28 March 2020

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (v.13)

Psalm: Psalm 25:8-22


Paul is a master of rhetoric. He knows how to build an argument up to a convincing climax. That’s exactly what he does here as he moves from lists of gifts and roles that Christians might find themselves taking on, to a hymn of praise for the greatest gift that Christians can either receive or give: love.

This passage would be on many people’s ‘desert island Bible readings’ and it’s a favourite reading for weddings. Of course, its primary theme is not romantic love and not even the love that reaches out from one human being to another. It is the love that emanates from God, that reaches out and embraces us, and that works through us to touch and transform all that we are. This love is agape, self-giving rather than possessive. Not that it is inappropriate for weddings. Marriage, as one of the most intimate of human relationships, must provide both testing ground and opportunity for expressing divine love.

It is worth noting that Paul frequently uses ‘I’ in this passage. He is, in a sense, exposing himself to critical examination. Yes, he does himself have gifts of prophecy and understanding, of faith and generosity, of ecstatic language and self-sacrifice. But he is willing to set those to one side, to give up his reputation as a Christian apostle and leader, for the sake of the one gift that makes all others possible and effective. Love is that important.

And if love is the gift that makes this life Godly and beautiful, it is the best pointer to what endures when it comes to an end. Then God’s knowing and loving us will be mirrored by our knowing and loving God. This is an assurance that is especially needed at a time when there is so much fear around us and within us. Perfect love, as Saint John reminds us, casts out fear.


To Ponder:

  • What might you want to add to the list of ‘Love is ...’ to reflect the present health crisis?
  • What, in your experience, is the greatest barrier to experiencing or expressing the love of God?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a supernumerary minister of the Methodist Church in Britain, working part-time as a Research Fellow with Wesley House, Cambridge. Between 2004 and 2017 he served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. Before that his ministry was divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga) and Britain.

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