21 May 20221 Corinthians 13:1-13
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (v. 13)
Paul’s often-quoted treatment of love comes within the context of his discussion of worship within the Church (vs 11-14). While of course we can apply the virtues of love to other contexts too (including marriage!), it is helpful to remember that Paul had in mind here how Christians should and could relate to one another. Paul unpacks here the ‘most excellent way’ of love in three discrete sections.
In the first section, Paul points to love as the essential virtue (vs 1-3). Whatever our gifts and achievements, all is lost without love. Paul notes that even spiritual gifts are worthless without love, a rebuke to any Corinthian Christian who over-valued the gifts they’d received. Paul even notes the importance of the intention to love. If one sacrifices all in order ‘to boast’, this is less than love and we gain nothing (v. 3).
In the second section, Paul offers a description of love (vs 4-7). Love has a certain quality and manner – it is patient and kind – and also avoids qualities that act against it, such as envy or arrogance. It makes space for others; it rejoices in the truth. It is prepared to bear, believe, hope and endure ‘all things’.
In the final section, Paul points to the permanence of love (vs 8-13). While some of the Corinthians were apparently boasting in spiritual gifts, Paul reminded them that such gifts – such as prophecy and tongues – will pass away. Since prophecy gestures at what we know ‘in part’, when the end comes we will fully know and so prophecy will no longer be required (vs 9-10). Paul develops the thought through the image of a child growing into an adult, or through turning from a mirror to seeing someone in person (vs 11-12). While God knows us fully now, in the future we too will know fully.
The final verse famously affirms that "faith, hope, and love abide… and the greatest of these is love." (v. 13) While there are other issues that are significant, it is love that matters most.
- How can we keep love central within our lives and the lives of our churches?
- What do you think of the idea that in the future we will ‘know fully’? What might that involve?