1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:3 – Five Minus One Equals Zero

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 02 Aug 2009


12:31. But continue to be zealous about the bigger gifts of grace and still I show the way according to excellence:

13:1. If I make utterance in the languages of men – even of angels, but I do not happen to have love,

            I have become noise-making brass or a cymbal sounding off.

2. And if I have prophecy and happen to know all the mysteries and every bit of knowledge,

and if I have every bit of faith – enough to change positions of mountains, but I do not happen to have love,

            I am nothing.

3. And if I doled out all my subsistence

and if I delivered my body in order that I might be burned up, but I do not happen to have love,

            I get not a single advantage.


We’ve finally arrived at the famous LOVE chapter!

So we’re going to talk about LOVE today! Actually, we’re going to talk about the problem of not having love. It can be summarized by this mathematical formula: [Write on board] “5 – 1 = 0”


There are 5 “if’s in the first three verses of 1 Cor 13. Five spiritual gifts already mentioned, which, I believe, stand for all the gifts of the Spirit.


But there is one gift that hasn’t been highlighted yet. It’s only been mentioned in passing twice in this letter of Paul:


So up to this point in 1 Cor, love has been contrasted with harsh discipline; it is gentle. And love is contrasted with self-inflating knowledge; it builds up other people.


Love is the one thing without which the spiritual gifts are worthless. It’s like the old MasterCard commercial: “Don’t leave home without it!”


In this way, love is the way par excellence, the way of excellence, beyond comparison. Love is the way to be great in the exercise of your spiritual gifts.

What is love? Word study on αγάπη – all noun occurances in Bible

The Greek noun for love used in 1 Cor 13 is agaph (agape). This noun is rarely found in Greek classics before the Septuagint translation of the OT into Greek and the writing of the New Testament in Greek. Until Jesus used the word agaph  in His teaching, the word did not have any special meaning and was used interchangeably with two other words for “love” in Greek: the noun eros, from which we get the English adjective erotic, speaking of sexual love, and the Greek noun philos, from which we get words like Phila-delphia (the city of  “brotherly love”) and philo-sophy (love of wisdom).


In the O.T., Agape shows up most often in the Song of Solomon, for instance 2:4-7 "He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. (5) Sustain me with raisin cakes, Refresh me with apples, because I am lovesick… (7)  I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that you do not arouse or awaken my love until she pleases." (repeated in 3:5 see also 3:10; 5:8; 7:6; 8:4-7) 8:6 "Put me like a seal over your heart, Like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, The very flame of the LORD. 7) Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, It would be utterly despised." (Also in 2 Sam. 13:15, Eccl. 9:1&6, and Jer. 2:2)


But in the mouths of Jesus and the apostles, agaph began to be used in a more specialized sense, as the “love of God” Luke 11:42  "But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (See also Mat 24:12)


The apostle John uses agaph more than any of the other gospel-writers, for instance in 15:9  "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love… 13 Great­er love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (See also John 5:42, 13:35, and 17:26.)


I was surprised to see that agaph shows up about as frequently in Romans as it does in 1 Corinthians:

·         Rom 5:8  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (See also v.5)

·         Rom 8:35  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? … 39  no height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

·         Rom 13:10  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (See also 12:9; 14:15; 15:30, and 1 Tim 1:5)


As the late Dr. Jack Arnold summarized it, “Agape love is primarily a love of commitment or decision of the will which leads to sacrifice of self for another. It is a love response to someone who is unworthy of the love. Agape love is derived from the work of Christ on the cross – God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for it. He loved the sinner when the sinner was unlovely. God’s response to sinful men who were His enemies was love – agape. This love involves feelings but it is not primarily based on feelings. This is a love which reaches out and lavishes blessings on those who are unworthy of them. It is a love which proceeds from the nature of the lover rather than the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love which gives, which seeks not its own, but the good and the best for the person loved. Agape is a love of commitment, of decision to treat another person with concern, care and thoughtfulness. It is a giving love, not a taking love.” (http://www.cleartheology.com/expo/03I%20Corinthians/I%20Corinthians%2040.html)


“Charity” is the word used in the old King James to translate agaph here, but the KJV uses the word “love” to translate agaph elsewhere. The choice of the word “charity” stems from the Latin Vulgate which uses the word caritas here in chapter 13. (Calvin, Earle)


Love is not warm fuzzy feelings. Scripture defines love as keeping/obeying God’s word/law (GHClark).

 (v.1) What would it look like for your speech to be filled with love?

13:1. If I make utterance in the languages of men – even of angels, but I do not happen to have love,

            I have become noise-making brass or a cymbal sounding off.


[Clang on triangle while talking]

First off, this tells us a little more about speaking in tongues


Speech/communication without love turns you into sounding brass, a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal.


Speech with love, based on what we’ve already seen in  ch. 4 and 8, is gentle and it builds up.

 (v.2) How does love help your knowledge and faith?

2. And if I have prophecy and happen to know all the mysteries and every bit of knowledge,

and if I have every bit of faith – enough to change positions of mountains, but I do not happen to have love,

            I am nothing.


Here’s a second cluster of spiritual gifts that are worthless without love: prophecy and faith, both of which were mentioned in the list of spiritual gifts in 12:8-10.


