Summary: A look at what love is and is not in the context of the church in Corinth.
Today we are going to be talking about one of the most well known passages in the Bible that deals with love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-13, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled, where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfections comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in pat; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
This is such a beautiful passage but it is also so miss-understood. It’s one of those passages that we read a weddings, or like today when we’re getting ready to celebrate Valentine’s day. But this chapter is more than something nice to read at weddings, it is an argument against self-centered spirituality. See to understand this chapter you have to understand it’s context. The rule that we quote around here is that the text, without the context is a pretext.
Without the context this passage is a beautiful narrative on love, and it is eloquent enough to stand alone. But when you put it into the proper context, what you have is an even more beautiful passage that shows the true value of love. The first thing you have to do to understand this passage is to look back at 1 Corinthians 12. This chapter deals with the concept of Spiritual gifts and especially the gift of speaking in tongues. In that chapter Paul also writes about the church being a body and that all of us need each other. It is a celebration of our individuality because God made all of us different so that we could all accomplish the different tasks that God has for us. Where we are different we need to celebrate that God has made us so that we can accomplish many tasks for Him not just a few.
But you have to understand that there is a reason that Paul is writing this stuff to the church. The reason that he is writing is because the opposite is happening in the church. People aren’t taking their spiritual gifts and thanking God for them and using them for His glory. People also weren’t looking at others who were different from them and appreciating those differences, with all of the strengths and weaknesses that come from our uniqueness. The exact opposite was happening.
You had people in the church who were putting themselves ahead of others because of the spiritual gifts that they had. The most obvious one of these was tongues but there were others. So Paul begins to remind them that we all of spiritual gifts, if you are a follower of Christ then there are area’s that He is going to gift you in to serve Him with. Because the source is the same, so is the value of the gift. It’s not something that we should compare to other people, because the source is the same and we should use them to put the focus on him.
That is what Paul tries to do in the second part of chapter 12 to remind them of the purpose. You had people saying, my gift is superior to yours therefore you should be like me. By the way if this sounds familiar it’s because it is still happening today. It happens in all churches, you have those people who don’t mind telling you that the church would be better if simply everyone was like them. But that’s not how Paul saw it, and that’s not how God sees it. How do I know that? Simple, if He wanted us all to be the same, He would have made us all the same. He made us all unique and with Paul I will say that we should celebrate that uniqueness.
Then we come To the heart, literally and figuratively of the argument that he makes in chapter 13. The last line of chapter 12 reads, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” What is that way? Chapter 13 verse 1, “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 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.”