What does 1 Corinthians 13:2 mean?Paul is demonstrating just how worthless the spiritual gifts are when attempted without love for other believers. The Corinthians valued these gifts highly, apparently elevating those among them with the gifts of tongues and prophecy as the most spiritual. Paul has declared that this is not true. All the gifts are needed in the church.
Now, though, he is showing something else. The gifts are meaningless when practiced without love. Even more, the loveless person displaying the gift is "nothing." By this, Paul means the person is accomplishing nothing within the body of Christ. The gift is being wasted on him or her in that moment.
Paul says this is true even of the gift of prophecy or prophetic powers, which he described as one of the higher gifts in the previous chapter (1 Corinthians 12:28, 31). He puts that gift together with the gift of knowledge and the gift of faith, using hyperbole to describe a level of giftedness no Christian has ever had. Paul is not necessarily saying such a thing can happen—only that even if it could, it would not change the primacy of godly, self-sacrificing love.
Imagine a person, Paul writes, with the gift of prophecy and a full understanding of all the mysteries of God and an iron-clad faith that allowed him or her to move actual mountains. Jesus told his disciples they could move mountains with the amount of faith that would fit in a tiny mustard seed (Matthew 17:20). Even this imaginary person Paul describes, without love, is nothing. All those gifts become worthless when exercised without concern, compassion, and empathy for other believers.