If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
A Peanuts cartoon shows Lucy standing with her arms folded and a stern expression on her face. Charlie Brown pleads, “Lucy, you must be more loving. This world really needs love. You have to let yourself love to make this world a better place.” Lucy angrily whirls around and knocks Charlie Brown to the ground. She screams at him, “Look, Blockhead, the world I love. Its people I can’t stand.”
I’m sure we all feel that way from time to time, and some of us feel that way most of the time. Maybe you feel that way right now. Loving the world in general isn’t that difficult; loving the people around us can be a major challenge. In 1 Corinthians 13, we find one of the most beautiful and familiar chapters in the Bible. This chapter is typically read at weddings and anniversary celebrations. It has even been set to music. Yet, this was never the original intent. Instead, Paul was writing a rebuke to a dysfunctional church for their abuse of the spiritual gifts. Typically though, this understanding is often ignored. Consequently, I wonder if most Christians have truly pondered the deeper meaning of this passage. Have we heard this Scripture so often that we no longer think about what the words mean? I would suggest that if we ignore the context of this chapter we are in danger of missing its major impact.
1. Love is greater than any spiritual gift (13:1-3). In 13:2-3, Paul mentions five spiritual gifts when he writes, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” Prophecy refers to the ability to declare God’s truth in a powerful, life-changing way. Knowledge involves the deep understanding of the Word of God. Faith is the unique ability to trust God for great things. These three gifts are all from the Holy Spirit, and yet without love the person who has them is “nothing.” Verse 3 poses a problem because it asks us to ponder activities that we automatically consider noble. Giving to the poor is a good thing to do. And dying for your faith in Christ is the ultimate sacrifice. But as good as these things are, without love they do you no good. Paul declares that the greatest expression of spirituality is love. We could summarize these three verses like this: Without love…I say nothing, I am nothing, and I gain nothing.
2. Love is expressed by supernatural responses (13:4-7). Love is a word that can only be properly defined in terms of action, attitude, and behavior. Paul has no room for abstract, theoretical definitions; instead, he wants us to know what love looks like when we see it. Thus, he paints fifteen separate portraits of love. Yes, that’s right: in the space of four short verses Paul uses fifteen verbs, all of which have “love” as their subject. Our contemporary definition of love is that it is an emotion or a feeling—we love our jobs, we love football, we love pizza. In the biblical definition of agape, love acts, for love is an action, not an emotion. In the original Greek, the word ἀγάπη agape is used throughout. This is translated into English as "charity" in the King James version; but the word love is preferred by most other translations, both earlier and more recent. Verse 4 begins by summarizing the unselfish nature of love.
1) Love is patient.
2) Love is kind.
3) Love is not jealous.
4) Love does not brag.
5) Love is not arrogant.
6) Love is gracious, courteous, tactful, and polite.
7) Love does not seek its own.
8) Love is not provoked.
9) Love does not take into account a wrong suffered.
10) Love is righteous.
11) Love rejoices with the truth.
12) Love bears all things.
13) Love believes all things.
14) Love hopes all things.
15) Love endures all things.
3. Love is an eternal gift (13:8-13). In these final six verses, Paul discusses the temporary nature of the spiritual gifts and the eternal nature of love. In 13:8, Paul talks about the temporary nature of gifts when he writes, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” When Paul says, “Love never fails,” he means love never ends. The synonym for this expression is “love abides” in 13:13. These phrases serve to bookend this final section where Paul argues that the spiritual gifts will be done away with one day.
Today, how will you grow in your love for others? First, I would suggest that you cannot become the loving person you desire to be apart from a loving and vibrant relationship with God. This love relationship must be cultivated first and foremost. Second, you must love those nearest to you. This means that if you are married, you focus on your spouse. If you have children, you prioritize your children. If you are serving in a ministry, you love those children, teens, or adults. You strive to love your neighbors and coworkers. Once you have accomplished this, you will be able to better love the world around you. God has called us to love people. Jesus said that all people will know we are His disciples by the love that we have for one another (John 13:34-35).