Chapter 13 is placed between 12 and 14 to show the better way, specifically that one doesn’t discern the presence of the Holy Spirit by the visible manifestation or by the level of power that is displayed, but by way in which those gifts are controlled by the Holy Spirit. I’ve used a red font for the names of gifts or any items closely related to gifts of the Spirit. (I’m treating “give away all my possessions”? as a form of assistance.) Chapter 14 will explicitly apply the principle of love to how one manages the worship service.
1If I speak in languages both human and angelic, but do not have love, I have become like a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. 2And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know every mystery and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so that I can remove mountains, but have no love, I am nothing. 3And if I give up all my possessions and hand over my body so I can boast, but have no love, it doesn’t profit me anything.
The Corinthians were looking for the Spirit to be manifested amongst them either through powerful gifts, through extraordinary freedom, or through something the looked important. Love manifests itself through rejecting those sorts of things as values. Love demonstrates the presence of the Spirit in turn, so spirituality is also displayed through a life lived through love.
4Love is patient, love is kind. It’s not jealous or boastful. It’s not self-important. 5It doesn’t behave indecently, nor does it seek its own way. It doesn’t get provoked. It doesn’t plan evil. 6It doesn’t rejoice in injustice, but it rejoices with the genuine. 7It endures all things, believes all things, hopes all things, is patient through everything.
Greek pisteuw (pisteuo) related to faith.
Greek elpizw (elpizo) hopes, related to “hope.”? Notice how Love subsumes the two other elements of the “three things that abide.”?
8Love never fails. But prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, knowledge will vanish.
Love is superior and even in a different category than spiritual gifts. It is the test of the true use of all of our gifts.
9Because we know partially and we prophesy partially.
Our spirituality, whether displayed in knowledge or in gifts is limited.
10But when what is complete comes, what is partial will vanish.
Greek teleio” (teleios) = perfect or complete cf 14:20 with reference to what Christians should strive to be.
Because this passage is about spiritual people or how one can be spiritual, the reference to “that which is perfect” must have to do with spirituality. Those who make this a reference to the completed canon of scripture, so that the “perfect” is the completed Bible, ignore the context of the passage. Paul has not brought the issue of the scripture into play, and our imperfect knowledge of, and inability to interpret the scriptures makes the Bible no more precise or accurate a source of knowledge than was the active gift of prophecy. Both spoken prophecy and the written scripture record are given to us so that we can ascertain God’s will while we are still less than perfect.
That which is perfect comes with the kingdom, with the resurrection, and is an anticipation of the resurrection state descried in 1 Corinthians 15.
11When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.
Greek nhpio” (nepios) = child; see 1 Cor. 3:1 and 14:20 where the verb form (nhpiazw) is used.
12For now we see dimly in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know partially, but then I will know in the same way that God knows me. 13And now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love. But the greatest of these is love.
Love is the touchstone by which to discern.
For reference information on the Greek words cited, see 1 Corinthians 12-14: Greek Terms. Draft translation is from my Totally Free Bible Version project, and is just a draft.