The Love Chapter
[1st Corinthians chapter 13]
Today in our continuing study of 1st Corinthians we will cover chapter 13, which is sometimes called “the love chapter” by ministers, Bible scholars, and independent pastors like myself. This 13th chapter is not only a deeply meaningful and eloquent piece of Scripture, it has literary beauty as well. The words flow like a gently running stream through a magnificent landscape of cascading spirituality, defining what true love is and how it is shared between ourselves and others in compassionate and tender fashion. Let me begin this lesson at verse one right away. This chapter of 1st Corinthians is so good it won’t wait!
“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.” (1Cor. 13, verses 1-3, NIV)
When Paul wrote these words he was not writing about love in a physical sense and he was not commenting on being married vs. remaining single. He was writing about the kind of love that Jesus said we should all have in abundance as He taught us about the two greatest commandments. When asked about this during His ministry, Jesus replied, “These two commandments are that you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and that you must love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands rest all the law and the prophets.” And so it doesn’t matter what we do for God if we have no love for serving others and do not practice putting them before ourselves as I try to do with this ministry. All the effort in the world will come to nothing if we have no love in our hearts. Paul then goes on to point out the meaning of that statement.
“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.” (!st Cor. 13, verses 4-6, NIV)
I could say that this passage is pretty much self-explanatory and move on, but before I do let me comment on what the inverse of this scripture looks like. When Paul wrote that love is patient and kind, he was warning us against being impatient, demanding, unkind and mean. Paul was also telling us that there will be no bullies in heaven. Bullying is completely un-Christian, and this kind of behavior must be opposed in the name of Jesus at every turn. Moreover, when Paul wrote that love is not envious, boastful or proud he was warning us – and the entire Church – against being jealous, arrogant, obnoxious and conceited. When Paul wrote that love is not rude or self-seeking, he was reminding us to be considerate of others while warning us not to be belligerent, controlling or manipulative because such behavior never comes from God.
When Paul wrote that love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs, he was reminding us to control our tempers, to never hold grudges (especially for very long), and to never be abusive towards others for any reason. When Paul wrote that love rejoices with the truth and never delights in evil, he was reminding us that standing against social and economic injustice and the abuse of power is the responsibility of Christians everywhere, as Rev. Dr. King Jr. (who was himself a minister of the Gospel) so memorably reminded us of a generation ago. If love always protects, then it is never negligent nor does it lack diligence. If love always trusts then it is never dishonest. If love always perseveres, then love is relentless, never giving up. Let me now continue our study of this truly beautiful passage of Scripture.
“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 prophecy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” (1st Cor. 13, verses 8-10, NIV)
“Love never fails”. Even though the world around us is coming apart at the seams, love will still be standing when it implodes because God, who is eternal, is the personification of love. Even though marriages fail, love will drive men or women to seek another relationship to replace it. Even though our country’s unsustainable debt-based economic policies threaten to crash the capitalist financial system straight into the ground (and make no mistake, that is exactly what will ultimately occur), love will still be standing even when your money is no good anymore (and that day is also coming, take heed). Even though nations go to war, love always rebuilds the population when the war finally ends. And it is love from which we derive compassion and empathy, two more human virtues that similarly never fail.
Before I move on, let me comment briefly on verse 10, “For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” Knowing and prophesying in part is an acknowledgment of our one-on-one relationship with Christ Jesus. We know Him through our daily walk with Him, through being in an ongoing state of prayer, and we proclaim his Word because we have read it, understood it and are actively obeying it. We only know Jesus in part because we have never actually seen Him, but our faith in Him makes up the difference. Still, until He returns, we only know Him “in part”. “But when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears”. The word perfection in this verse symbolizes and is used as a synonym for Christ. So when He returns, our imperfect relationship with Him will be made perfect because we will have seen Him and in so doing we will be achieving Spiritual fulfillment. Now that I have analyzed this I will move on and finish this up.
“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 part; 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.” (1Cor. 13, verses 11-13, NIV)
Paul is comparing maturing from a child to an adult to our growth in faith in Christ as we are first transformed from lost nonbelievers to born-again Christians and then subsequently becoming ever stronger in our walk with our Savior. As of now, we can only hope to emulate Jesus as best as we can, and we freely choose to believe in Him and to uphold the sacredness of His name even though we have never seen Him. But one fine day we shall all see Him face to face, and we will all instantly recognize Him. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully…; our journey as Christians does not end until we are with Jesus in heaven in New Jerusalem, to dwell with Him forever.
Love is the greatest virtue, it has no equal and thus reigns supreme because its source is from God, a supreme being. True Christian love is unconditional, with nothing held back. It is not selfish or egocentric, it is not used cynically to manipulate or control people, nor is it given in exchange for anything, but instead it is distributed freely and always without expecting anything in return. The three greatest virtues as Paul names them are faith, hope and love – but “the greatest of these is love”. Jesus said in the gospel of John, “A new command I give you, that you are to love one another”. If we just focused all our energy on this one thing, the world would quickly become an enjoyable place to live. And that’s a worthwhile goal anytime.