Bible Study with Jairus – 1 Corinthians 13
Do sign gifts still exist? Has the gift of prophecy come to an end? The chapter says that gifts of prophecy and knowledge are partial. Love reigns supreme. But does this mean that prophecy and knowledge can be completely discarded?
These are questions that come to mind when we read 1 Corinthians 13. Although the chapter is a popular wedding chapter focusing on love, it is also frequently cited to defend the cessation of the sign gifts. Paul introduces his definition of love by talking about the miraculous gifts of tongues prophecy, knowledge, and faith (vs 1-2). Many Christians wonder if these less-important gifts still exist, or if they have been superseded by love. That is what we will explore today.
Will the gift of prophecy come to an end?
The “love chapter” begins by demonstrating the emptiness of prophecy, knowledge, and sacrifice. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) Many Christians believe that these verses downplay miraculous gifts. Some go so far as to say that these gifts have ceased completely.
A friend argued with me that signs and wonders no longer exist. He said that the miraculous gifts in the Bible are just like road signs. A road sign is helpful while we are traveling. But once we reach our destination, the sign is no longer needed. In the same way, he said, miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit point to the fact that Jesus Christ is God and the Bible is God’s word. However, after the Bible was completed, the miraculous sign gifts were no longer needed. Once we reach the destination, the road signs are no longer necessary. He reasoned that signs and wonders no longer exist in the church today.
The logic of this argument seems to make sense, but it is a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:10. My friend believes that the word “perfect” refers to Jesus’ finished work on the cross, as well as the completion of the Bible. However, this interpretation does not fit with the message of the chapter. Instead, the word “perfect” refers to full spiritual maturity. The following verse says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Clearly, the word “perfect” refers to full-grown adulthood. And what is one of the biggest signs of our maturity? From my understanding, it’s “love”. This is why Paul said that whether we speak in tongues, prophesy, or have knowledge and faith, we are useless without love. Paul is saying that we should not pursue spiritual gifts at the expense of achieving spiritual maturity and love.
Spiritual gifts such as prophecy are tools. Its goal is love.
I believe that prophecy and other miraculous gifts are like tools. By itself, a hammer is useless. But used correctly, it will help us pursue our goal: creating something new. In the same way, miraculous gifts are empty on their own. Without love, our gifts of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, or faith are useless. But in skilled hands, these tools can be used to pursue our goal: love.
We should not exalt the tool and neglect our goal of love. But neither should we discard the tools just because someone is overusing them. Instead, we should focus on the correct use of the tools which will help us achieve the goal of love.
Love is critically important. It is wrong to neglect love and pursue only the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge. But it is also wrong to be against spiritual gifts. True, Paul criticized the Corinthian believers for seeking gifts at the expense of love. But this does not mean that the spiritual gifts are useless. After wrapping up his discussion of love in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 14:1, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” Clearly, Paul did not think that the gift of prophecy would come to an end because of one’s pursuit of love.
After encouraging believers to pursue love, the most important of all virtues (chapter 13), Paul also exhorts the Corinthian believers to pursue spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. Why? Because both are important. Paul doesn’t want believers to neglect love just to pursue spiritual gifts. But he also does not want people to oppose these gifts just for the sake of opposing. He actively encourages believers to pursue and develop their gifts, while also pursuing the goal of love. If believers do not make good use of their gifts, it is difficult to achieve love.
Throughout the ages, many Christians and Jews have fallen into two opposite but equally harmful errors. On the one hand, some people exalt the tools and neglect the goal of love. The Lord Jesus spoke frequently about this problem. For example, the Pharisees were unwilling to provide for their parents since they were paying their tithes faithfully. Mark 7:11-13, Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees: “But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:13).
The Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees another time as well: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23). Tithing and giving gifts to God are certainly required by God. But it is only a tool. God wants us to use the tool to bring about the goal, which is love. If we omit love, we have completely missed the point of God’s command.
