1 Paul begins this discussion by summarizing ch. 13. Having demonstrated the importance of love as a fruit of the Spirit, Paul understandably instructs the Corinthians to (lit.) “pursue” (diōkō, GK 1503; NIV, “follow”) love. It is a quality that should be growing in the life of every Christian. As long as Christians are developing in love, it is also appropriate for them to “eagerly desire” (zēloō; see comments at 12:31) spiritual gifts. Here Paul uses the word pneumatika, as he did in 12:1, rather than charismata (see 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31), but these two words are synonyms—the former stressing the Spirit as the source, the latter stressing the gift as an outpouring of grace.
But Paul adds one more thing: “especially the gift of prophecy.” With this phrase he outlines the basic content of this section, namely, that in connection with the problem that had developed in Corinth, the gift of prophecy was the more desirable.
The opening words of chapter 14 sum up the conclusion we should draw from the teaching of chapter 13: ‘Follow the way of love’ (14:1)
LOVE’S PRIORITY OVER ALL OTHER SPIRITUAL GIFTS is established (vv. 1–3). If we are anxious about any aspect of the Spirit’s work in our lives, it should be his fruit rather than his gifts—and in particular love. The secret of using any gift properly, and of asking God for it for the right reasons, is love.
LOVE’S FOREMOST CHARACTERISTICS AND ACTIVITIES are established (vv. 4–7). All are the fruit of the Spirit and a reflection of our Lord Jesus Christ’s character. Love is patient (v. 4) in the sense of being steadfast and enduring. It protects (v. 7) in the sense of passing over in silence, or keeping confidential, the faults or sins of others (cf. 1 Peter 4:8 where, however, a different verb is used). Love does not stop believing the best of people and never takes failure as final.
LOVE’S OPPOSITES are clearly identified and need to be recognized and avoided—envy (v. 4), boastfulness (v. 4), pride (v. 4), rudeness (v. 5), selfishness (v. 5), irritability (v. 5), resentment (v. 5) and maliciousness (v. 6).
LOVE’S UNIQUE PERMANENCE is established (vv. 7–13). ‘Fail’ (v. 8) is used in the sense of what goes on when other things do not. Preoccupation, therefore, with any spiritual gift to the neglect of love is spiritual childishness (v. 11). There is no solid achievement in the Christian life if we are devoid of love (v. 13). Fundamental to all that the Lord Jesus teaches us is the truth: ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:35).
14:1 / In 14:1a Paul opens this segment of the letter as he ended a previous section at 12:31a—with an admonition, Follow the way of love! Then, as Paul launches into his discussion of the disorderly circumstances that apparently characterized the Corinthian church at worship, he urges the readers to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, but he makes his own preference clear by adding especially (lit. “rather”; Gk. mallon) the gift of prophecy. “Prefer prophecy” becomes Paul’s thesis for all that will follow in chapter 14; he even repeats this admonition in 14:39, “Be eager to prophesy.” These twin declarations in 14:1 and 14:39 form a literary inclusio, which emphasizes the material it surrounds. From this insight one gains a solid footing for attempting to follow Paul’s thought as he winds his way through the rest of this discussion.
14:1. In what practical ways could the Corinthian church bring together love and spiritual gifts? The NIV obscures the fact that there are actually three verbs in Paul’s solution: follow, desire, and “you may prophesy” (NASB). The believer who seeks both love and gifts will be especially desirous of the gift of prophecy. Having previously made the points that all gifts in the church are from the same Spirit, and that all members of the body are vital to the life of the church, Paul’s encouragement that the Corinthians especially pursue prophecy required further explanation. As he went on to explain, the reason lay in the nature of prophecy as opposed to tongues.
1. Pursue love, strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
The three verbs in this verse are directives: the first two are imperatives (pursue love! strive eagerly!), and the third is an indirect command (that you may prophesy). All of them are in the present tense to indicate that the readers should always seek to obey these injunctions.
- “Pursue love.” This brief exhortation serves as a fitting conclusion to the entire discourse on love in chapter 13. Paul uses the verb to pursue elsewhere in connection with righteousness, hospitality, and peace (Rom. 9:30; 12:13; 14:19). The verb denotes that pursuing something must be done with intensity and determination. That is, we must pursue love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (compare Mark 12:30). In short, Paul exhorts the readers to put the message of his letter of love (13) into practice.
