Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in human languages, or even in those of angels, but do not have love, then I’ve become a clanging gong or else a clashing cymbal. 2And if I should have prophetic gifts, and know all mysteries, all knowledge, too; have faith, to move the mountains, but have no love—I’m nothing. 3If I give all my possessions to the poor, and, for pride’s sake, my very body, but do not have love, it’s useless to me.
4Love’s great-hearted; love is kind, knows no jealousy, makes no fuss, is not puffed up, 5no shameless ways, doesn’t force its rightful claim, doesn’t rage or bear a grudge, 6doesn’t cheer at others’ harm, rejoices, rather, in the truth. 7Love bears all things, believes all things, love hopes all things, endures all things.
8Love never fails. But prophecies will be abolished; tongues will stop; and knowledge, too, be done away. 9We know, you see, in part; we prophesy in part; 10but, with perfection, the partial is abolished. 11As a child I spoke, and thought, and reasoned like a child; when I grew up, I threw off childish ways. 12For at the moment all that we can see are puzzling reflections in a mirror; then, face to face. I know in part, for now; but then I’ll know completely, through and through, even as I’m completely known. 13So, now, faith, hope, and love remain, these three; and, of them, love is the greatest.
Theme- The Greatest of these is Love
- How does Paul see faith, hope, and love relating to one another?
- What does it mean to say love is the greatest?
- How should we balance our commitment to love with other realities like the need to witness to truth or maintaining our convictions?
- Who are the hardest people for me to love and how can I use 1 Corinthians 13 to better love them?
- Much of 1 Corinthians is about Christians living together in community and worship, how do Paul’s words speak to us as we create our own worship and community?
The first time that Paul talks about “faith, hope, & love” together as a group is in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (also 5:8). In Thessalonians he commends the church for living out all three in the life of the community, showing these concepts are bound together.
Paul is not putting faith, hope, and love in competition. Much like with prophecy and tongues in the preceding verses he is pointing out that eventually faith “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) and hope “the promise of a future peace with God” will be past but love because it is God’s character (Ex. 34:6-7, 1 Jn. 4:9, 16) will always be necessary.
“Love is the greatest because while faith is preached and hope pertains to the future life, love reigns. As 1 John [3:16] says: “By this we know his love, that he laid down his life for us.” Love is therefore the greatest of the three, because by it the human race has been renewed.” Ambrosiater (ACCS “1 & 2 Corinthians” 137)
For three and a half months I have been circling around the concept of love as Paul defines ἀγάπη (agape) in 1 Corinthians 13. Now at the end Paul summarizes his thoughts in a way that is reminiscent of Jesus in Mark 12:29-31 “Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Or we could think of John’s words in 1 John 4 “God is love”, or even God’s own description of the divine character in Exodus 34 ““The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation.” All of these passages remind us that there is a common theme in the Bible, living out the characteristics described by Paul in this chapter is the supreme goal of humanity. Does this mean that the characteristics Paul describes for ἀγάπη (agape) are the only characteristics, no. But we should recognize that Paul is providing us with a starting point to help us understand our goal. John Wesley described “perfection” as always living out a love toward neighbor grounded in our love of God. He is correct because whether or not our actions always have the desired outcome is less important than what motivates our concerns. Wesley picks up on the themes of scripture, that God’s character is defined by love, that is God always desires to love humanity.
Our role as humans is to reflect God’s image into the world, to do that we must reflect God’s character of love. The difficulty that we as humans often have is, that we tend to define love by our own standards, that is with ourselves at the center. The natural human tendency is to define our treatment of others based on how we feel toward them personally; humans either include or exclude, are lenient or harsh toward one another based on our personal disposition toward that person. The beauty of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 is they provide us with a standard for treating one another in love. This is a Christian canon of behavior toward one another which defines our love. The criteria Paul establishes in this passage allows us to determine whether or not we are truly emulating God’s character. Not only can we as individuals measure ourselves by these benchmarks, but it is also abundantly clear to the entire community around us when we fail. We can hold our brothers and sisters to the line by communicating to them when they fail to show patience or kindness or any other characteristic of ἀγάπη (agape).
It is easy to recognize that our society is clearly influenced by this fundamental Christian truth that humanity should love everyone. We are inundated with messages from pop-culture that love is the most important thing in this world. We, as Christians, must acknowledge that society is parroting our worldview; our push-back as Christians comes from our definition of love. Our definition is not based on who or what we enjoy, our definition of love comes from treating people in line with how God interacts with humanity. Internalizing Paul’s definition of love provides with a view of our neighbors and their problems reminiscent of God’s view of us. As we live out this definition, we begin to fulfill Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:48 “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” We are fallible creatures and there is no inherent fault in that, but we also succumb to being selfish, and sinful. Our goal is to lay aside our self-centered behaviors and to take up the mantle of love. After all, when we see Jesus face to face and our faith is no longer necessary and we are living in the hope of the Gospel one thing will endure, our love for God and all that God loves. In this we will finally become the creatures that God intended us to be, holy and complete. When we live out our fullest ability to love one another in God’s love we then become fully human.