We call this chapter the “love” chapter in the Bible for good reason. We frequently read this chapter at weddings, or on Valentine’s Day. That makes sense. Husbands and wives should treat each other this way.
This chapter, of course, is not about marriage or about romantic relationships. It’s not really about simply how to be a good and loving person in general. This chapter is about the church. The apostle Paul was writing about how believers should live within the church.
The problem in the church in Corinth was its members were taking pride in their spiritual gifts – specifically the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, and speaking in tongues. Notice how Paul addressed these three gifts at both the beginning and the end of 1 Corinthians 13. These gifts seemed to have been the prized possessions of the church in Corinth. To have these gifts must have meant a person was really something in the church.
But Paul wrote that if those gifts weren’t practiced from a place of love, they were nothing. Speaking in tongues became like an annoying gong, and words of prophecy and knowledge became like words from a nobody. And those gifts would pass away. They are temporary. We won’t sit around in heaven prophesying and speaking in tongues.
There’s so much more to the kingdom of God than prophecy, speaking in tongues, and knowledge. The kingdom of God is built on love.
Paul said love is patient and kind and does not envy or boast and is not arrogant or rude. The person filled with love has won the battle against worldliness within himself or herself. Inside of each of us, we struggle with being patient and kind to others, and we struggle with wanting what others have or gloating about what we have. When we live in love, we put that struggle to rest. We are content with who we are.
Paul said love doesn’t insist on its own way while around others. It’s not irritable with others. It doesn’t rejoice when others fail or stumble. The person filled with love has moved beyond worldliness in our personal interactions. When we come in contact with other people, we can tend to be controlling and to be annoyed when things don’t go our way. And we can become happy when we see others fail. When we live in love, we put that struggle with the world’s ways to rest. We give way to others – and we seek their good.
Paul said love is always bearing, always believing, always hoping, always enduring. Love does not quit. In love, we look toward God in faith. Even in the things that happen that we do not understand or appreciate or like – even in those things, we trust God. We put to rest our arguments and our lack of understanding. We give all things to God. We recognize his ways are higher than ours, and we love him.
Someone told me recently it is helpful to substitute the word “love” in this chapter with “maturity in Christ.” So we might read it as, “Maturity in Christ is patient and kind; maturity in Christ does not envy or boast … Maturity in Christ bears all things … Maturity in Christ never ends.”
This is a good way to think about this chapter. This is the kind of person God is creating all of us to be as we walk in faith. And this is the kind of person Jesus IS. Jesus is patient and kind, not arrogant or rude, and never irritable. He never rejoices with wrongdoing. He rejoices in the truth. And he has borne all things and endured all things.
And we are moving toward Christ. What we want is Christlikeness.
And so we move toward Christ. And we never divorce this chapter from its core meaning – from our life in the church. The church is the body of Christ, and so it lives out the love of Christ on earth – the patience and kindness and rejoicing in the truth and the hoping in all things.
A friend of mine died recently. He was a longtime, active member of his church. His wife wrote a letter to the church after the funeral. Right at the top of her letter, she said sometimes it can be hard to know what it means to be “in Jesus Christ.” This can be true. The whole concept of being “in” God can be a difficult one to wrap our minds around.
But my friend’s wife said while that concept can be difficult to grasp – at least intellectually – she said she could see it all around her at the time of her husband’s death. People from the church visited her and her husband during his last hours. They provided meals. They shared memories. They shared encouragement and comfort.
She could see what it meant to be “in Jesus Christ” by the love shared through the body of Christ. She could see it because Christ was present, in his love, through his church.
It is good for us to remember this chapter and to remember what it means for us as individuals. It also is good to remember that we aren’t in Christ simply as individuals. We are meant to live out our growing Christlikeness – shown first and foremost in our love – within the church.
Maybe another good way to read this chapter is this: Love is patient and kind among our brothers and sisters in Christ. Love is not arrogant or rude within the church. Love does not insist on its own way among our brothers and sisters in Christ. Love rejoices with the truth in the body of Christ, and love bears all things in the church.
Please think about these things today.