The Big Idea
Despite being popular at weddings, this chapter was originally written in the context of spiritual gifts! Using the gifts in a way that lays down our own preferences and shows love to others is how God manifests himself through the gifts, not clamouring to have attention on ourselves.
1 Corinthians 13
Love Is the Most Important Thing
In verses 1-3, a number of positive uses of spiritual gifts are mentioned, but in each case Paul tells us that without love these things are meaningless. This includes speaking in tongues, prophetic understanding, mountain-moving faith, sacrificial generosity and even martyrdom. It is a common mistake for Christians to make the pursuit of the gifts the be all and end all, even hurting other in the process, but this is not the way of the Spirit.
A Profile of Love
In verses 4-7, we are given a run down on what love looks like. This is sandwiched between v.1-3 and v.8-9, both applying these ideas to spiritual gifts – and when we see a sandwich structure like this it is designed to emphasise what is in the middle, i.e. these verses. We are shown 15 traits of love, and it is worth taking time to dig into these traits and show how they work out in our relationships with one another as the body of Christ.
Love Never Ends
In the final part of this chapter, Paul highlights the temporary nature of spiritual gifts. Prophecy, tongues and knowledge are great in our age, but they will not last into eternity. Nor even will faith or hope, but love is different. Love is eternal and therefore love is the greatest.
These verses show a high bar of what love should look like. This is something we should seek to be increasingly conformed to, but it is also a picture of Christ’s love for us. Despite our best efforts we will always fall short of this kind of love, but his love for us is perfect and will never fail.