First Corinthians 12.31-13.3


1. In this last weekend of summer, let me share a train of thought I once had. I sat in my study and thought about the summer vacations our family used to go on when I was a kid. Iím telling you, those were times of the most frustrating agony and the most fond memories. Of course, these memories are the memories of a child, with all the distortions of a childís memory.

2. If you are old enough to remember the days of route 66 and filling stations instead of gas stations, and then if your summer vacation times were like ours, then you will remember the agony that came during travel time.

3. It is simply amazing how automobiles could be transformed into cruel instruments of torture by fathers at the beginning of a vacation, only to turn them right back into normal cars as soon as you get home.

4. I wonder if all fathers scream and yell at their kids and wives while packing up the car, going back and checking through the house to make sure that nothing is left on, so you can leave at the most ridiculous hours of the morning.

5. And then, as you go driving across the country the car would become a prison and a hothouse. No air conditioning in cars when I was a kid. No bathrooms at conveniently located rest stops, either.

6. My dad mastered the art of keeping on those narrow two lane highways with his left hand and slapping my little brother and me with his right hand . . . to keep us from crying and fussing because we needed to go to the bathroom so bad we were in pain. Mom was asleep.

7. And then our arrival. Whether we lived in North Dakota, South Dakota, or the southern tip of Florida, we seemed always to manage to arrive in Wheeler, Texas at three oíclock in the morning. I always wondered why dad never cared that he woke my grandparents up at that wee hour, but I always got a spanking if I woke him up at that time of the morning.

8. Anyway, we would always sit around the kitchen table while my sweet grandmother would fix a big breakfast for us so we could go to sleep. Of course, they would have to stay up another hour or two, cause it would be time for the morning chores. Wouldnít do them any good to try and get back to sleep for just an hour or so.

9. Wonder why grandmom and granddad were always tired and irritable the first day we visited them? But things settled down and everyone had a good time eating them out of house and home.

10. One time, I think I was about six years old, there was an emergency. About an hour after sundown the grownups noticed that my little brother, Greg, was missing. I think Mom went out and screamed for him, as only she could do, but he didnít answer.

11. They waited a little longer for him, not knowing whether to be mad at him or scared for him. You see, my little brother was the kind of kid who listened only when he felt like listening. If he didnít want to stop doing what he was doing he would just tell my folks he didnít hear them call for him.

12. Well, it was getting really late and still no Greg, so they organized a search party looking and calling everywhere on that farm they imagined he could be. But when they all gathered back, still no Greg.

13. I seem to remember that they stood on the cement slab out in front of the house, under a light that had a million bugs and gnats flying around it. They discussed where he might be until they ran out of ideas. But when everyone paused for a while and the crickets stopped chirping, they heard something.

14. It was a very faint sound coming from the barn, so we all rushed over to see what was making it. Shouldnít have been anything in there except the Ford tractor.

15. Well, when we got over there, by the light from the farm house that shined in, we all saw my little brother sitting in the metal seat of a that little Ford tractor, with his hands on the wheel, going "Urdn, urdn, urdn." All the time they had been looking for him and yelling and screaming for him to answer he had been in that barn, with a little straw cowboy hat on, playing tractor.

16. Oh, youíve never seen a group of people so happy. And my folks were so delighted that nothing was wrong with him that they blistered his behind and put him to bed to show it. Then the grownups and I went into the kitchen and they talked about how scared for him they had been.

17. Now, my brother deserved to get spanked cause he was my little brother. No, because he did not heed the calls of his parents. But, other than that, his behavior was just what you would expect from a little boy. Just as happy as he could be sitting in that tractor seat, going through the motions, not getting a single thing done.

18. Folks, though there is nothing wrong with a child pretending to function and not actually accomplishing anything, God expects more of His children. Amen? But how many of you simply go through the motions? Each one in his or her own little Gospel tractor, pretending to be out in the Fatherís field which is white unto harvest, but actually doing nothing, in the barn. Just like my little brother, except instead of saying "Urdn, urdn, urdn," you say "Praise the Lord" or "Amen."

19. The Corinthians were like that. They just sat around on their tractors and didnít really do anything for God. Oh, they talked about "ministering," but they didnít accomplish anything, you see.

20. And the reason they didnít accomplish anything was because they never did get around to turning their little Ford tractors on. They were too busy going "Urdn, urdn, urdn."

21. In our text for this evening the apostle Paul begins to take this subject of spiritual gifts and put things into perspective. And the way he does this is to set spiritual gifts against the backdrop of that which is really and truly important to Christian service...love.