- “Strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts.” The second command is closely tied to the first one, so that the two imperatives in the present tense are nearly synonyms. The connection, however, depends less on these two successive verbs than on the nouns love and spiritual gifts. With the phrase an even more excellent way (12:31), Paul shows that love dominates the greater gifts. Paul now calls these gifts spiritual (see 12:1) and strongly urges the Corinthians to desire them. Perhaps the emphasis falls more on the concept spiritual than on that of gifts.
- “Especially that you may prophesy.” Among the spiritual gifts is prophecy, which Paul now selects for special attention. Earlier he recorded this gift between those of doing miracles and discerning spirits (12:10; and compare 12:28–29). But in the context of chapter 14, he compares it with the gift of tongues and says that he prefers prophesying to tongue-speaking (v. 5).
Should everyone eagerly desire the ability to prophesy? Obtaining this gift depends first on the giver and second on the petitioner. God’s sovereignty to give or to withhold does not cancel man’s responsibility to pray. Paul can urge the Corinthians to pray earnestly for the gift of prophecy but he is unable to assure them that God will grant the same gift to everyone (12:11). Whatever gift the Holy Spirit confers on a believer must be employed in love for the benefit of the church. In addition, we observe that without the Holy Spirit a person is unable to prophesy. While God is calling forth today preachers, teachers, and exhorters of his revelation, Paul is urging them to respond to that call.
The affirmation of the general superiority of prophecy (14:1)
The first verse is transitional: it briefly alludes to the excellence of love (set forth in chap. 13) and it introduces the main point of 14:2–25.
The argument of chapters 12 and 13 has shown, among other things, (1) that the gifts of the Spirit are proper objects of desire, (2) that though they are all to be valued they are not of equal importance, and (3) that love is of more worth than any gift. In light of these truths Paul urges his readers: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts.” In effect, he is saying that “the Corinthians must not infer from the praise so richly heaped on love that the Charismata are of no value; on the contrary, while they ought to pursue the former, let them strive also for excellence in the latter” (Edwards). “Follow the way of” is the translation of a word that literally means to run after, to pursue. It indicates a never-ending action. Findlay understands it to signify prosecuting a thing to its goal. In this context the sense of it is to strive for, seek after, or aspire to. The mlb renders it, “Make love your great guest.”
The meaning of “eagerly desire” is not to be sharply distinguished from that of “follow.” Both Greek verbs are in the present tense, indicating continuous action. Note how Paul puts the two actions side by side. Williams brings out the sense in translation: “keep on pursuing love, but still keep cultivating your spiritual gifts.” Love is not exalted to the disparagement of gifts, but in their interest. It “is not to be pursued by forgetting everything else, but opens the true way to everything else” (Findlay).
“Especially the gift of prophecy” shows that among all the gifts prophecy is to be given the place of priority. The tcnt gives the meaning: “strive for spiritual gifts, above all for the gift of preaching [lit., ‘prophecy’].”8
14:1 The connection with the previous chapter is apparent. Christians should pursue love, and this will mean that they will always be trying to serve others. They should also earnestly desire spiritual gifts for their assembly. While it is true that gifts are distributed by the Spirit as He wishes, it is also true that we can ask for gifts that will be of greatest value in the local fellowship. That is why Paul suggests that the gift of prophecy is eminently desirable. He goes on to explain why prophecy, for instance, is of greater benefit than tongues.
14:1. That chapter 13 was something of a digression, however sublime, may be seen by the way Paul wove together the two strands which concluded chapter 12 (v. 31) and which began chapter 14 (v. 1). He did this in a chiasmus, a common literary style that connected a series of related words, phrases, or ideas by reversing their order of discussion in the second instance, for example, a1, b1, b2, a2. As a final note to his discussion on the unity and diversity of the gifts, Paul had exhorted the Corinthians to desire (a1) exercising the gifts which were of greatest benefit to the church as a whole (cf. 12:31). He then affirmed (b1) that, however splendid and profitable the gifts were, there was a greater way of life (chap. 13). Chapter 14 picked up on this note as Paul urged (b2) his readers to make this way of love (14:1) the definitive characteristic of their own course of life (cf. John 13:34–35). This in turn would lead them to “desire (a2) the greater gifts,” among which was prophecy (cf. 1 Cor. 12:31).
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 379). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 476–477). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1797–1798). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.