1 Corinthians 13:1–3: Arriving at a Better Understanding

Oghenovo Obrimah, PhD
7 min readJul 7, 2018

1 Corinthians 13:1–3 reads as follows:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (verse 1).

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (verse 2).

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing(verse 3).

The typical interpretation of the words above is that if we do not have love, there is not any reward for whatever we do that is good in this earth. So then both Christians and non-Christians strive to attribute their actions to love — philanthropy is love albeit with a secular label. But is the conventional interpretation of the passage above really true? Must we have love in order for good actions to be rewarded by God? Does it matter for the reward that a great swimmer who rescues a child from drowning sees it as duty bestowed by his gift, not an act of love?

The first verse declares that an outcome of whatever does not proceed out of love is noise, meaning absent love, there does not exist any spiritual value for words not spoken in love. This is tantamount to saying preaching to people without love does not produce true discipleship within a Church or in society at large. Clearly, there does not exist any allusion to reward for actions in the first verse.

The second verse declares that another outcome of whatever does not proceed out of love is, ‘I am Nothing’, meaning there does not exist any increase in spirituality from an intellectual understanding of the gospel. The coupling of a brilliant understanding of the mysteries of the gospel with a rational faith in Jesus Christ — a faith arrived at in light of the convincing nature of the evidence — cannot generate any improvements in spirituality. Intellectual understanding within the mind produces spirituality only if the heart truly confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. In this regard, note that while we understand with the brain or the mind, it is within what we refer to as the heart that attitudes are formed. The second verse declares that absent the right attitude towards Jesus Christ, an…



Oghenovo Obrimah, PhD

Educator and Researcher, Believer in Spirituality, Life is serious business, but we all are pilgrims so I write about important stuff with empathy and ethos