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1 Corinthians 13 Part 2: Prophecy, Knowledge and Faith without Love
I Corinthians 13:2; John 15:5 The smartest person in the room is often the one left alone.
“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.”
1 Corinthians 13:2 NASB1995
In verse 2, Paul talks about how useless other spiritual gifts are without love. He is continuing to warn the church at Corinth to not to be so focused on having these gifts that they lose sight of the love they should have for each other. If someone has the gift of prophecy and knows all mysteries and has all knowledge or if someone has exceptionally strong faith (enough to move mountains) but they don’t have love as the foundation, these gifts are useless or worse. In fact, the person with these gifts in a loveless state is nothing. The Greek word used here is ousdeis and it truly means absolutely nothing. Jesus uses the same word in John 15:5:
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
John 15:5 NASB1995
I chose a photo today of the Trinity College old Library in Dublin, Ireland. We visited this beautiful facility a few years ago and had the opportunity to view a few pages of the Book of Kells, a glorious illuminated 8th century manuscript of the Gospels. The library itself is also breathtaking. A smart person who loves to uncover mysteries and fill their minds with knowledge could dedicate their whole life to reading every single volume in this library (over 200,000 books), but what does that gain that person in the end, without a heart that has unselfish love for others? Does that person brag of their learning accomplishments and bore people to death with trivia, their curricula vitae or their cerebral superiority? Do they work to enlighten others and teach or do they jealously hoard their education and gaze fondly at their awards and certificates?
We are all acquainted with people who love to display their depth of knowledge (yup, that‘s me - guilty as charged!); many times in my life I was more caught up in seeing how many more “facts” I knew than someone else. That pomposity led to excessive pride and “gotcha” moments that only served to isolate me from others because I had to be “the most knowledgeable” person in any situation; this also came with smug corrections that rushed came out of my mouth if someone else was wrong and a lack of contrition and humility if I was incorrect. I was the smartest person in the room and after meeting me, almost no one wanted to keep talking to me (this is a true observation, not a weepy confession to get sympathy). In fact, after I wrote most of this, I asked hubby (Steve) if I was still a pompous know-it-all. He said I was “better” than I used to be but could still improve significantly. That Holy Spirit does convict you, doesn’t He? I was certainly not acting in love for most of my life, although I have plenty of knowledge. These “course corrections” that come through deep learning of Scripture are invaluable.
A person who is gifted in prophecy may envision things that no one else can see, but if they don’t have love, their prophecies are probably incomprehensible or could be hurtful. They could turn their prophecy gift into one of those scams where they use that gift to enrich themselves or they become false prophets that do not lead people to Jesus, but only to themselves as the answer. We’ve seen plenty of those examples in our lifetimes and these false prophets live quite well, compared to true biblical prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Elijah and John the Baptist.
A person could claim to have incredible faith that moves mountains (or helps them create an awe-inspiring illuminated manuscript) but if they don’t have unselfish love, they are nothing. Did the Irish or Scottish monk or monks who created this Lavish page (see photo below) for the beginning of the Gospel of John in the Book of Kells do this for their own personal satisfaction so that they could say they have demonstrated faith? It truly honors God in its beauty, but so does a plain text Bible. We have to ask what purpose this served: Was this illuminated manuscript created to bring many souls to salvation or was it hoarded and only viewed by a select few at the Abbey of Kells? I’m pretty certain it was the latter. It is still hoarded today, with only a few pages viewable under bulletproof glass in a room with guards (no photos, please, and move along quickly!).
The Trinity College Library could burn down tomorrow (I hope not, but everything is temporary in this world) and these pages could become ash. Beautiful manuscripts that were done to demonstrate “good faith” in a remote monastery do not bring people to understand the love of God. We are nothing without the unselfish love that would compel us to share His word with others and these ornate and elaborate pages under glass have likely not brought a single soul to salvation who was searching for answers.
David Guzik from Enduring Word has a good commentary about this passage to close this out:
Prophecy, knowledge, and faith to do miracles are likewise irrelevant apart from love. The Corinthian Christians missed the motive and the goal of the gifts, making them their own goal. Paul draws the attention back to love.
Paul, quoting the idea of Jesus, refers to faith which could remove mountains (Matthew 17:20). What an amazing thing it would be to have faith that could work the impossible! Yet, even with that kind of faith we are nothing without love.
A man with that kind of faith can move great mountains, but he will set them down right in the path of somebody else – or right on somebody else – if he doesn’t have love.
It isn’t an issue of love versus the gifts. A church should never be forced to choose between love and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul is emphasizing the focus and goal of the gifts: love, not the gifts for their own sake.
“Possession of the charismata is not the sign of the Spirit; Christian love is.” (Gordon Fee)
My next devotional examines 1 Corinthians 13: Charity and Martyrdom without Love.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Please help me to gain that unselfish love for others that can use your spiritual gifts for bringing people to salvation, not for my own selfish pride in my knowledge. Make me the most loving person in the room, not the smartest or the most knowledgeable. I pray for a faith that moves mountains but moves them in love. Amen
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary in Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.