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Spiritual Gifts 4

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noising gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor 13:1)

First Corinthians 13 is sometimes seen as an intrusion into the flow of Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts, which begins in chapter 12 and is continued in chapter 14. Indeed, a convincing case can be made that the “love chapter” shows more rhetorical polish than its neighboring chapters, suggesting that it originated somewhere else (though probably still written by Paul) and eventually found its way into the Bible at that spot.

Even so, it should be noted that this would not be the first time Paul used prior materials to make his point. The most obvious example is the christological hymn in Philippians 2:5-11, which speaks pointedly to the attitude of servanthood the Apostle hoped to instill in the Philippian believers.

These thirteen verses may well be a hymn in praise of love composed at a different time, for a different purpose. That doesn’t keep it from being a vital part of Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians. Having laid the theological foundation for understanding spiritual gifts (ch. 12), Paul went on to offer practical advice about how the gifts should be manifested in worship (ch. 14). But first he had to establish the principle by which the gifts are to be used. Love is the goal. Without it, even the most impressive spiritual manifestations count for nothing.

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