Keeping the law is just a tool. The purpose is love. God wanted the Israelites to keep the law so they could be better equipped to love God and others—not just for the sake of following rules. For this reason, when the lawyer asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40). Keeping the law is not the goal. It’s just a means to help us love God and others better. But if we don’t love God and others, and just keep the law for the sake of keeping it, we’ve got our priorities wrong.
Now, let’s look at the opposite mistake. Because legalists misuse these tools, Christians may start to oppose them completely. They may swing to the opposite extreme and completely abandon rules. Since tithing was abused by the Pharisees and some people in the modern church, other believers began to oppose tithing and the church’s call for people to give money. But when the Lord Jesus criticized the Pharisees, He told them the solution was to tithe and love, not to abandon tithing altogether. He said, “These (tithing and giving) you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23).
When someone abuses a tool or a gift, we shouldn’t deny these tools or gifts altogether, simply because they’ve been misused. Even the Lord Jesus said, “So do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:3). Clearly, Jesus did not disagree with the teachings of the Pharisees. Although the Pharisees strayed from the goal and exalted the means over the end, the Lord Jesus did not deny the means or tools altogether.
Using Strategic Tools in Furthering our Goal—Love
The misuse of tools (the means to an end) often leads to a lack of love. This is a tactic the enemy has used throughout the ages to interfere with God’s plans. Satan uses distractions to keep God’s chosen people from pursuing the goal of love.
Love is our strategic goal. And the use of spiritual gifts is a tactic we use to reach the goal. We must be strategically situated. The act of carrying out our strategy must never interfere with the goal itself. If we realize our plan of action is working against our overarching goal, it’s time to change strategies!
Just like in times of war, the use of tactics must be subject to the overall strategic arrangement. If the use of a particular tactic interferes with the overall strategic goal, the commander-in-chief will interfere or stop the use of this tactic. But that doesn’t mean that the tactic itself is wrong. Perhaps it was just applied at the wrong time and place. Therefore, it interfered with the strategic goal.
When we use our spiritual gifts, we must understand that they are part of our overarching strategy. They are one tactic we can use to reach the goal—loving God and others. Matthew 22:37-40 says, ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
When some believers in the Corinthian church exalted spiritual gifts over the goal of love, they neglected the strategic goal. Paul said that we know in part, and we prophesy in part (1 Corinthians 13:9). Then he says in verse 10, “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” Paul is discussing the difference between a strategic goal and a tactic. When the goal has been accomplished, we no longer need the specific tactic. Paul is not against the use of specific tactics. Rather, he is calling on the Corinthian believers to use these tactics in conjunction with their unified strategic goal.
Paul says in verse 11, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Paul is saying that if the Corinthian believers exalted spiritual gifts above love, which was the goal of the whole strategic operation, they were acting childish and fleshly. Why? Because they only acknowledged one part of the big picture.
In the same way, church traditions are means to an end. We need to learn from our predecessors and pass on the excellent traditions they started. But we should not rigidly adhere to stereotypes until we become controlled by their traditions rather than by love. Our goal is to serve God better. Learning and inheriting traditions are just a means. We cannot allow means and tools to overshadow our overarching goal.
This is where many churches are deceived by the enemy. They fail to see the overall goal of God because they are bound by past traditions, teachings, and habits. This same problem causes division in churches. We must become spiritually mature. We must get rid of our fleshy and childish ways, so that we can see the overall picture. We need to learn to love God and others more effectively, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Use Spiritual Gifts to Promote Love
If we understand that love is the overarching goal and the big picture, then we must learn to make good use of the strategic tools God has given us. These tools include our spiritual gifts. We can use them to achieve our strategic goal.
In a war, even if you have a good strategic goal, you won’t get very far without a detailed tactical strategy. If you don’t have a detailed plan of how to use each tactic to slowly accumulate military strength through each and every tactical victory, you will not be able to achieve strategic victory. Many small changes are necessary to make the end goal a reality. In the same way, we must use our spiritual gifts in small ways every day to accomplish God’s overarching plan.
