Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
Now we turn from the catalog of gifts to the correct use of gifts in chapter 13. Execution of gifts by love is the “more excellent way” referred to in 12:31. Chapter 13 divides into three sections:
The futility of gifts without love, 1-3
Description of biblical love, 4-7
The permanence of love, 8-13.
The first three verses show the futility of gifts without love. Love is superior to gifts. Chapter 13 unfolds more about love than any other chapter in the Bible.
Paul uses the word “though” to begin each of the first three verses. This “though” means that Paul speaks hypothetically. He does not speak about real situations but only about hypothetical situations. This is pure hyperbole of literary exaggeration. He takes each gift to its ultimate function. The word “though” is “if.” “If” carries the hypothetical sense (a third class condition in the Greek). Paul does not refer to actual angelic languages but hypothetical angelic language.
Speech was of high importance culturally to the Greeks, and Corinth was in Greece. Greeks enjoyed public speaking and debates as a form of recreation. The heroic speaking of Demosthenes, the greatest Attic orator, was an example of this. He was known as a political orator. Every Greek boy knew about his speaking ability by the time he could think. Demosthenes suffered from a speech impediment as a boy. Mocked by other boys, he decided to address his problem aggressively. He talked with pebbles in his mouth and recited verses while running. He spoke on the seashore over the roar of waves. He became the greatest orator in Athens.
with the tongues of men and of angels,
First, Paul shows that the gift of tongues without love is hollow. He speaks in the first person “I” to neutralize the situation from the Corinthians and place the onus on Paul himself exercising gifts without love.
“Tongues of men” refers to normal human languages, whereas “gift of tongues” refers to the gift of speaking in an actual foreign language without studying for it. Humans do not know the languages of angels. Angels in Scripture always spoke the language of those addressed.
Gifts do not have much value without love.
The Bible says, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16), so the greatest manifestation of Christian character is love. We cannot substitute talents or gifts for love. No amount of elocution can replace love.