22. Folks, letís pretend love is a little Ford tractor. And letís each pretend to be my little brother, Greg. Then weíll see how the apostle Paul attempts to persuade us how necessary it is that our little Ford tractor is running to get the job done for Christ.

23. Distilled down to one sentence: You canít accomplish anything for God without love. And in First Corinthians 12.31-13.3, Paul shows this to us, first, by showing loveís importance and, second, by showing loveís impact.

24. Letís stand together for the reading of Godís Word:

12.31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

13.1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

13.2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

13.3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.


1B. In The First Phrase Of Verse 31 We See Paulís Disclosure

"But covet earnestly the best gifts."

Two things are to be noticed in the development of spiritual gifts:

1C. First, there is cultivation. Now, we already know from First Corinthians 12.7 that every single Christian has at least one spiritual gift. And for that to be true the gifts must be given at the time of salvation, or else that verse would not be true in the case of every believer. And there is overwhelming evidence to conclude that you do not get more spiritual gifts later on.

2C. Then what does Paul refer to when he urges his readers to "covet earnestly the best gifts?" It needs but a little explanation.

3C. Folks, God does not inform you what spiritual gifts He has given to you when you trusted Christ. His plan is for you to serve Him in various ministries, to study the Word of God, to seek His leading in your life, so that you will begin to discover the gift or gifts that you possess.

4C. What Iím talking about will necessarily include some experimentation. Being a bus helper for a while, asking to help out in Sunday School, serving as an usher. You see, youíll never know that youíre a this or a that until you try your hand at it. But some people will never know what their spiritual gifts are because they are afraid of failure so much, they wonít try anything new. Too bad.

5C. Now, the reason this kind of cultivation of gifts is necessary is because so many spiritual gifts require a considerable amount of spiritual maturity or Bible knowledge before they can be properly used. For example: A person may not realize for a couple of years that he has the gift of teaching. Why? He has not learned enough of Godís Word to properly exercise that gift.

6C. Thatís the first thing to notice. The second thing to notice in this verse is quality. Paul makes reference, here, to "the best gifts." That he makes reference to "the best gifts" means that there are best gifts. That means some spiritual gifts are better than others. They are more useful and more productive.

7C. What you and I need to do is realize which ones are the best gifts, Biblically. Unfortunately for our Pentecostal friends, the gift of tongues always comes out on the bottom of every list and comparison of spiritual gifts that Paul makes. That means, and there will be more evidence of this in the next chapter, every other spiritual gift given to Christians is superior, is more productive, is more useful, than the gift of tongues.

8C. So itís the cultivation of gifts and the various qualities of gifts that Paul discloses.

2B. Now Notice The Second Phrase Of Verse 31. This Is Paulís Direction.

"and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way."

1C. Quite obviously from the Corinthianís carnality, it should not surprise us that they were off track in the area of spiritual gifts. According to First Corinthians 12.1 they were very ignorant in this area. So Paul seeks to remedy that problem by providing them with some direction.

2C. His direction, first, involves revealing. Thatís what the word "shew" means. Though spiritual gifts are nice and some people spend a great deal of time dealing with them, there is something that Paul wants to reveal to these Christians he loves so deeply.

3C. His direction, next, involves realizing. The word "way" refers to a path or a way of life. The word "excellent" is a word which implies that what Paul is about to deal with is far and away superior to even the best of the spiritual gifts.

4C. Quite literally, Paul is seeking to alter the course of these peopleís lives. Theyíre saved. Theyíre going to heaven when they die. But for the purpose of them being effective in their service to God, instead of sitting around going "Urdn, urdn, urdn," with their spiritual gifts, Paul will further show the importance of love by showing them the impact of love.


To show the impact of love, Paul shows what happens when love is missing. Itís like showing my little brother, Greg, what happens when the tractor engine is on and then showing what doesnít happen when the engine is turned of.

1B. In 13.1, With Love Missing, Notice What You Are

13.1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

1C. Let me make some comments and then weíll try to agree on what Paul is saying here.

2C. The word "though" establishes a condition. Itís almost like Paul saying, "Letís just suppose, for instance, that I speak with tongues of men and angels." Heís setting up a hypothetical situation.

3C. Now notice the word "tongues." This word is used by Paul to refer to languages. In a week or two I will devote an entire Sunday evening to tongues. Donít miss it.

4C. "Charity" simply means love. Not sexual or erotic love. Weíll see a great deal more of what love really is in the next few weeks.

5C. "Sounding brass" and "tinkling cymbal" refer to noise. Itís the kind of harsh noise thatís made by clanging metal objects together. Like this.

6C. Okay, what does Paul mean in this verse? He is saying that no matter how eloquent your speech happens to be, if you speak not from a heart of love you have become only a maker of noise. Thatís all you are...a maker of noise.

7C. You can even talk angel talk, which has always been Hebrew or Greek in the Word of God, by the way, and the effect of your great speech, without love, is to leave you a maker of noise. Thatís all you are without love.

8C. Have you ever heard the hollow words of someone who stood before you without love? Then you know what I mean. Though his or her words are nicely spoken and have wonderful content, you donít want to hear anything from someone you donít think loves you, do you? Of course not.

2B. In Verse 2, With Love Missing, Notice What Youíre Worth

13.2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

1C. You may be a vast repository of prophetic insight and comprehension of the things of the Word and of the future.

2C. You may have the consummate understanding of those things which were once hidden in ages past but are now revealed, called mysteries. Know all of the implications and ramifications of theology.

3C. Now listen to this: You may even have a great warehouse of faith. But if you have not the love to which Paul is referring, you are worthless to the cause of Christ.

4C. Now understand that you arenít necessarily a worthless human being without love, but you surely are worthless insofar as the beneficial effects you produce are concerned.

5C. I wish every young man aspiring to the ministry would make a special study of First Corinthians 13.2. I remember spending all the time I wasted sponging up knowledge and caring nothing for love. Now I wish that Iíd sponged up more love along with some of that knowledge.

6C. Listen to me. You can know to love someone. But knowing to love them doesnít help them nearly so much as actually loving them.

7C. You tired of going urdn, urdn, urdn? Then start majoring on loving people. If you feel like youíre worth nothing now, maybe itís because youíre not worth anything. Begin serving God with real love for others and youíll be worth a great deal.

3B. In Verse 3, With Love Missing, Notice What You Benefit

13.3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

1C. Wow! Paul is talking about real sacrifice here. This is ultimate sacrifice. This is also a verse that religious liberals and army generals donít like very much.

2C. What good does it do for a young soldier boy to give his life for his country without the motive of love? No good. Thatís why, in the Old Testament, God didnít want anyone in a fight who didnít want to fight. Only volunteers.

3C. And what about those who give to charities? What about United Way, the Heart Fund, Jerryís Kids, World Vision, etc.? What good does giving do for the cause if you give with the wrong motive? No good, thatís what. Without love you benefit nothing.


1. This evening we have seen how critically important love is to the cause of Christ. And though spiritual gifts are important, itís this thing called love which is vital, which is indispensable, which cannot be substituted. It is the one ingredient in the recipe which cannot be eliminated.

2. Next week weíre going to begin to learn exactly what love is. And I am very sure that young lovers, that husbands and wives, that teens, and all the rest of you, will discover some things about love that you didnít know before.

3. Some of you will come to understand that you have never given love. Tragically, some of you will also discover that, apart from Godís love given to you, you have never received love. Not real love anyway.

4. Perhaps you are here this evening and when you came in the front door you were in hot pursuit of knowledge. Or maybe you were in hot pursuit of the development of or the discovery of your spiritual gifts.

5. I want you to listen to a man who has learned some, but by no means all, of the hard lessons on this subject. There is something to be sought after more than knowledge of every Bible related subject. There is something more effective than the most effective spiritual gifts.

6. Itís love. Do you want to sit in the seat of a little Ford tractor and just go urdn, urdn, urdn? Will that satisfy you? Or do you want to go out into the field and begin harvesting?

7. Unfortunately, many are content to urdn, urdn, urdn. But if you want your life to count for something, youíd better come to Church as often as you possible can and learn how to love people the Bible way.

8. Tired of feeling utterly worthless? You probably feel that way because you are worthless. But you donít have to be worthless to the cause of Christ. By being a lover of the brethren and a lover of the lost you can become a vital cog in the machinery, an important link in the chain. Only then will you begin to benefit from giving of yourself.

9. How does one going about doing this? Turn to Galatians 5.22: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love." Real love is a by product of the unencumbered presence of the Holy Spirit.

10. If you are a Christian and you donít have love, thereís a sin problem that is grieving and quenching the Spirit of God. Deal with that and He will give you love.

11. But if you are not saved .......

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