Summary: To really understand the "love chapter," a person has to read it in context. All the problems the Corinthians were facing in the church could be corrected by love.
A. One day an elderly woman and her little grandson, whose face was sprinkled with bright freckles, spent the day at the zoo.
1. Lots of children were waiting in line to get their face painted by a local artist who was decorating them with tiger paws.
2. A girl in line turned to the freckle-faced grandson and said, “You’ve got so many freckles, there’s no place to paint!”
3. Embarrassed, the little boy dropped his head.
4. His grandmother knelt down next to him, and said. “I love your freckles. When I was a little girl I always wanted freckles. Freckles are beautiful.”
5. The boy looked at his grandmother and said, “Really?”
6. “Of course,” said the grandmother. “Why just name me one thing that’s prettier than freckles.”
7. The little boy thought for a moment, peered intensely into his grandma’s face, and softly whispered, “Wrinkles.”
B. The love between grandparents and grandchildren is precious – as is the love between husbands and wives, and parents and children.
1. Love is indeed a wonderful and powerful thing.
2. God is love and we must become like God.
C. As we turn to chapter 13 in our study of 1 Corinthians, we arrive at familiar and revered territory.
1. Anytime we study the topic of love, we turn to verses 4 – 8, and rightly so.
2. Most weddings we attend include something about verses 4 – 8, and rightly so.
3. But what we have to keep in mind is that these verses and this chapter are a part of a larger context and argument.
4. Certainly the verses of this chapter can stand alone and have powerful things to say to us, but they have even greater power when they are applied in context.
D. As Paul describes the qualities of love to his Corinthian readers, he is seeking to promote the character formation that will help them overcome the many problems they are facing in the church.
1. We must keep in mind that Paul penned this letter to a church in complete disarray.
2. The Corinthian church was rife with public immorality, doctrinal confusion, divisions, bickering, believers suing other believers in secular courts, syncretism with pagan cults, divorce, abuses of spiritual gifts and the abuse of the Lord’s supper.
3. What was needed more than anything was LOVE.
4. Not some kind of sweetly sentimental notions of love, but real, tough love.
5. A rigorous vision of love that rejoices in the truth and bears all suffering in the name of Jesus.
E. This chapter nicely divides into three sections.
1. Let’s work our way through the development of Paul’s arguments in these sections, and then step back and apply these truths to our lives.
I. The Motive of Love (13:1-3)
A. Paul begins, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
1. Paul’s communication in these verses can be understood in two ways.
2. On the one hand, he could be condemning “doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.”
a. Therefore, he would be calling for love as the proper motivation for religious practices.
3. On the other hand, he could be condemning moral inconsistency. In other words, doing some of the right things but lacking love in other areas of one’s life.
a. Therefore, he would be calling for love to be lived out in all aspects of our lives.
4. Both readings make good sense, and there is no need to exclude either.
B. Notice how Paul tries to illustrate his point by exaggerating the highest religious activities that anyone can think of.
1. So he pictures the person who is able to speak in tongues of both men and angels.
2. He pictures the person who can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge.
3. He pictures the person who has faith that can move mountains.
4. On top of all that, he pictures the person who gives all they possess to the poor and then becomes a martyr by surrendering their body to the flames.
5. All of the Corinthians, and us for that matter, would look at someone who could do those things and say, “Wow! Aren’t they spiritual! God must really think they are something.”
C. But then Paul gives the surprise ending for each of those people.
1. The person who speaks in the tongues of men and angels but has not love, is only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.