by Cheri Cowell
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. 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. And 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. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NASB
If a billboard announcing “School of Love” was erected on your church’s lawn, what changes would you need to make to fulfill this mission?
The thirtieth chapter of 1 Corinthians is known as the “Love Chapter” and heard by more non-Christians than any other part of the Bible—along with John 3:16 and the 23rd Psalm. We’ve used it in weddings, songs, and poems, and we might even have a wall hanging or trinket with a quote from it.
But to uncouple any romanticized view of chapter thirteen from what the apostle Paul was teaching, we must look at its context. He actually began his message about love at the end of the previous chapter, saying, “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31 NRSV).
Every good Bible student knows that the word “but,” which begins that verse, indicates the material following is predicated on the preceding words. Most biblical scholars identify chapters twelve and thirteen as Paul’s message on unity and diversity of gifts in the body.
Chapter 12 contains Paul’s famous illustration of the church as the body of Christ, with no part being more or less important than another. The apostle is addressing the problem of making the gifts of the Spirit an idol. Paul says when we think our gifts, such as hospitality or listening, are less than preaching or teaching, we idolize these gifts. Likewise, when we think the gift of speaking in tongues is the only accurate indication of the Spirit, we’ve made it an idol.
All of those points build up to the transitional verse, 12:31, in which Paul essentially says it isn’t so much which gift you have (because all are important), but it is about how that gift is used. Though we should “desire the greater gifts” (NIV), there is a “more excellent way” than the way you’ve been using your gifts.
With this background it is easy to see the connection Paul is making. His focus is love. Without love as the foundation, tongues are as lovely as a noisy gong or clanging symbol used in worship (13:1).
It is of note that the word “love,” used here by Paul, is the same Greek word, agape’, that is used to say “God is love” in 1 John 4:8. Jesus spoke of agape’ love when he said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 NKJV).
We do not speak in tongues or preach or prophesy because God spoke in tongues, preached, or prophesied. But we love because God loves.
When we read chapter thirteen in light of chapter twelve, we see that love is the more excellent way for Christians to use their spiritual gifts. Rather than our gifts becoming a measure of our spiritual depth, they become a canvas to display our love. Perhaps, if more of us choose this higher, more excellent way, our churches will become known as the place where love is learned and displayed—a school of love.
This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).
About the author: As an author and sidewalk theologian, Cheri Cowell writes and speaks from a refreshing vulnerability about her own struggles with the deep questions of faith. A graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary, she shares her passion to help others apply biblical principles to the sidewalk issues of life.
Cheri is also a publisher (owner of EABooks) and writing coach. She is passionate about helping others see God’s Word come alive, and she is excited to expand that mission by helping fellow authors take advantage of the new publishing trends. For a list of where you can meet or hear Cheri, or to learn about publishing your own books visit http://www.eabookspublishing.com/
Join the conversation: How would using your spiritual gift change if your goal was love for others?
One thought on “A More Excellent Way”
Thanks Cheri! Your article reminds me of the song…They will KNOW we are Christians by our love. I am praying this for our church family and for myself as I relate to others.