1 Corinthians 13:2
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith…
I. IN ITS NATURE.
1. Noble as were these gifts, they were simply intellectual or executive, not moral. So distinct is charity, the moral product of the Spirit's regenerating power, from these extraordinary gifts, that Paul in this discourse could eliminate it, and represent the highest endowments as existing without it. Look on the prophet of Midian. You can almost feel the thrill of his inspiration. And yet the name of Balaam is a synonym of the wickedness of all who love the wages of unrighteousness. Who can read the story of Jonah without admiration of his message and of contempt for the man? Our Lord gave to His twelve disciples power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease, and Judas Iscariot was amongst them. The apostles had power to heal the sick, but not grace enough to prevent them from striving which should be the greatest. They had faith to cast out devils, but they all forsook Him and fled, and one denied Him. In this Corinthian Church, which seems to have been distinguished above all others in miraculous force, these gifts were accompanied with glaring inconsistencies.
2. Charity, on the other hand, is moral. It is the product of the Spirit in the moral nature. It is the single element of holy character; and all moral excellence must be traced back to love, even as under the searching analysis of the spectroscope it has been suggested that all material substances may be traced to a single element.
(1) God is love; but that love differs in its forms of expression with the different relations of its exercise. In relation to right and wrong, justice; in relation to need and suffering, mercy; in relation to pardon, grace.
(2) And so all human goodness is resolved into love.
(a) Love, in relation to God's majesty, is adoration, worship; in relation to His will, submission; in relation to His command, obedience; to His superiority, humility; to His grace in Christ and to His declarations, faith; to His bestowals, gratitude.
(b) So love, in relation to human need, is beneficence; in relation to injury, meekness; in relation to trials, patience; and in relation to the want and the woe of a lost world for which Christ died, it is the pity and the love and the longing which find expression in intercession and in service.
3. Thus, in its very nature, is charity superior to all gifts. Gifts were a power conferred, charity is the Divine requirement; in gifts, God's natural attributes are represented; in holy love, His moral perfection. Miraculous gifts are super-imposed by the Spirit. In love the Spirit communicates Himself to us in His own true nature. Love unites the soul in fellowship and sympathy with God, for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God.
II. IN THE FACT THAT IT WAS THE END FOR WHICH ALL, SUPERNATURAL ENDOWMENTS WERE GIVEN. They were the scaffolding of that temple whose shrine is love. And so gifts of miraculous power would be withdrawn, but love would be eternal. There is no more need of miracles. But the Spirit's distinctive work continues, and we receive not the power of Christ, but the Spirit of Christ; not the arm or the lips of Christ, but fellowship with the heart of Christ. No miracle so much declares the excellence and the might of the Spirit as the conversion of such a man as Bunyan, the production of such a character as that of John Howard, or such triumphant resignation as that of the dairyman's daughter. Thus secondary are gifts, and thus pre-eminent is charity, intrinsically good, god-like, enduring. For this let the Church long rather than for the return of miracle, that thus, "ye being rooted and grounded in love," etc. Conclusion:
1. There is entering into the religious thinking and experience of our time an element which greatly needs the antidote of this discussion. Men are eagerly gazing for prodigies of the Spirit, miracles of healing, etc.
2. So also what claims and aims to be a superior type of piety, places emphasis on what relates to intellect and power, rather than on character. Natural gifts now, like those that were supernatural, are desirable. Consecrated in love, they shall be sources of a princely Christian power; but gifts do not indicate the genuineness or the degree of holy devotion. Jesus has said that in the great day "many will say unto Me, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name," etc.
(A. H. Coolidge.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.