Preparation for Worship
Throughout his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul has been expressing distress to his friends that they are abiding by the way of Corinth more than by the way of Christ. Chapter by chapter, he has been trying to demonstrate how in nearly every situation they are choosing to live by the self-centered practices of the world rather than the self-giving way of Jesus. Now, in the famous 13th chapter of the letter, he employs his coupe de grace through his extended meditation on love. The Corinthians have proven themselves to be intelligent, gifted, talented, spiritual people, who boast greatly in their impressive pedigrees and spiritual accomplishments. But Paul administers a death blow to their pride by exposing the pretensions of their behavior and the total lack of substance in their activity. First, he argues that no degree of spiritual activity or moral achievement is worth anything to God unless it is motivated by love (v.1-3). Then, he defines love as an other-centered virtue that is exactly opposite of their current behavior (v.4-7). Finally, he again demonstrates the supremacy of love by showing it is the only enduring virtue that will last into eternity (v.8-13).
This chapter is so well known and sentimentalized, often read in weddings or written in calligraphy. But in reality, it is one of the most terrifying chapters in the Bible. To truly meditate on love as Paul describes it here is to be exposed as someone who does not know how to love. It is a chapter that should drive us to our knees in repentance, recognizing the selfish nature of our own hearts. On the other hand, it should also drive us to the gospel, recognizing that Jesus Christ is the personification of love that Paul describes, and that his love is oriented toward us. So this chapter is not meant to inspire. It is meant to convict and renew our faith in the one who loves us with perfect love, that we might learn how to love in his cruciform pattern.
In preparation for worship, I encourage you to read through this chapter slowly, perhaps taking each phrase in verses 4-7 and meditating on each. Let the Lord expose your need for him and remind you of his perfect love.
Our weekly worship guide can be found here.
1 Corinthians 13
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.