I was reading one of the most well-known passages in all of the Bible recently, 1 Corinthians 13, otherwise known as “The Love Chapter”. If you were to pick verses that are most likely to be quoted outside of an explicitly Christian context there are many that are likely to appear. I’m guessing the most frequently used verse would be Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge or you too will be judged“. Even if people don’t know the full verse you will often hear people say, “doesn’t the Bible say you aren’t supposed to judge other people!” After that verse, pull quotes from 1 Corinthians 13 are among those most likely to occur on someone’s wall, in an Instagram post or even in a secular wedding.
Here are a few of the verses most likely to be pulled out of the chapter:
- 4a – “Love is patient and kind…”
- 7 – “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
- 8a – “Love never ends…”
- 13 – “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
The reason we find these verses quoted is the role that the concept of love plays in our society. Love is a dominate theme in our lives. We sing about it, we read about it and I’ve heard that Hallmark makes a lot of movies about it, among others. People not only quote verses from the Bible almost like clichés about love, there are other societal tropes that recur in the same way. “All we need is love” “Love is blind” “Make love, not war” and so on. My favorite new quote I read in researching for this article was from the late George Burns, “Love is a lot like a backache. It doesn’t show on X-rays, but you know it’s there“
What these quotes and the use of these Bible verses in this way have in common, is they are all focused on the most common use of the word love, the romantic version. In society, when we hear about love, this is by far the most frequent usage. Songs about love are about falling in love, being in love or sadly, the end of love. There are other uses for the word love overall, but very few love songs and poems are written about parental love, brotherly love or love between any people who are not interested in wooing one another.
This pattern has a definite influence on our ability to understand the use of the word love in general usage, but one specific way it has impacted followers of Christ, is that we often associate 1 Corinthians 13 with weddings and the love between a man and wife exclusively. That is an appropriate usage of the passage, especially when we are talking about 2 believers marrying one another, but it is not the original purpose of the passage in the letter in which it was written. Instead, you shouldn’t be surprised that 1 Corinthians 13 comes immediately following chapter 12, but you would do well to remember what chapter 12 (and the rest of the letter for that matter) was talking about as the proper framework for chapter 13.
If you read Paul’s letters to Corinth, it is obvious that the local church there dealt with divisions. These included racial divisions, socio-economic divisions, doctrinal divisions and differences of opinion about many things. They were a divided church, just like we sometimes see today. Paul didn’t tell them they were all the same. He didn’t say they all had to be the same. Instead, he highlighted that they were different and that they were better because of those differences. They were complete, as a body with many parts. They had different giftings that made them unique. They were not the same, but they were a part of the same body. Into that context, Paul writes chapter 13, which he says, “I will show you a still more excellent way.” (12:31b)
Chapter 13 is first and foremost a guide for how the church should treat one another. It is Paul’s church handbook for the church of Corinth. Here is how the people who go to that church should behave. Since Paul was just talking about giftings and gifts can be their own divisive part or church or family life, he spends the first 3 verses telling them that all the gifts in the world don’t matter if you don’t follow the standards of love that he is about to lay out. He mentions gifts like speaking in tongues, prophesying, having great faith or being a generous giver, but it just as easily could be giftings you might find in your church: speaking, writing, singing, even serving. Without love, these are as annoying as a fire alarm going off in the middle of the night.
Let’s revisit some of our popular verses, but keep in mind, these are how you are to treat the other believers you interact with on a regular basis. Both in your local church and as you chat, comment, or reply to each other online. When you talk to your believing “friends” are you:
- Not boastful
- Not arrogant
- Not rude
- Not insisting your own way
- Not irritable
- Not resentful
- Rejoicing in the truth, not in wrongdoing
- Never giving up on them
- Never losing faith in them
- Always hopeful for them
- Enduring with them through all circumstances
This is the picture that Paul gives for the church. We, as followers of Christ, are to follow this “still more excellent way.” Before the grand finale of verse 13, Paul helps put it another way, in case they haven’t gotten his point yet. “11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” Now is the time to grow up! As believers in Christ who have faith in Him, we have “faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.” How we function as churches and how we testify the truth to the world is impacted by our ability to practice what Paul gave us in 1 Corinthians 13. As we are able to not just read these words, but take them and follow through with them, then Jesus’ words to His disciples will ring true of us:
Here is the chapter in its entirety. Read through it slowly, thinking of the believers in your life. Be prepared to confess and seek repentance if necessary.