This is a very familiar chapter which is often read apart from the context it comes in. Most of this letter to the Corinthians has dealt with problems in the church there and is a response to difficult questions they had submitted to Paul. Chapter 12, which focused on Spiritual Gifts, finished with the encouragement to eagerly desire the greater gifts... and as you do so, here is the most excellent gift to desire and emulate. As you page back over the issues and problems the Corinthians were having (problems we often have as well), you can see how contrasting this chapter is.
v1-3 - It doesn't matter how talented/gifted a person is, without love it all adds up to nothing. This point is made using three contrasting if/but formulas:
IF I HAVE AWESOME SPIRITUAL GIFTS:
I speak eloquently
I can figure lots of things out and have the faith to make big things happen
I selflessly give all I have
BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, THEN:
I become noise
I am nothing
I gain nothing
v4-8a - Contrasts what love is and is not:
LOVE IS patient, kind, protecting, trusting, hoping persevering, and never failing.
LOVE IS NOT jealous, big mouthed, conceited, dishonoring, out for itself, or petty.
v8b-13 - The things that seem to have value now are all going to be gone some day, "when completeness comes (v10)."
WHEN THAT DAY COMES, HERE'S WHAT WILL BE GONE:
The Spiritual gifts discussed in the previous chapter.
As important as they are now, when completeness comes they will no longer be needed.
SINCE THAT DAY IS RAPIDLY COMING:
Grow up and stop acting like a child, because
you will see God face to face
You will know God fully, as He already knows you fully
AFTER ALL IS GONE, HERE'S WHAT REMAINS:
Faith, Hope, Love
and the greatest, because faith and hope can not exist without it, is Love.
OLD TESTAMENT REFERENCE:
Remember, not all Biblical psalms are in the book of Psalms. One of the shortest psalms is found in 2 Chronicles 5:13, referring to God's unfailing covenant love (hessed). Notice also in the following verse how it parallels 1 Cor. 13, in that once God's presence was 'complete' in the temple, the gifts of the priests was no longer necessary, so all that remained was God's love.
Use the comment box below to discuss one or more of these questions:
EYE FOR DETAIL—From what you recall seeing in this chapter, try answering the following question without looking at your Bible: How does Paul complete the following sentence? “When I became a man …” (See verse 11.)
Imagine once more that you are preparing a special audio-visual presentation for your church. A strong, prerecorded voice will read through this chapter word for word as a series of slides is projected on a screen in front of the people. What kind of photographs would you select to be included in the slide presentation, to best fit this chapter?
Questions taken from The Complete Bible Discussion Guide: New Testament
Follow the AAA Prayer Pattern:
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: God is agápē (pure love)
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray for strength to follow this most excellent way(12:31b)
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: