The apostle Paul often commended churches for the strength their faith and love. The church in Corinth, however, was not worthy of such a compliment. In fact, following Paul’s introduction in his first letter to them, he starts through a laundry list of problems the church faced, offering specific instruction in church discipline (chapter 5), lawsuits (chapter 6a), immorality (chapter 6b), marriage (chapter 7), gray areas (chapters 8-10), roles in the church (chapter 11a), the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11b), and the exercise of spiritual gifts (chapter 12).
Then we come to I Corinthians chapter 13. It is as if Paul is writing along saying, “Do this, don’t do that, act this way” in very specific instructions. Then he puts his pen down, closes his eyes, and says to himself, “You know, the more I think about it, here is the summary answer to all your problems.” Then he pens the great love chapter, I Corinthians 13.
Studied in its context, chapter 13 answers the specific problems that plagued the Corinthian church. Paul starts with a bang. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love it profits me nothing” (I Cor 13:1-3). Remember the church at Corinth was blessed with extraordinary knowledge, speech, and giftedness (I Cor 1:4-8). However, without love, these gifts are useless. Not merely diminished, but of no value whatsoever.
Starting at I Corinthians 13:4 and following, Paul begins comparing and contrasting what love does and the Corinthian experience. It may be instructive to us to think about which of these two paths we find ourselves on. “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous” (vs 4). Compare to I Corinthians 3:3, “For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?”
“Love does not brag and is not arrogant” (vs 4). Compare to I Corinthians 4:18, “Now some have become arrogant.” Or “Love is not rude” (vs 5). Compare to their habit of partaking of the Lord’s Supper in a rude manner (I Cor 11:18-22).
Continuing on, “Love does not seek its own good” (vs 5). Compare to Paul’s admonition concerning gray areas, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble” (I Cor 8:13). And, “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (I Cor 10:24). Compare also to fulfilling our duty in marriage (I Cor 7:3-5), embracing our roles in the church (I Cor 11:3), and the practice of our spiritual gifts “as each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Cor 12:7).
“Love is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered” (vs 5). Compare to I Corinthians 6:1-8 where Paul chastises the Corinthian believers for taking each other to court. And finally, “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (vs 6). Compare to the church’s arrogant acceptance of immorality among its members in I Corinthians 5:1-2.
Well, you get the idea. The spiritual immaturity demonstrated by the Corinthian church is addressed by specific answers that Paul details throughout this letter. But the overarching answer to their problems is love. We saw last post that the theological answer to strife, envy, and disharmony in the church is the cross. The practical answer to strife, envy, and disharmony in the church is love.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (I Cor 16:14).