Twenty-second in a series
1 Corinthians 14:1-31 

Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy. For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:1-3)

Crucial to the teaching of the Apostle Paul is his emphasis on spiritual gifts. We have already seen several occasions in his New Testament writings where he has stressed the importance of spiritual gifts. The most recent has been our study of 1 Corinthians 12.

Those of us who have put our faith in Jesus Christ are gifted people. It is our privilege and responsibility to discover those spiritual gifts that are ours and to, inspired by the Holy Spirit, use them to the glory of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul, in addition to listing these gifts, notes a strategy for their use. Each of us, with those spiritual gifts that are ours, make up the Body of Christ. Each of us is an essential part of that body. Our gifts are deployed for the well-being of the body. We have already emphasized this strategy.

Right in the middle of this strong emphasis on spiritual gifts, the Apostle Paul shifts gears, stating, ". . .And I will show you a still more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31).

We saw this more excellent way in our study last week, as we examined 1 Corinthians 13. The more excellent way is love. We know this as the love chapter of the Bible. In a way, it's a warning not to become so enamored with our particular spiritual gifts that we lose sight of our motivation. It is the love of Jesus Christ that constrains us. However noble are the spiritual gifts that God has given me and however enthusiastic is my use of them, I must keep an active reality check on my motivation.

I may speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have prophetic powers, understand all mysteries and knowledge and have all faith and give away everything I have, even ending up a martyr--but if all these wonderful activities are not motivated and undergirded by the love of Jesus Christ that constrains me, the whole business is rendered empty of its ultimate potential value.

This is why Paul lingers over what love looks like. As I muse on 1 Corinthians 13, I become increasingly aware that I'm not that great a lover. I am called to humility. I am called to realize that my spiritual gifts will pass away, but the agape love of Jesus Christ, His love toward me and my reciprocation of that love, both toward Him and others, never fails. In fact, that love enables me to see myself in my incompleteness and continuing dependence upon Jesus Christ and you, my brothers and sisters. As a fallen yet redeemed human being, I see images reflected somewhat imperfectly. I know only in part. The great fact is that someday I shall understand fully. In the meantime, all of my best efforts are to be, by God's grace, undergirded by the love of Jesus Christ.

I love the way Lewis B. Smedes writes about 1 Corinthians 13 in his book Love Within Limits: A Realist's View of 1 Corinthians 13. He compares this love chapter to other great love songs. He declares: