Chapter 36: “Covet Earnestly the Best Gifts”

The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (1979), 294–99

Map Chp. 36

First Letter of Paul to the Corinthian Saints

Written During His Third Missionary Journey from Ephesus, ca. Spring, A.D. 57 (1 Corinthians 12–16)


1 Corinthians

The Holy Ghost Bears Witness of Christ


Spiritual Gifts of the Church


The Importance of Each Member


Charity: The Pure Love of Christ


Tongues and Prophecy Compared


Prophecy—the Greatest Gift


The Reality of the Resurrection


The Order of Resurrection


Baptism in Behalf of the Dead


A Better Resurrection


Resurrection into Kingdoms of Glory


Christ Triumphed over Death


“Stand Fast in the Faith”


Interpretive Commentary

(36-1) 1 Corinthians 12:3. “No Man Can Say That Jesus Is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost”

Men may say things without the aid of the Holy Ghost, but they may not be assured of eternal truths without the influence of that member of the Godhead. The Prophet Joseph Smith said that 1 Corinthians 12:3 should be translated “no man can know that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (Teachings, p. 223. Italics added.)

(36-2) 1 Corinthians 13:1–13. Paul’s Teachings on Charity—Some Further Insights

Charity, of course, is here being used in the sense of the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:47) and not in the sense of the giving of money or services to those in need. Some of the Old English words obscure the vividness of Paul’s beautiful language here. The following are some helps in that regard:

Vs. 4:The word translated vaunt comes from the Greek word for “braggart.” 
Vs. 5: Easily provoked comes from the word meaning “irritable” or “exasperated.” 
Vs. 5:The word thinketh is better translated as “reckons” or “takes account of.” 
Vs. 7: Beareth comes from the word meaning “to cover” and is used of roofs and the hull of ships. “It keeps out resentment as the ship keeps out water, or the roof the rain.” (Vincent, Word Studies, 2:795.) 
Vs. 8:The word translated faileth really means “to fall off” and was used of leaves or flowers. In other words, love is not removed from its place. 
Vs. 12:The word translated glass is actually mirror. To those of us accustomed to the high quality mirrors of today, Paul’s imagery is not clear. “The thought of imperfect seeing is emphasized by the character of the ancient mirror, which was of polished metal, and required constant polishing, so that a sponge with pounded pumice-stone was generally attached to it.” (Vincent, Word Studies, 2:795–96.) 

(36-3) 1 Corinthians 14:1–22. Are All the Gifts of the Spirit Observable like the Gift of Tongues?

“There are several gifts mentioned here, yet which of them all could be known by an observer at the imposition of hands?

“The word of wisdom, and the word of knowledge, are as much gifts as any other, yet if a person possessed both of these gifts, or received them by the imposition of hands, who would know it? Another might receive the gift of faith, and they would be as ignorant of it. Or suppose a man had the gift of healing or power to work miracles, that would not then be known; it would require time and circumstances to call these gifts into operation. Suppose a man had the discerning of spirits, who would be the wiser of it? Or if he had the interpretation of tongues, unless someone spoke in an unknown tongue, he of course would have to be silent; there are only two gifts that could be made visible—the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy. …

“The greatest, the best, and the most useful gifts would be known nothing about by an observer. It is true that a man might prophesy, which is a great gift, and one that Paul told the people—the Church—to seek after and to covet, rather than to speak in tongues; but what does the world know about prophesying? Paul says that it ‘serveth only to those that believe.’ But does not the Scriptures say that they spake in tongues and prophesied? Yes; but who is it that writes these Scriptures? Not the men of the world or mere casual observers, but the Apostles—men who knew one gift from another, and of course were capable of writing about it. …” (Smith, Teachings, p. 246.)

(36-4) 1 Corinthians 14:26–40. What Are Some Things We Should Know in Relation to Speaking in Tongues?

