What Makes our Gifting any Good?

When Paul addresses the Corinthians he consistently urges them to think of what God has done in Christ, affirming their spirituality, but also challenges them to look at what is yet to come. In this way he both builds up and humbles. Paul’s treatment of spiritual gifts and love in 1 Corinthians 12-14 exemplifies his logic.

With most commentators, the Corinthians seem enamored with expressive, up-front kinds of spiritual gifts. These abilities are understood, in the church, to be gifts which help the body of believers to know God; they reveal Him in the sense of helping people to understand the message of Christ and life in Christ by the Spirit. Spiritual gifts help the body to see God. In the culture, however, these abilities were thought achievements and means to the end of self-promotion (cf. 1 Corinthians 2); these abilities help the talented to express themselves and gain favor. 

Paul corrects Corinthian thinking by arguing that even the best expression of spiritual gifts only dimly reveal God (1 Cor. 13:12). In light of the fact that even the best and most foundational gifts (prophecy and those related to speaking the gospel, cf. 1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1) will be useless when Christ returns and all of His fullness is revealed, the Corinthians should be concerned to demonstrate that which endures forever, i.e., love. The best sermon by the best preacher, the most uplifting music by the most talented musician, the smoothest organization by the most structured administrator may each and together make a significant impact for the kingdom and display the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but these only dimly represent the God who will one day reveal Himself as the God of love (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23-28). The only hope these gifted individuals have of displaying that greater reality is to employ their gifts in love.