1 Corinthians 13:1-13
But the Greatest of These Is Love
How unlike a church the church in Corinth was. They had exalted wisdom and knowledge, though falsely so-called, praised sexual sin while denigrating marriage because of sex (how twisted is that?), eaten at pagan temples at the expense of the tender consciences of their brethren, divided the church over leading personalities, and even allowed God’s gifts to them to become a means of strife. Still, we smirk at our peril.
So Paul now interrupts his teaching on spiritual gifts to offer the remedy to all of these problems—only it’s not really an interruption. Love is at the very foundation of the Christian life out of which everything must proceed if it is to be considered authentic Christianity and genuine faith. And let us understand at the very beginning, love as God sees it is not first and foremost a feeling or sentiment, though these are not excluded; love is action out of willing obedience to Christ, for our Lord said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
So Paul begins stating the utter worthlessness of those things we think so important when unaccompanied by love: tongues (listed first since that was the gift they so admired), but even prophecy, faith, generosity to the point of impoverishment, and even martyrdom by flames. Without love, none of this matters in the Kingdom. And then Paul proceeds to list the many characteristics of love which require a lifetime to learn: It is patient and kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude (rudeness is so ubiquitous in our day), does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful (keeping a record of wrongs), rejoices not at wrongdoing but in the truth. How far we all fall short of this! And if this weren’t enough, he adds: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” There’s a quality about love that never gives up. Nothing builds character like love. Ultimately, it isn’t stamina or hard work that makes one endure suffering and hardship or even the flames; it’s love, as our Savior showed on the cross.
Paul closes this passage showing how it is love that makes us mature people of God. Maturity requires the humility to understand that until our Savior returns, our knowledge, wisdom, or whatever spiritual gift we have is so temporary and so partial. Love fills our hearts with longing for completion when we finally find our rest in Him. In the meantime, we content ourselves with faith, hope and love—the best gifts out of which the others must work.