Summary: The love described in 1st Corinthians chapter 13 helps heal and restore unity to a divided and bickering congregation to live out the unity of the faith.
If there’s ever been a part of the Bible that we’ve used--and abused!--it’s 1st Corinthians chapter 13. We’ve understood that chapter in so many different ways that we’re not even sure what point Paul is making, except that it’s something about love. To understand what Paul was getting at, we need to know why Paul wrote the great love chapter, why he wrote 1st Corinthians chapter 13. Otherwise, we’re just the blind leading the blind.
And so, why did Paul write 1st Corinthians chapter 13? He did so to help heal and restore unity to a divided and bickering congregation. He did so because they weren’t living the unity of the faith that they had been given. They were a dysfunctional congregation.
God had blessed the congregation in Corinth. He had given many within the congregation different spiritual gifts. But instead of using those gifts to live out the unity of the faith, they began to brag about the gifts they had. I suppose some wanted to show how superior they were over others, that they could do what others could not. And if God had given some folks more gifts than others, obviously He must love them more, right? Otherwise, why would He have given them more gifts?
But the Apostle Paul had nothing but scorn for that sinful thinking and attitude. For when we boast about our gifts and abilities, they mean nothing if the love of Christ does not move us to use them properly, to use them from a heart of love.
It’s true, some in Corinth were prideful and arrogant in their abilities and skills, and used them to show off. They would often disrupt the worship services. And instead of speaking with one voice, they spoke with many, dissonant voices, sounding like a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). And so their worship services looked more like a circus, a freak show, than something that strengthened and unified the body of Christ.
What is it about us that makes us want feel like we’re better than someone else? We know the answer to that, don’t we? That’s our old Adam rearing his ugly head. That’s our sinful self lurking in us all, always seeking our own self-interest, and not that of Christ’s. That’s not how it’s supposed to be in Christ’s Church. That’s why Paul had such harsh words, even in his love chapter.
God has called us to live out the same love that He has shown to us through His Son’s life, suffering, death, and resurrection. The term Paul used for “love” was agape. Agape has nothing to do with what we call “romantic love.” Paul is talking about a self-sacrificing love, a love that seeks the interests of others, not a sentimental love that makes me feel a certain way.
That’s the love Christ lived for us. That’s the love Christ had when He died for us. The cross where Christ died was an ugly execution, a painful place, a place of suffering. But it was there, moved by His sacrificial love, that Christ took our sins into Himself and died because of them. That’s an unstoppable love that presses on to meet the needs of others, to shine forth the love of God. That’s the love Jesus has.
Agape isn’t a romantic love. Agape isn’t even a brotherly love, as good as both of those are. No, agape is a giving of self, a giving that sees no sacrifice as too great, that others might live, that they may live in and know the love of God.
We know from God’s written, revealed Word that Christ does not choose to love us because we somehow deserve it. He loves us because we don’t deserve it. Although we’re not good enough to deserve His love, He still loves us anyway. We have disobeyed God and--even despite that--He still loves us!
That, that, dear saints of God, is the love that 1st Corinthians chapter 13 describes. We have been baptized into Christ. We now bear His name. And because of that baptismal grace, we too are called to live lives, giving out the same love that we have received. This love of Christ we are to live doesn’t revolve around what we can get. No, such agape love, instead, reflects the nature of God Himself.
That’s why such love is always patient. Agape love is kind. It isn’t envious or puffed up, full of pride. Agape is not conceited and it is never rude. It doesn’t think only of self and it doesn’t get annoyed. Such love is not resentful and it never delights in sin. Agape always stands with truth, and is pleased when truth will win. Such love endures under everything, it believes the best in all, it has no limit to its hope, and it will never fall. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)