1 Corinthians 12:31. But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
What could possibly be more excellent than the wisdom, knowledge, words, and power of Christ being manifest in us through various supernatural gifts? I mean it can’t get any better than that can it?
1 Corinthians 13:1-3. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
No matter how gifted or talented you are, and no matter how virtuous and moral you are, if you do not have love, you gain nothing and you are nothing. Jesus put it this way: “abide in me…abide in my love…apart from me you can do nothing.”
Love is the more excellent way.
In verses 1-2, Paul is describing the same spiritual gifts he spoke of back in chapter 12 (although theres. These are gifts of communication, and insight, and power. The Corinthians had these gifts, and because they did, they thought they were more spiritual than others. In verse 3 Paul describes moral or virtuous behavior- giving everything to the poor and even martyrdom. The Corinthians don’t seem to be doing these things, but even if they were, they still would not be truly spiritual. Why? Because true spirituality is love.
You can have all the gifts and all the good behavior and still lack the character of Christ. You can be brilliant, talented, disciplined, successful, nice. You can be performing miracles, and leading people to Christ. You can stand up for what you believe and fight for justice. And yet, you can do all of these “Christian” things without the heart of Christ. You can give God your time, talents, money, and stuff without giving him your heart. You can be living an exemplary moral life and not be growing spiritually (Timothy Keller, Gospel Christianity).
How can all of this be possible? How can we live with amazing gifts, talents, knowledge, power, morality, and virtue and still not have Christ’s love? Notice the end of verse 3. I gain nothing.
When we live our lives in order to gain something for ourselves, to earn life, to garner favor with God or man, we have forfeited living from love. We have rejected the unconditional love of God for us through the freely offered gift of Christ’s life.
Here’s the thing, we most often do what we do for our own good, to gain power or to prove our own self-worth. In Galatians, Paul would have called this living from the flesh rather than the Spirit. You see, living from the flesh doesn’t have to be adultery, fornication, drug addiction, stealing and lying. It can be teaching the Bible, telling the truth, going to Sunday School, or feeding the poor. It can be living from the Law (Galatians) or living from “spirituality” (1 Corinthians). But all of these things can be done for your own selfish gain and not from love.
For example, why do you not tell lies? If your answer is because a “good Christian” would never lie, or because you don’t want to be considered a liar thus hurting your own reputation, is that love? Are you moral because you love God and others? Or are you moral because you are just looking out for yourself?
“To live is Christ” is far more than just virtuous living, morality, and even spiritual giftedness. It is loving. If it’s not in love, it’s not the fullness of Christ.
Have you been confusing your giftedness, morality, or virtue with the character of Christ apart from love? Have you seen very gifted and moral people who were not very kind, gentle, or loving? How can meditating on your union with Christ and the gospel begin to surround your heart’s motivations with love?