The Prophet Joseph Smith had a great deal to say on the subject of tongues. The following excerpts help to summarize his counsel in relation to this subject:

The Devil Also Speaks in Tongues

“Speak not in the gift of tongues without understanding it, or without interpretation. The devil can speak in tongues; the adversary will come with his work; he can tempt all classes; can speak in English or Dutch. Let no one speak in tongues unless he interpret, except by the consent of the one who is placed to preside; then he may discern or interpret, or another may.” (Teachings, p. 162.)

There Is a Specific Purpose for the Gift of Tongues

“… the gift of tongues by the power of the Holy Ghost in the Church, is for the benefit of the servants of God to preach to unbelievers, as on the day of Pentecost. When devout men from every nation shall assemble to hear the things of God, let the Elders preach to them in their own mother tongue, whether it is German, French, Spanish or Irish, or any other, and let those interpret who understand the language spoken, in their own mother tongue, and this is what the Apostle meant in First Corinthians 14:27.” (Teachings, p. 195.)

There Are Definite Cautions About the Gift of Tongues

“Be not so curious about tongues, do not speak in tongues except there be an interpreter present; the ultimate design of tongues is to speak to foreigners, and if persons are very anxious to display their intelligence, let them speak to such in their own tongues. The gifts of God are all useful in their place, but when they are applied to that which God does not intend, they prove an injury, a snare and a curse instead of a blessing.” (Teachings, pp. 247–48.)

“If you have a matter to reveal, let it be in your own tongue; do not indulge too much in the exercise of the gift of tongues, or the devil will take advantage of the innocent and unwary. You may speak in tongues for your own comfort, but I lay this down for a rule, that if anything is taught by the gift of tongues, it is not to be received for doctrine.” (Teachings, p. 229.)

(36-5) 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35. Should Women Keep Silent in Church?

In both of these verses, Joseph Smith changed the word speak to rule in the Inspired Version. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:

“May women speak in Church? Yes, in the sense of teaching, counseling, testifying, exhorting, and the like; no, in the sense of assuming rule over the Church as such, and in attempting to give direction as to how God’s affairs on earth shall be regulated: ‘A woman has no right to found or organize a church—God never sent them to do it.’ (Teachings, p. 212.) Paul is here telling the sisters they are subject to the priesthood, that it is not their province to rule and reign, that the bishop’s wife is not the bishop.” (DNTC, 2:387–88.)

(36-6) 1 Corinthians 15:29. “Else What Shall They Do Which Are Baptized for the Dead?”

“Every man that has been baptized and belongs to the kingdom has a right to be baptized for those who have gone before; and as soon as the law of the Gospel is obeyed here by their friends who act as proxy for them, the Lord has administrators there to set them free. A man may act as proxy for his own relatives; the ordinances of the Gospel which were laid out before the foundations of the world have thus been fulfilled by them, and we may be baptized for those whom we have much friendship for; but it must first be revealed to the man of God, lest we should run too far.” (Teachings, p. 367.)

(36-7) 1 Corinthians 15:33. “Evil Communications Corrupt Good Manners”

The word communications as used here does not mean corrupt, degrading language or talk; it means companionships or associations. The Greek word, here translated communications, refers to the length and breadth of social interaction, of which clean speech and uplifting language are but a small part. Far more than good manners are at stake; one’s basic character patterns or ethical choices are also involved. Paul was simply saying that one’s standards are often determined by the company he keeps.

(36-8) 1 Corinthians 15:44–49. “It Is Raised a Spiritual Body”

“‘And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.

“‘And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.’ (D&C 88:15–16.)

“There is a separation of the spirit and the body at the time of death. The resurrection will again unite the spirit with the body, and the body becomes a spiritual body, one of flesh and bones but quickened by the spirit instead of blood. Thus, our bodies after the resurrection, quickened by the spirit, shall become immortal and never die. This is the meaning of the statements of Paul that ‘there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body’ and ‘that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ The natural body is flesh and blood, but quickened by the spirit instead of blood, it can and will enter the kingdom.” (Howard W. Hunter in CR, Apr. 1969, p. 138.)

