• Jamie McClanahan

The Supremacy of Love Part 2

I Corinthians 13:1-3

In the first post, I tried to share some background of the "Love Chapter" of the Bible, I Corinthians 13. The context is about the purpose and application of Spiritual Gifts in and for the body of Christ. God, the giver, determines the gift given and the purpose of that gift. We are to receive it and live it out for the glory of God and the good of his people. In this passage, we learn that spiritual gifts and abilities amount to nothing without a regular infusion and application of Christ-like love toward the faith community. There are some things we are tempted to substitute for love in verses 1-3. We will cover two of these in this post and two more in the post to come.

The first of these substitutes have to do with speech. In 13:1, Paul writes, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." The point to be made is that elevated, elaborate, or educated speech from earthly or heavenly tongues is mere noise when love is missing. Overall we understand that mastery of speech is a substitute for love in the local church.

The subsets of speech in verse one are two broad categories of human tongues and angelic tongues. The NLT says, "If I could speak all the languages of the earth and of angels…" This version gets to the heart of the verse. The tongues of men could mean the physical tongues and languages of the earth. It could also refer to chapters 12 and 14 dealing with the spiritual gift of tongues, which was desired and elevated much amongst the Corinthian believers. The gift of tongues could be defined as " an outpouring of prayer and praise in a language unknown to the speaker or in a language not ordinarily intelligible to any man." [1] Phil Ryken explains that to speak in the tongues of men is “…to communicate spiritual truth through the miraculous gift of utterances in a human language.”[2] Whether it is spiritual heart tongue or physical word-language tongue, it is clear that it matters little if one does not love with their words. I Corinthians 12 and 14 give more thorough definitions and uses of tongues' spiritual gifts in the local church.

So, what are we saying here about the quantity and quality of language as a substitute for love? Well, you can speak 1 of the 7111 spoken languages in the world. You can even speak fluently one of the 23 languages that account for more than half the world's population.[3] You can master language such as Shakespeare, who penned some 884, 647 words and 118 406 lines.[4] You can write and speak the 20-25 million words that Pastor Charles Spurgeon preached to the London Metropolitan Church.[5] But, if you have not Christ-like love, it matters not. In fact, Paul wrote, words without love are a “noisy gong or clanging symbol.” The gong and cymbal were instruments used in public theaters and private foreign worship houses. Religiously these could be experienced in worship directed to Dionysis, the god of wine. Furthermore, it was utilized to drive away demons in secular worship houses.[6] The familiarity of the gong and cymbal would have been relevant and convicting to the Corinthians, who were regularly exposed to these sounds in Corinth's streets.

Ultimately, the statement revealed that without love, the Corinthians' worship was no different from the false worship in Corinth.

In verse one, Paul implores us to ponder the truth that words, no matter how extravagant, are meaningless without love. Even those who make it a point to memorize the 783,137 words of the King James Version, made up of its 66 Books and 1189 Chapters, will find that their words are fruitless noise without love. [7]

The example of employing a vast quantity of earthly words without the infusion and application of love is less than Angels' mysterious heavenly language. The Angel language is unknown but higher in qualification. It may be that there is a heavenly language with a divine dialect. However, some believe Paul is simply utilizing the literary technique of hyperbole to heighten his statements on language. The point of mentioning Angel's tongues is to show that no matter how elevated or divinely inspired the speech, it is merely benign static without Christ-like love.

Any words, human or angelic, grow from seeds of mysteries revealed and knowledge ascertained. Vast quantities of speech mean little without love. Likewise, stockpiles of wisdom and knowledge without love gain nothing for the member of a local church.

In 13:2b, Paul addresses a second issue that we often try to substitute for the practice of Christ-like love in the local church. It is here we learn that intellectual supremacy is no substitute for love in the local church. He writes, "And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…" The knowledge referred to here is that which comes as the result of the gift of prophecy. The NASB interprets this well, saying, "If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing." So, what does it mean to have prophetic powers, or the gift of prophecy, that reveals mysteries and gives knowledge? Prophecy generally means "utterances inspired by the Holy Spirit."[8]These utterances can be observed in the mouths of Old Testament prophets delivering a Word from the Lord for their Covenant Community. In the New Testament, it can be expressed through the gift of prophecy as described in I Cor. 12 and 14. The gift was twofold in the New Testament. First, it was used to bring God's message to the church under the direction of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 14:1-25; I Thess. 5:19-20). Second, it could be understood as a gift enabling a person to see the future. For example, Paul and John, under the inspiration of the Spirit, were able to discern future events of both the resurrection of the saints (I Cor. 15) and the restoration of humanity (Rev. 20-22). [9] A practical and helpful definition of the gift of prophecy fulfilled is: “Someone who can foretell the future, or has supernatural insight to interpret what is happening in the world from God’s point of view.” [10]The later application is not to be understood as if the same kind of special revelation and its transmission are happening in our day. In other words, the Scriptural canon is closed, and no additional writings should be added to the written revelation of God's Word (Rev. 22:18-19).

The "mysteries" referred to are those related to the Gospel message and our growth in Christ that follows a faith commitment.

[1] J. J. Lias, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Edited with Notes and Introduction, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1896), 121. [2] Phil Ryken, Loving the Way of Jesus, pg. 20. [3] https://www.ethnologue.com/guides/how-many-languages [4] https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-faq [5] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/spurgeon-did-you-know [6] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 227–228. [7] https://www.reference.com/world-view/many-chapters-bible-26b7d78cdd65f6df [8] Mark Taylor, 1 Corinthians, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 28, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 307. [9] Daniel L. Akin, “The Bible and Sexuality,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, ed. Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1830. [10] Phil Ryken, Loving the Way Jesus Loved, pg. 21

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