1 Corinthians 13:1
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
We already discussed the very major issue in the church at Corinth. This church was fairly straight doctrinally and full to overflowing with spiritual gifts, but seriously lacking in love. All that they were doing, they were doing for the wrong motivations.
Paul uses the first few verses in 1 Corinthians 13 to clearly establish where love ranks in the hierarchy of spiritual gifts. And without a doubt, he placed it clearly in the number one position as the most important thing.
It’s interesting how Paul did this. He takes some of his words to extremes to illustrate how useless any amount of gifts is without love. What we see here is Paul using hyperbole to illustrate his point. He exaggerates the potential level of gifts to show just how useless those gifts are if not done in love.
We aren’t going to have some theological discussion about tongues here; if you allow that Paul was using exaggeration to make his point, it seems that Paul is simply referring to someone who could speak numerous languages with skill and eloquence. This would be skill and eloquence far above the greatest of orators.
What Paul is saying here is that no matter how high the level of verbal skill a person has, if this skill is not used with love, it might as well somebody beating a gong or clanging cymbals for all the good it does.
Additionally, some of the pagan rituals going on at the time, many right in the city of Corinth, involved ecstatic rituals that used speaking in tongues, smashing gongs, cymbals and trumpets. The believers would have gotten this point as well: If you can say the most wonderful and important words on the planet, but do not say them with love, then it is no better than some pagan ritual.