(36-9) 1 Corinthians 15:45. “The Last Adam Was Made a Quickening Spirit”

“An immortal soul or person, consisting of a resurrected body housing an eternal spirit everlastingly. It is Christ, as a quickening spirit, who ‘quickeneth all things,’ thus bringing to pass ‘the redemption of the soul.’ (D. & C. 88:17.)” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:402.)

(36-10) 1 Corinthians 15:50. “Flesh and Blood Cannot Inherit the Kingdom of God”

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught the following concerning resurrected bodies:

  1. 1.

    “God Almighty Himself dwells in eternal fire; flesh and blood cannot go there, for all corruption is devoured by the fire. … When our flesh is quickened by the Spirit, there will be no blood in this tabernacle.” (Teachings, p. 367.)

  2. 2.

    “Flesh and blood cannot go there [i.e., into God’s presence]; but flesh and bones, quickened by the Spirit of God, can.” (Teachings, p. 326.)

  3. 3.

    “As concerning the resurrection, … all will be raised by the power of God, having spirit in their bodies, and not blood.” (Teachings, p. 199–200.)

(36-11) 1 Corinthians 16:22. What Is the Meaning of the Words Anathema and Maranatha?

This strange inclusion of two Aramaic words together in Paul’s closing words of the epistle has raised many questions. The meaning of both words is known, but the strange combination is what puzzles most scholars. Anathema means literally “something set apart or consecrated,” and came to carry the meaning of “cursed” or “accursed.” This is the word Paul uses in Galatians 1:8 when he says that anyone preaching another gospel than the true one should be accursed. Maranatha has been variously translated as “the Lord comes,” “the Lord will come,” “the Lord is at hand,” and so on. It seems to have been a common Christian greeting or watchword. As far as the combination of the two are concerned, two basic interpretations are made. Some versions assume that there should be a period between the two. Thus it reads: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!” Most scholars seem to prefer this separation. But one has suggested that Paul combines them deliberately, using an old Syriac exclamation, “Let him be accursed, the Lord is at hand,” suggesting that at the Lord’s coming, punishment will be meted out. (See Fallows, The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopedia and Scriptural Dictionary, 1:104.)

Points to Ponder

A Diversity of Gifts Is Made Available to Every Saint Who Desires Them in Humility and Righteousness

You have previously read Paul’s sermon on the spiritual gifts. In all probability you have asked yourself this question: “How may I identify and develop my own gifts?” It would be helpful for you to prepare a compilation of the various gifts of the Spirit so you may appreciate their diversity and perhaps recognize some of your own.

It is suggested that you obtain a piece of paper, a pencil, and a ruler. Next, prepare a chart with three columns. In the first column, list the ten gifts Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 12:4–11. Next, read Moroni’s account in Moroni 10:8–18 and place his list of nine gifts in the second column. Finally, turn to a modern revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1831 (D&C 46:8–33) for fourteen gifts.

Having pondered and prayerfully considered these gifts, perhaps you should now ask, “Why are these gifts made available to me?” Paul explained that spiritual gifts are “given to every man to profit withal.” (1 Corinthians 12:7. Emphasis added.) To profit is to reap an advantage. There are many types of profit men seek after in life that would grant them advantages. Unfortunately, selfishness is often the motivation for seeking them; their associated pleasures are of short duration and are of little eternal value.

By way of contrast, we may learn a valuable lesson from a visionary experience of the prophet Lehi. He was asked by a heavenly being to undertake a long and arduous journey through a dark and dreary wilderness. Seeking relief of the Lord through faith and prayer, Lehi discovered a fruit tree of transcendent beauty and value. After he partook of its fruit, he found that it represented the love which Christ extends to all who seek him. Lehi immediately sought to share the fruit with his family, hoping to strengthen and edify them. (See 1 Nephi 8, 11.)

After having wandered through a spiritual wasteland of his own making, Paul too partook of the fruit, and then, motivated by the love of Christ, he began his labors in behalf of mankind. Paul, like Lehi, learned that his God-given gifts were made profitable only when shared with others in the context of Christlike love. Thus it was that Paul gave some important counsel to the Corinthians saints about spiritual gifts made active by charity.

