Summary: An exposition, with full text outline, of I Corinthians 13.
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Fort Worth, Texas
I Cor. 13
March 2, 2003
The Message Outline:
I. The Primacy of Love (vv. 1-3).
A. Without love we are nothing.
B. Without love we accomplish nothing.
II. The Particulars of Love (vv. 4-7).
A. What love DOES NOT do:
1. Love does not envy.
2. Love does not parade itself.
3. Love is not rude.
4. Love is not self-serving.
5. Love is not easily provoked.
6. Love keeps no account of wrongs.
7. Love does not rejoice in evil.
B. What love DOES:
1. Love suffers long.
2. Love is kind.
3. Love bears all things.
4. Love believes all things.
5. Love hopes all things.
6. Love endures all things.
III. The Permanence of Love (vv. 8-13).
A. Love never fails.
B. Love is the chief virtue of the Christian life.
Pastor George Crane tells of a wife who came into his office full of hatred toward her husband. "I do not only want to get rid of him; I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me," the woman fumed.
Crane suggested an ingenious plan. "Go home and act as if you really loved your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you’ve convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that you’re getting a divorce. That will really hurt him."
With revenge in her eyes, she smiled and exclaimed, "Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!"
And she did it with enthusiasm—acting ’’as if." For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, forgiveness, patience, sharing. When she didn’t return, Crane called. "Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?"
"Divorce?!" she exclaimed. "Never! I discovered I really do love him."
The Catholic saint Francis de Sales said, “You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so, you learn to love God and man by loving.”
The Apostle Paul penned his Corinthian letter to a church in complete disarray and on the verge of imploding upon itself. The church was rife with public immorality, doctrinal confusion, divisions, party politics, petty bickering, believers suing other believers in secular courts, syncretism, divorce, and abuses of spiritual gifts and the sacraments. And the root cause all of those ills Paul subscribes to one deficiency: The Corinthians were not manifesting and exercising sacrificial love to each other in their common life. Following this diagnosis the Apostle then proceeds to prescribe the cure for the Corinthian troubles: Manifest and exercise sacrificial love to each other in your common life.
The remedy is found in I Corinthians chapter 13, the familiar, much beloved, and popularly named “love chapter.” Yet I submit to you that our familiarity with I Corinthians 13 has not resulted in our incorporating its truths into our hearts and manifesting its principles in our lives—just the opposite. Perhaps our over-familiarity has desensitized us, and numbed us, to the scandal of the priority and power of sacrificial love in action. And it’s time for us to wake up.
Paul begins his appeal to the addled Corinthians and us in the first 3 verses of chapter 13 by a declaration of the priority and primacy of sacrificial love for the every born again believer. His point is a simple one: Love is the premier virtue of the Christian life. It towers above all others in importance, and it must be the ground, the foundation, the first principle, of everything we as believers do and are. And notice how Paul uses hyperbole—exaggeration—to make his point so that we won’t miss it.
The Apostle states rather matter-of-factly: No matter how spiritual other Christians perceive me to be, or how much I accomplish for the kingdom, if it is not motivated by and accompanied with love, I am nothing and I accomplish absolutely nothing. If I exhibit supernatural, ecstatic utterances without love—worthless. If I memorize the Bible cover to cover, and know everything there is to know about God, and have supernatural faith, without love it is all meaningless. If I give everything I have for the poor, and even my own dearest possession, my life, as a martyr, and if either is loveless, it is also in God’s reckoning useless.
Paul’s point? Sacrificial love is the premier virtue of the Christian faith; and with that point implicitly comes this imperative: Do what you have to do to begin manifesting this love in your life.