Have you ever been tempted to savor the advantage you have from knowing more than other people do about what’s going on? In the next chapter (14:3) we’re going to read, “He who prophesies speaks unto people edification, and exhortation, and consolation.” These are all outwardly-focused things – edification, exhortation, consolation. In other words, whatever knowledge you have is not to be kept to yourself; it is to be shared in a way that will encourage and equip others.


There is also the temptation to do great things without love:


James 2:5-8 ASV  Hearken, my beloved brethren; did not God choose them that are poor as to the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to them that love Him?... 8) Furthermore, if you fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’ you are doing well.”


 (v.3) Why is there no benefit to sacrifices made without love?

3. And if I doled out all my subsistence

and if I delivered my body in order that I might glorify myself [or be burned],

                        but I do not happen to have love,

            I get not a single advantage.


Finally we get to the third cluster of spiritual gifts, including gifts of giving, mercy, and even martyrdom.


The first “if” in v.3 paints a picture of doling out, bit by bit, or spoon-feeding (pswmisw) all your food, and giving away everything you use to make a living:

·         This is a serious engagement in the war on poverty! Surely God would bless that kind of commitment!

·         Ananias and Saphira sold their house and gave a good bit of it to the church, but they did not earn God’s favor for doing so because the lie that they told gave away the fact that they were trying to impress people with their generosity rather than simply giving it to God out of love for Him.

·         The same thing happened with the rich people in the temple dropping large sums into the tithes and offering box. That did not impress Jesus as He sat and watched them with his disciples. The widow who gave her two pennies, not trying to impress anybody, but doing it out of love for God was the one who impressed Jesus.


Regarding the giving up of one’s own body, Marvin Vincent has a good explanation, “The [earliest Greek texts read] καυχήσωμαι, ‘in order that I may glory,’ after the three oldest MSS. The change [of one letter in the Greek word yields] ‘burned’ [which is found in the majority of later Greek manuscripts and] might have been suggested by:

  1. the copyist's familiarity with Christian martyrdoms, or
  2. by the story of the three Hebrews [for Paul is quoting here from the Septuagint of Dan 3:28 ‘…Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego… delivered their bodies (to the fiery furnace), that they might not serve or worship any god, except their own God.’]
  3. Bishop Lightfoot finds a possible reference to the case of an Indian fanatic who, in the time of Augustus, burned himself alive at Athens. His tomb there was visible in Paul's time, and may have been seen by him. It bore the inscription: ‘Zarmochegas the Indian from Bargosa, according to the ancient customs of India, made himself immortal and lies here.’
  4. Calanus, an Indian gymnosophist who followed Alexander, in order to get rid of his sufferings, burned himself before the Macedonian army (see Plutarch, “Alexander”).

“Martyrdom for the sake of ambition was a fact of early occurrence in the Church, if not in Paul's day. Farrar says of his age, “both at this time and in the persecution of Diocletian, there were Christians who, oppressed by debt, by misery, and sometimes even by a sense of guilt, thrust themselves into the glory and imagined redemptiveness of the baptism of blood.... The extravagant estimate formed of the merits of all who were confessors, became, almost immediately, the cause of grave scandals...”


So how do you give with love? Jesus teaches us in Matt. 6:2ff “When you make donations, don’t sound  a trumpet in front of you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Truly, I say unto you, They have received their reward. 3) But when you make donations, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4) that your donations may be in secret, yet your Father who sees in secret will pay you back.” That is one reason why we have a stationary offering box rather than a tradition of passing offering plates around. The point of passing the plates during the worship service is to show that giving is an act of worship, but it is our hope that giving can be less showy if you slip your tithes and offerings into the box at the back of the room. Give, but give out of love.


And if it comes to giving your life, it should be only out of love:



“The main truth of the passage is this – that as love is the only rule of our actions, and the only means of regulating the right use of the gifts of God, nothing, in the absence of it, is approved of by God, however magnificent it may be in the estimation of men.” (J. Calvin)


Ask yourself, “Am I serving with love?” If not, don’t sit back and fail to serve, just confess your sin of love-les-ness and focus your eyes back on Christ. (Ratliffe)


“How can we get this love? It comes as an outgrowth of our daily faith in Jesus Christ. It is Christ through the Holy Spirit who gives us power to love. The only thing that counts is ‘faith expressing itself through love’ (Gal. 5:6).


Are you not quite sure of your spiritual gift? Don’t worry about it. Just love people. Whatever you do out of love is of great value in God’s eyes.


Love is the one without which all the spiritual gifts amount to zero. Add all the zeros in the world you want up and you will still get nothing. [Draw on board.] But put a one in front of any of those zeros and suddenly you have something! Love makes value because love is of God. (Jerry Bridges)


·         John 13:34 love one another.

·         John 15:12  This is my commandment, that you  love one another, even as I have loved you.

·         John 15:17  These things I command you, that ye may love one another.

·         1 Thess. 4:9  …you have no need that one write unto you: for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;

·         1 Peter 1:22  Seeing that you have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently:

·         1 John 3:11  For this is the message which you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another:

·         1 John 3:23  And this is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as He gave us commandment.

·         1 John 4:7  Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God.

·          1 John 4:11  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (see also Rom 13:8, 1 John 4:12, 2 John 1:5)