After teaching the saints in Corinth about the diversity of spiritual gifts and how they are to function in unity, Paul tells them about “a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31.) That way is the way of charity, or the pure love of Christ. (See Moroni 7:47.)

When we do not have the love that Christ had, i.e., a pure and perfect love, then, Paul says, the spiritual gifts are meaningless. Of what use is prophecy or healing or tongues or even the sacrifice of one’s life without the pure motives of Christlike love? Of what benefit is mountain-moving faith, the speech of angels, or even total knowledge when love is not?

Then Paul defines this love of which he speaks. He does not define it philosophically; he defines it behaviorally. In other words, he does not tell us what love is or is not; he tells us what love does or does not do. Note the simple but profound measuring rod it provides.

The pure love of Christ does—

    1 Corinthians 13

  • Have patience (is long-suffering). (vs. 4)

  • Rejoice in the truth. (vs. 6)

  • Bear all things. (vs. 7)

  • Believe in all things. (vs. 7)

  • Hope for all things. (vs. 7)

  • Endure all things. (vs. 7)

  • Persist without failing. (vs. 8)

  • Have preeminence among the spiritual qualities. (vs. 13)

The pure love of Christ does not—

  • Envy. (vs. 4)

  • Vaunt (or exalt) itself. (vs. 4)

  • Have puffed up or inflated ideas of its own worth. (vs. 4)

  • Behave itself unseemly. (vs. 5)

  • Seek its own ends. (vs. 5)

  • Provoke easily. (vs. 5)

  • Think evil. (vs. 5)

  • Rejoice in iniquity. (vs. 6)

(36-12) All Spiritual Powers Are Activated by the Pure Love of Christ

Under the overarching power of Christ’s pure love all spiritual powers are activated. Without it religious behavior becomes sterile and fruitless. The point does not need to be belabored. Surely you have seen the application of Paul’s yardstick to your own life. Does it infuse your spiritual life? Do you exercise the spiritual gifts you have been given under its influence? Or, like the Corinthian saints, do you sometimes find yourself seeking spiritual power without seeking the love that makes those powers operate?

(36-13) Motivated by the Pure Love of Christ, We Are Prepared to Receive and Exercise Our Spiritual Gifts

Many persons will bear witness that as they have received calls to serve within the Church, their accompanying blessings have included the endowment of spiritual gifts to enable them to more effectively accomplish their labors. Missionaries rapidly learn difficult languages and are blessed with words with which to defend the truth; fathers give inspired blessings to their children; through faith mothers assist their husbands in healing ill family members; teachers are granted special thoughts while preparing and delivering lessons so that the students are edified. Testimonies grow, people are healed, directions are given, knowledge and wisdom come to the thirsting unenlightened—all based on the love which transforms the giver into a Christlike servant who blesses, encourages, and strengthens others in love.

The Church Hath Need of Every Member

Read D&C 84:109–10. (See also 1 Corinthians 12:12–27.) Do you now understand that you are as needed in building the kingdom of God as is every other member? The Lord has need of you! Not only are you blessed with certain gifts of the Spirit, but you can channel their powers through your unique personality, experience, influence, and preparation to aid you in performing important acts of service to mankind. No one else will ever see with your eyes, hear with your ears, discern with your understanding. No one else will ever be able to minister with your particular ability and sensitivity. If you are willing to develop these spiritual gifts and abilities and exercise humility and faith, the Lord and his angels stand ready to assist you in any way they can. Always remember the assurance given the Saints by President Heber J. Grant:

“I rejoice … that every Latter-day Saint, every humble son and daughter of God that has embraced the Gospel and become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has received the witness of the Holy Spirit, that the gift of tongues, the gift of prophecy, of healing, and other gifts and blessings, are found in the Church, and are not confined to men that hold responsible positions in the Church.” (Heber J. Grant in CR, Apr. 1901, p. 64.)