Paul begins his discourse on love by stating the futility of languages without love. The Corinthians were enamored with the showy spiritual gifts, apparently to the neglect of those they deemed less spectacular (see 1 Cor. 12:12-31). One of the gifts they prized most highly was tongues, which was the Spirit-given ability to declare God’s truth in a language unknown to the speaker but known to others who heard.
Tongues were a sign to provoke unbelieving Jewish people to consider the gospel (1 Cor. 14:21-22). Its first occurrence was on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit enabled those assembled in the upper room to proclaim the mighty deeds of God in the native languages of the Jews gathered in Jerusalem at the time (Acts 2:4-11).
The “tongues of angels” Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13:1 isn’t the gift of tongues, as some suppose. He was simply using an exaggeration to emphasize his point, saying in effect, “If I had the ability to communicate with angels, it wouldn’t do any good without love.”
In Paul’s day, the worship of Cybele and Dionysus, two pagan gods, incorporated speaking in ecstatic languages accompanied by blaring trumpets, smashing gongs, and clanging cymbals. I believe Paul was drawing from that well-known practice to say that whenever Christians attempt to minister apart from the Spirit and His love, it’s no different than a pagan rite. It may look and sound like the real thing, but it’s meaningless and useless for any spiritual benefit.
You should take advantage of every opportunity to minister your spiritual gifts to others. But as you do, be sure it’s with love, in the energy of the Spirit, and in accordance with God’s Word. Then you’ll have a maximum impact as Christ uses your efforts for His glory.
Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to convict you whenever you attempt to exercise your spiritual gifts without love.
For Further Study
Read Romans 12:1-21.
- What does Paul say about spiritual gifts?
- How are Christians to express brotherly love to one another?