1 Corinthians 13 – Love: The best and only way


1 Corinthians 13




This chapter is one of the most well known passages in the Bible – it is often read on special occassions, esp. at weddings. And simply read on its own it is a wonderful passage of scriptures BUT we must remember the context in which it appears. Ch.s 12 – 14 are all about Spiritual Things [Gifts]. Coming where it does between chs 12 and 14 Paul is saying to the Corinthian Church that no matter how dramatic and wonderful their spiritual gifts are, if love is missing then their gifts are useless.


F.F. Bruce “the most lavish exercise of Spiritual gifts cannot compensate for lack of love”


A difficulty we have is that we tend to read our present day meaning of love back into the text whereas we need to consider what the Bible considers to be love. In English we have one word “LOVE” in Greek there are a number and the one used here has become well known in Christian circles “agaph” – this word was not in common use but the NT writers adopted it to talk of God’s love and gave it a new content.


A love that is above all human ideas and expressions of love. It is a love for those who are unworthy. It is a love that comes from the nature of the lover and is in no way given because of ant merit in the one loved. It is the kind of love that is characterise by God sending his Son to be the Saviour of the world.


So for Paul Love is not simply a motivating factor for behaviour; it is behaviour. Love is action.

“God demonstrated his love towards us …” anything short of action is not love.

Paul is not trying to set love over against the gifts. They are in a different category – he is not saying “Gifts are good but love is better” BUT love is the way in which the gifts are to function.


SO       Love is essential

Love is eveything

Love is enduring




For the Corinthians what was important was “tongues, wisdom and knowledge” and Pride. We have seen from earlier parts of the letter that wisdom and knowledge were important to them and  we will see in Ch. 14 Paul dealing with tongues.


With out details tongues briefly. Seem clear from this reference and Ch. 14 that Paul believed in and probably himself practiced speaking in tongues a kind of estatic utterance or angelic language distinct from human languages which is also referred to in the NT.

There is evidence from Jewish writings that the Jews believe the angels spoke a heavenly language [dialect] A kind of estatic spiritual language – possibly what is referred to in 14v2 ‘speak mysteries by the Spirit”

Such an understanding of tongues would be consistent with the Corinthians over emphasis on the super spiritual. Remember in ch.7&11 their rejection of sexual life and sexual roles, their over emphasis on wisdom and knowledge. They considered themselves as “having already arrived”. Thus speaking with the tongues of angels would be consistent with their “having arrived” spiritual state. This would explain the high value they placed on this gift.


There are some today who place equally high value on this gift and coerce others to speak in tongues considering those who haven’t “second class” Christians. This Paul takes issue with. Corrects this imbalance in ch.14. BUT Paul is not denying that tongues is a spiritual gift but is trying to correct its misuse.

Those today who hold that tongues [and prophecy] no longer exist today use verse 8 to substantiate their argument:

.. where there are prophecies, they will cease;

where there are tongues they will be stilled;

where their is knowledge it will pass away.


I don’t believe this verse can be used in such a way because in the context he is talking about the end of time when we will see Christ “face to face” [v12] that has not yet happened. Also the verse says knowledge will also cease [ special knowledge into revealed mysteries – gospel] and no one suggests that that has ceased and Paul place them all together – tongues, prophecy and knowledge.


Paul’s point here is that these gifts or any spiritual gifts are not the hallmark of  spirituality LOVE is.


ILLUST: The Greek mystery gods / goddesses were very popular is Corinth – Dionysus [god of nature] and Cybele [ goddess of wild animals]. The streets of Corinth would have sounded with the noisy gongs and clashing cymbal of the worshippers to these gods – rituals involved orgies, tearing animals to pieces and possibly even human sacrifice. The gongs and cymbals were used to invoke the gods or drive away demons or insight the worshippers. The clash and bag were neither melodious nor capable of producing harmony. A heavy beat that caused as much offence and the neighbours heavy metal msuic with its incessant beat or the constant barking of a dog.


Those who used the gift of tongues without the motive of love are equally offensive and it doesn’t matter if it is human languages or angelic tongues – if there is no love it is unattractive and insensitive. The same is true of knowledge [pride] wisdom, prophecy and faith. Even if you say to this mountain “jump” and it jumps – that proves nothing.


These gifts might impress people – I might get applauded and admired, I might even be successful – but as far as God is concerned I am nothing if love is absent. Without love I am like the hollow sound of the gong.

When gifts produce pride and selfishness they are ineffective. The evidence of a Christians spirituality is not “gifts of the Spirit” but “Fruit of the Spirit” {love, joy, peace, patience…. etc}

“By their fruit you will know them …. ” “if we adide in Christ we will bear much fruit..”[John 15]


If there is not love then says Paul there is nothing of any real value in my ministry. Even if I go to the extrent of giving away everything I have even my own life – even then if I have no love I gain nothing. Is there no value in this? Well it might benefit the recipients of my possessions but will be no benefit to the giver whatsoever!! If the motive is not love and the interests of others then the effort is in vain.


Without love it pretty well misses the point of being a Christian in the first place.

Juan Carlos Ortis “Love is the oxyfen of the kingdom”

Stephen Olford “Love is the binding power which holds the body of the Christian Church together.”




Paul now gives a long, but no exhaustive list of what love is

READ v4-7 from “The Message”


1) PATIENT AND KIND – two sides of love – passive and active. KJV “long suffering”

Is that how you always respond to others – are you prepared to wait and give time considering their needs and that they are different.

How patient are you with your children, your spouse, your colleague, your fellow Christian.

Paul ‘s view of God is shown in these words. God’s patience is shown by his holding back, long suffering with human rebellion. His Kindness is shown by the 1000’s of expression of his grace and mercy.

Are you and I impatient or do we replace our impatience with acts of kindness.


