When read by itself, 1 Corinthians 13 is a wonderful passage. Great for weddings. An ideal chapter to learn generalities about love. Nice for ethics (I’ll guess many of us were taught to replace the word “love” in verses 4-7 with our name as a way to determine how loving we truly are). I would not wish to take any of those things away.
This chapter comes so much more alive when we read it in context — always a good principle for Bible reading. 1 Corinthians 13 is sandwiched between chapters 12 and 14. We looked at chapter 12 yesterday and saw its focus on spiritual gifts. Scan ahead and you will see that chapter 14 has the same focus. Paul’s beautiful diatribe on love is best understood within the context of a church that is using spiritual giftedness of boast and divide.
Recall that we ended yesterday with Paul claiming there is a better gift than tongues or prophecy or miracles, that there is a “better way” to live than the way of competition and glory based on performance (12:31). What is that better gift, that better way?
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. . . . Love never fails. But prophecies will be abolished; tongues will stop; and knowledge, too, be done away. (13:2, 8)
Love is that better gift. The best way to judge spiritual fervor is love. A Christian has reached the zenith when they love. A church can be congratulated when they love. If you want to pursue a gift, go after love.
And not just any kind of love. A selfless, sacrificial, enduring love that banishes the attitudes the Corinthians’ competition was bringing: jealousy, envy, pride, anger, and vindictiveness.
Spiritual gifts were only intended to build up a church until the complete and perfect (13:10) outpouring of divine love came to the church, and to a large part that was dependent on the submissive obedience of Christians to the better way of love. None of the fancy acts we see on those religious television shows with ladies with purple hair and men with perfect haircuts, shiny teeth and designer suits will be in heaven. They were only a vehicle to an end. Heaven is most of all characterized by love. Love will go on for ever.
A church can major in the minors and they may just find it only fractures the bonds of fellowship. Or they can keep the main thing the main thing and find that it builds up the very building blocks of community.