We now come to a special part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, chapters 12 to 14. They start, “Now concerning spiritual gifts …” Paul seeks to put their understanding of these gifts into a godly perspective, “When you were pagans you were led astray …” (verse 2). At that time they had experienced all kinds of trances and ecstasy, which can still be observed among some societies today, being seen as ‘gifts’ from their imagined gods.
Paul says that as members of Christ, “there are varieties of gifts … and there are varieties of service, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (verses 4-6). These are to be used “for the common good” (verse 7) – not in competition. These gentiles in Corinth had no Bible to read, and so “through the Spirit … one is given … the utterance of wisdom … another the utterance of knowledge”. The gift of tongues is mentioned last, and Paul counsels them to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (verse 31) adding, “and I will show you a still more excellent way”. This brings us to the marvellous exposition he gives on the value of love. One can “have all faith … but have not love” then, says Paul, “I am nothing” (13:2,1).
In chapter 12 Paul had made the point, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it”. Collectively, together we make up “the body of Christ”. For, “the body does not consist of one member but of many” (verse 14). Believers must team together as parts of Christ’s body of believers, using the individual abilities they have been given for the common good – above all, to display and practise the collective character of Christ. In that way, our children who have not yet accepted Christ will be influenced and perhaps unbelievers will be attracted. Head knowledge is essential, but is only half of “the body” – our hearts are the other half! A body is dead if it has no heart: head and heart team together to produce faith.
The end of chapter 13 sums it up: “So now faith, hope and love abide … but the greatest of these is love”. Let us meditate on that verse: in the kingdom age, hope will be fulfilled and turned into sight, so faith will not be needed. The one thing that will abide is love. That will be the all-embracing spirit of mind in that wondrous time, how vital we develop it now if we aim, by His grace, to be there.