FEE “It is although Paul were saying “You must have love: without it you are simply not behaving as Christians. And what is love? It is to behave in ways opposite to yourselves!”


2) .. DOES NOT ENVY. – envy is a very powerful feeling. It is the cause of much strife and even murder.

ILLUST: Cain’s murder of Abel was prompted by envy and jealousy. Joseph sold by his brothers.


The Corinthians were guilty of this! A spirit of rivalry was very prevalent – “I am of Paul; I am of Apollos….” Love does not allow rivalry or competition. Love asks “How best can I serve others for the common good of the body, whatever my own desires?


3) .. DOES NOT BOAST – [Lit. behave like a braggart or windbag] Jealousy / envy is wanting what someone else has. Bragging wants to make others jealous of what we have. When we are jealous we want to put others down. Boasting wants to build self up!

The Corinthian were constantly vying for attention – they were spiritual show-offs. That is why they all wanted the showy gifts! Boasting always must put self first BUT it is impossible to LOVE and boast at the same time.

Jesus Had everything to boast about but never did. We who have nothing to boast about are prone to do just that. Isn’t it irratating when some blows their own trumpet? Funny though that we can always see it in others but not in ourselves.


4) ..IS NOT PROUD. –  to be puffed up. The Corinthian were good at this after all they were the “Having already arrived ones”.

We see it they why people arrogantly strut about. Characterised by a superior attitude and snobbery. Looking down the nose at someone else.

ILLUST: [an incident in the life of Wm. Carey – missionary to India – translated parts of the Bible into 34 differnt languages – was a cobbler in early life – from a poor home]At a dinner party one night was asked by a snob, “I understand Mr. Carey that you once worked as a shoe maker?”

“Oh no your lordship” Carey replied “I was not a shoemaker, only a shoe repairer!”


5) .. IS NOT RUDE. – does not behave shamefully or disgracefully. Crude and overbearing. The Corinthians acted abominably at the Lord’s table turning it into a drunken orgy. Christian love cares too much to treat the rest of the body like that.

Are there those we ignore or cut short  – do we turn people off the gospel because of our self-righteous rudeness. If the gospel is going to cause offend let it be the cross not our insensitive rudeness.




ILLUST: {Mac Arthur – p345}




















A further expression of long-suffering and patience.

ILLUST: Telling our spouses that we love them is no good if we are continually angry and upset at what they do and say. Telling or children we love them will not be convincing if we are constantly yelling at tham for irritating us and upsetting our plans.


Being in a huff because things in the church are as we would like them is hardly the kind of attitude that will build up the body of Christ and be for the common good.


8) .. KEEPS NO RECORD OF WRONGS.  – resentment is careful to kep accounts which it reads and re-reads “forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who tresspass against us” God removes our sin forever. Are you holding a grudge against a fellow Christian. It will make you bitter and unloving.



v6 addresses our attitude to wickedness and evil – there is a perverse streak in human nature that enjoys wickedness and sin. Why is the Tabloid press so popular – it thrives on scandal – it loves gossip. Do we – “I just want to share this with you so you can pray about it.” It is so subtle.

Before we talk about others to someone, ask “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind [for their benefit]


READ v7 – Protects and perserves = present. Trusts and hopes = future.

Best summed up by NEB ” there is nothing love cannot face”.

Paul is not saying that love is blind but that because of it source and future hope it has a tenacity in the present no matter what the circumstances.


Paul really has encaptulated the life of Jesus – the prime example of love – love personified.

FEE suggests that we should re-read this puting our own nams in the place of LOVE  and then afterward allow time of repentence and forgiveness when we see how far short we really fall .




In case we think that Paul has lost sight of the fact that he is dealing with “GIFTS” he brings  his argument back to show that over agianst the gifts of the Spirit which belong to this age, love is permanent.


“Love never fails” – lit. never folds under pressure – it doesn’t collapse and fall down.

He mentions the 3 gifts at the top of their list – rather 2, tongues and knowledge; prophecy he will argue in ch. 14 is more important.


He shows that these gifts will become irrelavant  in the perfection of eternity. He doesn’t mean that the gifts are incomplete but that they are only for NOW.  The gifts are partial because the are not permanent. One day they will pass away.

We must not think that CHILD = new Christian and ADULT {MAN} = mature Christian.

Rather CHILD = this present age and MAN = Age to come  – perfection when we will see Jesus.


The analogy becomes clearer when we consider the mirror illustration. A modern equivalent would be a photograph. It is not that we now have a distorted view of Christ through the Spirit but we have an indirect view, not complete. What we have is true and good but incomplete.


Gifts have an end point, love does not; love is enduring. It is not  that the gift are imperfect, although in a sense they are because we are  but the point is that they are relative and therefore we need to no be preoccupied with them but with what is eternal viz. Faith, hope and love.


Faith the we trust God to forgive us through Christ.

Hope for the future, a hope that is not conditioned by the present with it hardships and suffering. A hope that can say “I am on my way home destined to live in the presence of God  – face to face

Love – love for each other as we live out this life of Faith and Hope in the context of community in the body of Christ with our fellow believers who have the same faith and hope.

Love is not like the gifts because iy is for now and for eternity. The gifts are only for the present BUT LOVE never comes to an end!!!


Paul is not holding out a choice between gifts OR love. He was correcting the Corinthians misuse of gifts. We can not use this passage to support the cessation of some of the gifts. How would Paul have written to Binscombe Church. Would he commend us for our orthodoxy? Would he be satisfied with of love for each other? Would he criticize our complacency or lack of commitment? Would he tell us our love is too academic and not practical enough?


What is you experience of God’s love? of your fellow believers love? of your love for others?

Without love we are nothing!! Only love endures!!!


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