Prophecy Without Love

“IF I HAVE THE GIFT OF PROPHECY . . . BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I AM NOTHING” (1 COR. 13:2).

Love motivated God to communicate with fallen humanity. That must be your motivation too.

The word prophecy as used in 1 Corinthians 13:2 is the ability to publicly proclaim God’s truth accurately and authoritatively. It’s a greater gift than tongues because tongues were given as a sign to unbelieving Israel in the first century (1 Cor. 14:21-22), whereas prophecy instructs and edifies believers throughout the centuries. Paul said, “one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation [and] edifies the church (1 Cor. 14:3-4).

Prophecy has two aspects: revelation and reiteration. When an Old or New Testament prophet received new information directly from God, that was revelation. Whenever that information was repeated through preaching or teaching, it was reiteration. For example, the sermons of Peter and Paul combine new revelation with a reiteration of Old Testament truth. That’s a common element in New Testament preaching.

With the close of the New Testament canon, direct revelation from God ceased. All preaching and teaching today is reiteration. New Testament prophets policed one another to ensure that every prophecy was truly from God (1 Cor. 14:32). Today, Scripture itself is the standard by which we test someone’s message. As the prophet Isaiah said, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no [light]” (Isa. 8:20).

Paul is saying 1 Corinthians 13:2, “If I have the ability to speak direct revelation from God, or to reiterate divine truth forcefully and dramatically, but lack love, my ministry is meaningless.” In its broadest sense, that principle applies to every believer because we all are proclaimers of God’s Word. You might not teach a class or preach a sermon, but whenever you tell someone about Christ or share a biblical principle, you’re reiterating divine truth. That’s why you must always speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Then the Holy Spirit can empower your words to minister to others.

Suggestions for Prayer

Ask God to help you guard your words so that everything you say will be clothed in His love.

For Further Study

Read Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:20-22.

  • What tests did Moses give for determining false prophets?
  • What punishment did false prophets receive?



From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993.

Languages Without Love

“IF I SPEAK WITH THE TONGUES OF MEN AND OF ANGELS, BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I HAVE BECOME A NOISY GONG OR A CLANGING CYMBAL” (1 COR. 13:1).

Love distinguishes true communication from useless chatter and meaningless noises.

Paul begins his discourse on love by stating the futility of languages without love. The Corinthians were enamored with the showy spiritual gifts, apparently to the neglect of those they deemed less spectacular (see 1 Cor. 12:12-31). One of the gifts they prized most highly was tongues, which was the Spirit-given ability to declare God’s truth in a language unknown to the speaker but known to others who heard.

Tongues were a sign to provoke unbelieving Jewish people to consider the gospel (1 Cor. 14:21-22). Its first occurrence was on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit enabled those assembled in the upper room to proclaim the mighty deeds of God in the native languages of the Jews gathered in Jerusalem at the time (Acts 2:4-11).

The “tongues of angels” Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13:1 isn’t the gift of tongues, as some suppose. He was simply using an exaggeration to emphasize his point, saying in effect, “If I had the ability to communicate with angels, it wouldn’t do any good without love.”

In Paul’s day, the worship of Cybele and Dionysus, two pagan gods, incorporated speaking in ecstatic languages accompanied by blaring trumpets, smashing gongs, and clanging cymbals. I believe Paul was drawing from that well-known practice to say that whenever Christians attempt to minister apart from the Spirit and His love, it’s no different than a pagan rite. It may look and sound like the real thing, but it’s meaningless and useless for any spiritual benefit.

You should take advantage of every opportunity to minister your spiritual gifts to others. But as you do, be sure it’s with love, in the energy of the Spirit, and in accordance with God’s Word. Then you’ll have a maximum impact as Christ uses your efforts for His glory.

Suggestions for Prayer

Ask God to convict you whenever you attempt to exercise your spiritual gifts without love.

For Further Study

Read Romans 12:1-21.

  • What does Paul say about spiritual gifts?
  • How are Christians to express brotherly love to one another?



From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993.

The Source Of True Love

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. . . . We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:7, 19).

True love cannot be generated on the human level. It’s a gift from God.

Scripture often makes seemingly impossible demands of us. For example, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). That’s easy to say, but how is it possible? Our natural tendency is to love our friends and hate our enemies. But Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv. 46-47).

