were worthy or deserving of love, but while we were totally undeserving. Note, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8. Take special note of all the attributes of love that Paul mentions and see they are not dependent of being reciprocated.
In 1 Cor 13:8-13 Paul shows the permanency of love over the temporary nature of spiritual gifts. Love, he says, “never fails”, 1 Cor 13:8, but not so with spiritual gifts. Note what he says; “they will be done away”, “they will cease”, “they will be done away”, 1 Cor 13:8. The three spiritual gifts Paul uses as examples can be classified as “revelation gits”, they revealed God’s will.
In 1 Cor 13:9-10 Paul tells us when these gifts were to cease. He states, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part” 1 Cor 13:9. The “revelation gifts” were only partial. He then says, “but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” 1Cor. 13:10. The gifts would be done away when “the perfect comes”. The perfect is that which completes the partial. When God’s will was fully relived the gits would cease. When the Bible was completed, God’s will was fully revealed, 2 Tim 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:3, Jude 3, and the gifts ceased – they were no longer needed.
Paul finishes off this section by giving three before and after examples. He starts by contrasting childhood with maturity – the reliance of partial revelation (gifts) compared with the maturity of full revelation found in the Word of God. He states that then while looking to God’s was it is like looking in a dim mirror (he would be thinking of polished metal mirrors of his day), but when full revelation was given sight would be clear. The third example he gives is partial knowledge compared with full knowledge found in the Bible. We need to appreciate the blessing that are ours in having God’s full revealed will in the Bible.
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1Cor. 13:13
While the spiritual gifts were to cease, faith, hope and love would remain. Going back to how he started he states that the greatest is love.