1 Corinthians 12:28-14:1 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Without disparaging any of the spiritual gifts, what does the apostle Paul exhort the Corinthians to do in 1 Corinthians 12:31 (printed below?) Why do you suppose Paul finds it necessary to give this exhortation?

But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you a way of life that surpasses all else. (1 Corinthians 12:31)

In verse 31, without disparaging any of the gifts, (because they all come from God), Paul finds it necessary to exhort the Corinthians to “earnestly desire the greater gifts”—the gifts that are more fundamental and more universally useful. The Greek word translated, “desire,” has the meaning, “to be deeply concerned about something; to show a great interest in something;” in other words, to appreciate something. The Corinthians had exhibited an undue fascination with some of the lesser gifts, especially the gift of speaking in different languages (the apostle will address this matter in detail in chapter 14; note especially 1 Corinthians 14:4-5). Thus Paul must inform them that, although each of the gifts has its own unique purpose, some of them are of greater value to the life of the church.

2. According to the apostle Paul, to what things is love superior? See 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (printed below)

If I speak in the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) If I have the gift of prophecy and understand every mystery and have all knowledge, and if I have enough faith to remove mountains, but if I do not have love, I am nothing. (3) If I give away all my possessions, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it is no benefit to me. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

In 13:1-3 the apostle Paul explains the superiority and the indispensability of love. Love is superior to the ability to speak in different languages (verse 1). No matter how great it may be (“If I speak in the languages of men and of angels,”) the gift of speaking in different languages is insufficient and intensely irksome—it is compared to a clanging cymbal—if it is employed apart from love. Love is superior to prophecy (verse 2). Even in their greatest manifestation, the gifts of prophecy, knowledge and faith are insufficient when employed in the absence of love. Even the greatest acts of self-sacrifice, if done from any motive other than love, are of no personal benefit (verse 3) (The apostle makes us aware that even great acts of self-sacrifice may originate from unholy motives, such as an effort to gain the praise of men (note Matthew 6:2) or a futile effort to earn one’s own salvation.)

3. What does Paul say about knowledge and prophecy in contrast to love? See 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 (printed below)

Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will pass away. If there are different languages, they will cease. If there is knowledge, it will pass away—(9) for at present our knowledge is partial and our prophesying is only a partial communication of future things. (10) But when the perfect has come, the partial shall pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)

In 13:8, the apostle defines love as being durable and lasting: “love never fails.” He literally writes, love never “falls;” that is to say, love is abiding and eternal. In its quality of being durable and eternal, love is contrasted with the spiritual gifts, especially the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge. The common characteristic of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge is the fact that they are all temporary. These particular gifts served a significant function, especially during the formative period of the church, but they certainly do not continue to operate beyond the end of church history in the eternal state.

4. What illustration does Paul use to point out the temporary character of such gifts as knowledge and prophecy? See 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 (printed below)

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; but when I became a man, I set aside the ways of childhood. (12) At present we see an obscure image in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. At present I know things partially; but then I will know fully, just as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)

In verses 9-10 the apostle’s point is that the spiritual gifts (especially those mentioned in verse eight) are temporary due to the fact that they operate within and belong to this present age (which is characterized by the partial and incomplete and is itself passing away). In verse 11 Paul goes on to illustrate the point he has been making. Just as the attitudes that belong to childhood are left behind when we attain adulthood; so, likewise, spiritual gifts—which belong to this present age—will be done away with when the eternal state arrives. In the eternal state we will no longer need the gift of speaking in different languages, the gift of prophecy, or words of knowledge, because we will all see God face to face and receive His revelation directly.

5. What do you think Paul means when he tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that faith and hope, like love, are eternal and will continue forever?

In contrast to the spiritual gifts and offices that are temporary, the apostle presents three abiding (eternal) spiritual attributes. “Faith,” in the sense of confident, child-like dependence, is eternal. We shall have faith in God our Father for all of eternity; we shall trust Him completely and perfectly. “Hope,” in the sense of confident expectation, is eternal. We shall always anticipate and receive more new blessings from our God and Father who is the infinite Creator. As the Psalmist testifies, “Great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3)