Israel viewed tax-gatherers as traitors, and Gentiles as spiritual outcasts. Yet even traitors and outcasts show love and kindness to those who reciprocate. Jesus calls us to a much higher standard of love—one that is impartial, like God demonstrates when He “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (v. 45). As we see from God Himself, it extends even to those who aren’t worthy: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Despite generations of rebellion and slander against His holy will and name, God sacrificed His beloved Son, thereby providing the means by which sinners can be saved. Out of love, Jesus willingly endured the pain and shame of the cross and paid the price of our redemption. Now that’s divine love in action!

God commands you to love as He loves: impartially and sacrificially. That may sound impossible on the human level but remember that God never requires you to do anything He hasn’t already enabled you to do. At the moment of your salvation, the Holy Spirit took up residence within you and began producing the fruit of love (Gal. 5:22). You don’t have to muster it up on your own. All you have to do is invite the Spirit to take control, allowing Him to govern your thoughts and actions. As you do, His precious fruit will be multiplied in your life.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for the love of the Spirit He has placed within you.
  • Ask Him for opportunities today to learn how to love more perfectly.

For Further Study

Memorize Galatians 5:22-23.



From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993.

The Apostles Marvel At Jesus’ Power

“The men were amazed, and said, ‘What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’” (Matthew 8:27).

There are no realities more overwhelming than a glimpse of God’s glory or the sense of His presence. Such occurrences make it impossible not to be utterly dumbfounded before Him.

The disciples realized after Christ stilled the storm that He indeed was God standing in their boat with them. Peter displayed the same reaction of awe and terror when he briefly walked on water after his Lord did. A storm surged up and caused Peter to panic. When Jesus rescued the disciple and calmed the storm, all the disciples in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (Matt. 14:33; cf. vv. 28–32). That is simply the proper reaction any believer should have when getting a firsthand glimpse of the Lord’s power in this world.

God’s servants in Scripture had far more astounding earthly encounters with His magnificence than we ever will, but their examples are instructive. Daniel, for example, after beholding the Almighty, remarked, “No strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor” (Dan. 10:8; cf. Isa. 6:1, 5). When the risen Christ halted Paul (Saul of Tarsus) on his way to Damascus, “he fell to the ground” (Acts 9:4).

Our daily dependence on God and sense of His presence should be no less important for us than for the prophets and apostles of old. Isaac Watts’ lyrics capture this concept well:

On thee each moment we depend, 
If Thou withdraw we die. 
O may we ne’er that God offend, 
Who is forever nigh.

Ask Yourself

Pause long enough to marvel at the glory of your ever-present God. Put your feelings of awe into words of worship.



From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.

Filling Up An Empty Word

“I SHOW YOU A STILL MORE EXCELLENT WAY” (1 COR. 12:31).

Biblical love is characterized by humility, obedience to God, and self-sacrifice.

In our society, love is a common word but an uncommon experience. Often those who use the word most understand it least. Many who think they’ve found love have really settled for something far less than God intended for them.

For many, love means a romantic or sexual relationship. While Scripture has much to say about intimacy within marriage, the word love takes on a different meaning in the New Testament. Even Ephesians 5:25 (“Husbands, love your wives”) doesn’t refer to romantic love.

Other common errors include equating love with emotionalism or sentimentality, or confusing it with a friendly spirit of tolerance and brotherhood toward others—often apart from any consideration for doctrinal purity or biblical convictions. But biblical love is none of those.

The “more excellent way” Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 12:31 is love that comes from God Himself and conforms to His holy attributes. We have no capacity to generate it on our own. The Greek word for that kind of love is agapé, and it is characterized by humility, obedience to God, and self-sacrifice. John 13:1 says of Christ’s love for His disciples, “He loved them to the end.” That literally means He loved them to perfection—to the limits of love. In verses 4-5 He demonstrates His love by washing their feet. Love is humble. It focuses on meeting needs.

In addition, love is obedient and willing to make sacrifices for others. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). God made the supreme sacrifice for us in that He “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

First Corinthians 13 applies to Christians of every generation because we all face the danger of misusing our spiritual gifts. As we study it and other passages about love, ask yourself if your love is all that God wants it to be. If not, take note of what changes you need to make in light of what you’re learning.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for loving you.
  • Ask Him for wisdom and grace to understand and walk in love.

For Further Study

Read John 14:23-24, noting how Jesus described those who love Him.



From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993.