Imagine a guy who just got a brand new set of tires for his truck. Really good ones that’ll last 90,000 miles. This guy also picked up a new sound system and found a good deal on a trailer to haul things around.
These are some serious upgrades.
Now what if you found out this guy doesn’t even own a truck yet?
All of a sudden, those tires look useless. The sound system and the trailer look pretty worthless, too. He had the goods, but no truck to make them go. Now he’s just a fool with a bunch of accessories.
This is the point the apostle Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 13.
Paul uses this beautiful prose to poke us in the eye and get us to see the superiority of love. Without biblical love, all else we do is pointless, likes nice tires with no truck.
To make his point more vividly, Paul gives us a five-fold illustration:
1. speak in the tongues of men and of angels
2. have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge
3. have all faith, so as to remove mountains
4. give away all I have
5. deliver up my body to be burned.”
That’s an incredible list of gifts and service and faith.
Tongues was a vital gift from God to the early church, when people with the gift could speak in languages they didn’t know to advance the gospel. But the Corinthians had forgotten that the purpose of the gift was to build up the church. They’d become infatuated with the flashy gift but had forgotten its purpose.
Paul continues his hypotheticals: having the very mind of Christ and knowing all mysteries, having faith that could move mountains, giving away everything you have, and giving yourself up to die.
It’s all meaningless without love.
All five of these examples are great and good things. But the singular superiority of love outranks them all. In God’s kingdom, the math works differently: five gifts minus one virtue equals nothing.
It was true in Corinth, and it’s true where you are. Exercise your gifts and serve your heart out, but do it in love. Love is superior to all our gifts, all our talents, and all our sacrifice.
Because in the absence of love, even the most spectacular gifts are useless.