“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, but have not love, I am nothing.”
Paul picks up three more gifts (prophecy, understanding, and faith) in verse two. The Corinthians highly regarded these gifts.
Paul speaks hypothetically (a third class condition in the Greek) and not actually about gifts listed in this verse.
I have the gift of prophecy,
Prophecy is a greater gift (14:1-5) than tongues (v.1). In its primary sense, the gift of prophecy is the ability to know divine truth apart from human knowledge. Prophecy is the ability to receive knowledge directly from God by divine revelation. This was a primary gift during the completion of the canon of Scripture in the first century. Once God completed the canon, He limited the gift to exposition (13:8), so in its secondary sense, prophecy is the ability to expound the Word of God (chapter 14).
And understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
“Mysteries” are truths not hitherto revealed to the point of understanding. They are not something spooky or mysterious. We can find usage of mystery as a truth not hitherto revealed is in Ephesians three: no Jew fully understood that God would bring Gentiles and Jews together in one body (Ep 2:15-18; 3:3-5).
“Understanding” is insight, and “knowledge” is the capacity to gather facts of divine revelation. The gifts referred to here are a combination of the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and discernment. Capacities of understanding and knowledge hold the great danger of arrogance and pride if not held in humility.
Note the word “all” twice in this phrase and once in the next. Although a person has limitless gift capacity, he is nothing without love.
and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains,
A mountain is a worldwide symbol for something immovable. It was a figure of speech for doing the impossible. Faith enough to move a mountain is hyperbole for great faith.
but have not love, I am nothing.
Prophecy, understanding, and faith without love are empty. A person exercising a gift without love is a big religious zero. Note the parallelism: “I became nothing,” “I am nothing,” “It profits me nothing.” It is zero, zero, zero. The word “am” in “am nothing” is our status quo. Our status is a religious zero if we minister without love.
Power without love is nothing in God’s economy.
A gift exercised apart from love is “nothing.” We misplace our priorities if we measure our significance by the gifts we possess. Power without love is nothing. This is a special warning for those with outstanding public gifts. Power-lust ultimately is nothing in God’s economy. We must direct everything we do by love for people. We must control both the preaching and the exercise of our gifts by love. Love is the key, the main thing in ministry. Ministry is not about us but them.