When the Corinthian believers exalted the spiritual gifts to the exclusion of the strategic goal of love, they showed they were immature and childish. On the other hand, when they opposed and eliminated spiritual gifts just for the sake of opposing them, they were also showing their spiritual immaturity. There cannot be an end result without a practical methodology. You cannot reach your destination without the road. Without the use of a good tactical strategy, the final strategic result cannot be achieved. We must not eliminate the use of spiritual gifts just because some have misunderstood them.
Many churches and pastors today are against spiritual gifts. This shows they are spiritually immature and deceived by evil spirits. The Spirit of Empty Religion deceives them. Satan uses this evil spirit to trick them. If he can get us to stop using our spiritual gifts, he can stop us from achieving our goal of love.
Tongues are a very important gift. Paul said the person who speaks in tongues “utters mysteries in the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:2) and builds himself up (1 Corinthians 14:4). Many people avoid using tongues to build themselves up because other believers have used the gift of tongues to promote their fleshly desires. But done correctly, praying in tongues builds up our spirits and our most holy faith (Jude 1:20), and also strengthens us in our spirits. In addition, it can activate many other spiritual gifts in us. If the gift of tongues is a channel of secret communication between God and man, and God’s key to activating other spiritual gifts in us, then no wonder Satan hates this gift so much! Satan tries to stigmatize this gift. He convinces people to oppose tongues and deny this important gift.
The gift of prophecy is also extremely important. Through prophecy, we disclose the secrets of people’s hearts (1 Corinthians 14:25). When we practice the gift of prophecy, we can understand and disclose the secrets in people’s hearts through prayer and God’s revelation. As a result, people will be able to encounter God and feel His love and His existence. They will fall on their faces and say, “God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25). Many traditional churches do not properly use the gift of prophecy. As a result, people in their congregations do not experience such powerful personal encounters with God.
God showed his great love by giving up his beloved Son so that the world may be saved. The gift of prophecy is one of the best means to share this message through evangelism. Using the gift of prophecy helps us achieve God’s greatest goal of loving the world. Nick Gough, a Ph.D. graduate at United Theological Seminary, wrote a thesis titled, “Postmodern Apologetics: A Charismatic Discipleship Program for Postmodern Missionaries.” In this paper, Gough points out the importance of unlearning old thought patterns and relearning new methods in order to embrace the power of evangelizing according to a charismatic, New Testament model of evangelism. He says,
To use traditional apologetics limits one in bringing a person to Christ. There is a culture shift. The use of traditional methods of evangelism is ineffective today. To give an example, a young adult of this author’s acquaintance traveled overseas with a well-known campus group. They used a traditional form of evangelism, a type of survey questionnaire that they administered to over five thousand college students in Australia. The intent of this survey was to lead students to Christ. Out of the five thousand surveys, there was no conversion. By way of contrast, this author trained a group of YWAM students who went to Germany to evangelize immigrant Muslims. In four weeks, that group led over five hundred people to the Lord. What is the difference? The group in Germany had divine encounters while praying for the sick and operating in the prophetic. This is an example of a modernist model versus Jesus’ charismata model.
We live in a post-modern era. While modernity put too much emphasis on rationality, post-modernism highlights subjective experience. Many post-modern listeners hate dry, theological religious preaching. They feel empty because they are unable to experience God through the preaching. They want to encounter God in their lives.
Therefore, in this current age, God has brought back the gift of prophecy to enable preachers to connect with post-modern people. As prophesied in Joel 2, “God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall dream dreams and your old men shall prophesy.” We must understand that God has revived this important gift in this age. He wants to enable us to use the gift of prophecy to achieve our goal of spreading the message of God’s love to the world.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Dr. Nick Gough, “Postmodern Apologetics: A Charismatic Discipleship Program for Postmodern Missionaries,”(DMin. Thesis, United Theological Seminary, 2013), 10–11.