Any reflection on Paul’s famous “Love Chapter” (1 Corinthians 13) must really begin in the last verse of the previous chapter. In chapter 12, Paul has begun his teaching on spiritual gifts, explaining God’s plan in giving diverse gifts to a unified body of believers. And after chapter 13, Paul will pick up this discussion of spiritual gifts. Truly, one could simply remove chapter 13 and the flow of Paul’s argument would run nearly seamless. The Love Chapter could be considered parenthetical, but that would be a great mistake. It is not parenthetical, but central (literally and thematically) to Paul’s discussion of the unity and diversity of the church.
This is evident in that last verse of chapter 12, when Paul begins to lead his readers up the mountain toward this shining treasure of love. He writes:
And I will show you a still more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31)
Love is more excellent. More excellent than what? Love is more excellent than the gifts of prophecy, healing, helping, miracles, and tongues. As wonderful as divine utterance is, love is the more excellent way. As thrilling as healing can be, love exceeds this miracle. Though tongues are affirmed by Paul, he elevates love above all else.
Do we value love like Paul did? Do my priorities reflect those of God’s word, counting the way of love as a still more excellent way than the marvelous gifts of discernment, wisdom, knowledge and faith?
Paul will go on to make the argument that without love the exercise of these gifts is meaningless. Discernment without love is proud. Wisdom without love is harsh. Faith without love is dead. Love is the prerequisite fruit for all kingdom-impact. It is a more excellent way…
More excellent than the ways of the world.
More excellent than power.
More excellent than fame.
More excellent than blunt honesty.
Your love is more excellent than your leadership.
My love is more excellent than my judgment.
Our love is more excellent than our pity, our anger, our memory, our intelligence.
Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. That’s what I need to remind myself, if I am to stay on the still more excellent way.