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What is the more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31)?

more excellent way

First Corinthians 12:31 is the final verse in chapter 12, which addresses the topic of spiritual gifts and their role within the church. The verse states, “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” (NKJV).

The word but indicates that the verse is connected to what comes before it. Considering that verse 31 is the concluding verse, we should review the entire chapter to understand the meaning of a more excellent way.

In 1 Corinthians 12:4–11, the apostle Paul lists various spiritual gifts that are distributed to believers by the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 12:6–8 and Ephesians 4:11). This list includes wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, spiritual discernment, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. Paul states that the purpose of these gifts is to promote the general welfare of the church.

In 1 Corinthians 12:12–30, Paul uses the metaphor of a human body to illustrate the interdependence of believers within the Body of Christ (cf. Romans 12:4–5 and Ephesians 4:4, 16). Just as a human body is composed of many parts that form a cohesive whole, so it is with the Body of Christ. Regardless of our individual gifts or roles within the church, we are all united in one body through the Holy Spirit.

Every believer is indispensable to the function and health of the body: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:21–22). God designed the body in such a way that there would not be division, jealousy, or envy among believers.

After discussing the various spiritual gifts and their significance to the body of Christ, Paul ends the chapter by pointing believers to a “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). It is not improper to “earnestly desire the best gifts,” whatsoever they may be. Nevertheless, there is something of greater importance that should govern our pursuit of these gifts.

The “more excellent way” is the way of love, which Paul expounds on in 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter is often referred to as the “Love Chapter” because it beautifully articulates a biblical conception of love:

In 1 Corinthians 13:1–3, Paul argues that love surpasses all spiritual gifts. Even the greatest gift is empty and meaningless without love.

In 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, Paul describes the characteristics of love. These characteristics stress the importance of putting the interests of others above our own (cf. John 14:13 and Philippians 2:4). Hence, the purpose of spiritual gifts is to edify the body of Christ and glorify God.

In 1 Corinthians 13:8–12, Paul writes that spiritual gifts are temporary and will pass away. This section reminds us that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophesying are not eternal. Love, however, is eternal and will never fail. Therefore, love is what truly matters.

This section also speaks to the limitations of human understanding. Because of sin and human finitude, believers can only know and prophesy in part (1 Corinthians 13:9). But when Christ returns, sin will vanish, and we will finally see God face to face.

In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul declares that love is greater than faith and hope. Paul made this statement because love is the foundation upon which faith and hope are built: we believe only in that which we love; we hope only for that which we love.

In summary, 1 Corinthians 12:31 reminds us not to lose sight of what is most excellent: love for God and love for one another (Matthew 22:36–40).

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What is the more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31)?
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This page last updated: August 22, 2023