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This chapter is one of the most beautiful Scripture passages in the Bible.
I hope that a brief treatment of how 1 Corinthians 13 fits into the entire message of the letter will increase your appreciation of this famous passage.
1 Corinthians 13 is part of a larger message that Paul gave to the church, beginning in chapter 8.
The theme of chapters 8-14 was stated like this, “Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8.1).
Some of the members, presumably the leading and wealthy persons, were “puffed up” with pride. Their pride was based on so-called knowledge that gave them an excuse to behave in a manner that disrespected Jesus and his followers.
The actual effect of their pride was jealousy, quarrels, and actions that resembled more the culture of Corinth than that of Jesus (1 Corinthians 3.3).
The “puffed up” crowd excelled in self-promotion, and the result was division in the church (1 Corinthians 4.6).
Rather than mourning the sinful behavior of fellow Christians, people puffed up with pride apparently accepted actions that were even disapproved by pagans (1 Corinthians 5.2).
Chapters 12-14 describe in detail how love “builds up” other people and the purposes of God.
Chapters 9 and 13 provide a break in Paul’s argument. Apparently, how Paul spoke in these chapters was a tested method of persuasion in the ancient world.
In chapter 9, Paul used his own personal story to call the church back to self-giving love. Chapter 13 was an eloquent way to challenge the beliefs of the “puffed up” members to live in love.
Love Never Fails
Below is a verse-by-verse treatment with some notes and comments from my experience.
— Verse 1 – If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
We can assume that the prideful and divisive members used speaking in tongues as a way of separating themselves from other people without that gift.
Paul will treat speaking in tongues in detail in the next chapter, but his point here is clear. Tongues without love is nothing more than an irritating noise.
Love that is demonstrated by our attitudes and action is what is most important.
I deeply appreciate mature Christians who exercise the gift of tongues. They are valuable to the church and the work of the Lord.
On the other hand, I have seen the destructive nature of prideful Christians who insist that others who don’t speak in tongues are second class believers.
Self-giving love and humble submission to the Holy Spirit is what is most important with regard to this gift and all of the other gifts.
— Verse 2 – And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
More gifts that come from a relationship with the Holy Spirit are mentioned in this verse.
All of the gifts of the Spirit are important and useful in the body. However, none of the gifts are useful if they are not exercised in love.
I have witnessed humble and loving ministers use the gift of faith and healing to bring health and greater faith to others to the praise of God. Some of these experiences have been breathtaking. Praise God!
I am not the judge, but God is of those who use this gift for what appears to be financial gain and personal aggrandizement.
— Verse 3 – If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Extreme acts of giving, even martyrdom, is not beneficial unless it is accompanied by love.
Few people enjoy being around someone who is playing the role of the “martyr.” Yet, the whole world is awed by people who make great sacrifices because of great love.
— Verses 4-7 – Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Each of the qualities of love can be contrasted with “puffed up” arrogant behavior of some in the church. This was the root of the divisions among the Corinthians.
Imagine how American people would view the Christian faith if a majority of us lived according the kind of self-giving love that is pictured in these verses.
On the other hand, proud and rude Christians, who insist on having their own way, must break the heart of God and ruin our reputation in the world.
How Can I Be More Loving?
Over and over, Paul makes the point that “love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8.1). The question is what can we do to be more loving? Here are some thoughts.
(1) John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4.7-8).
Since “love is from God” and “God is love,” we must draw from God the Source of love in order to love more.
As we unite our inner selves with God, we will take on his supreme characteristic, love.
(2) Seek to live in love and only love. Let’s make the choice that all of our attitudes and actions will be determined by a desire to live each day in love and only in love.
It will take conscious effort to make every decision based on love. However, it will be well worth every effort to do so.
The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians can be nothing more than pretty words that basically mean nothing to us.
Yet, if we seek God and his kind of love on a daily basis, these words will become actions that define who we are, give glory to God, and make a huge difference in the world.
About This Blog
The background information in all of my blog articles for 1 Corinthians comes from an excellent book by Ben Witherington III.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. The prayer team at Maywood Baptist is honored to pray for you.