1 CORINTHIANS 13:1-3
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The church at Corinth had troubles aplenty. This explains why the Corinthian letters are very helpful. Paul deals with practical everyday problems in them.
I Corinthians reveals Paul as a scrapper, diving in and sparing no punches on issues. In chapters 12 and 14, the tumult of argument and trouble rages, but in chapter 13, all is calm. In the midst of troubles, love is what God wants for us.
1 Cor. 13:1 (Holman) If I speak the languages of men and of angels, but do
not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
To “speak the languages of men and of angels” refers to spiritual talk. Anyone who speaks another language, or in pious spiritual tones, without love is only making harsh noise. “Sounding gong” refers not to a musical instrument, but to metal of any kind, struck and yielding sound. “Clanging” describes metal hit in order to produce a loud, harsh sound. A person who speaks without love makes an unharmonious and useless sound.
The clanging of metals was characteristic of heathen worship. Paul seems to be saying worship without love is no better than pagan worship.
1 Cor. 13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and
all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so that I can move
mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Without love, we face a threefold failure. First, preaching is wasted. Some preach of Hell as if they want people go there. Contrast Jonah under the gourd to Paul, who wished to be cursed for his brethren and spent his life reaching Gentiles. Second, without love, spiritual and intellectual knowledge are wasted. The danger of intellectual knowledge is intellectual snobbery (Barclay). The learned run a risk of showing contempt. Churches often give undue priority to knowledge, saying, “Let’s quit reaching more and teach the ones we have.”
Third, without love, faith is wasted. A king forgave a debt of 10,000 talents because his servant had faith to beseech the monarch (MT 18:23-35). However, the servant who prayed in faith jailed a man who owed him only 100 pence. A lack of love nullified the benefits of prior faith. The king brought his servant back and delivered him to the tormentors.
James and John wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village, but Jesus rebuked them (LK 9:52-56). Faith makes a hero, love makes a saint. Faith puts us above the world, love brings us under God’s throne. Faith can carry us to Carmel, love transports us to Calvary.
1 Cor. 13:3 And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my
body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Even benevolence profits us nothing if done for the wrong reason. Some give for mere display; it makes them look good to others. Some give to prove their own superiority. Others give in order to offer a rebuke or lecture. Some give hypocritically to get rid of troublesome duty. “It is a very easy thing to toss a copper to a beggar on the street; it is generally an easier thing than not to do it” (Drummond). Love is the salve that soothes our giving and makes it beautiful.
Love is of utmost importance in our lives. Six acts may help us increase our level of love. One, self-examination. Maybe no passage in the Bible demands more self-examination than does this chapter. People decline in courtesy before they decline in morality. Morals can be prominent on the surface while underneath might be a sharp tongue, no sacrifice, total selfishness. Our religion can become mechanical. Hearts once soft and pliable can become hard. Some of us need to ask ourselves, “What happened to the softhearted person that used to live in your skin?” Examine yourself. See what you maybe have lost.
Two, prayer increases love. Seek forgiveness for missed opportunities. Then pray for a chance to show love soon. When the opportunity to love arises, and we do a kind, loving deed, thank God for the opportunity and ask for another.
We need love at the first, middle, and last of our lives as Christians. The only difference is, our love at the last should be richer than our love at the first. A well-developed blossom is our goal. Begin with the root we have and pray, pray, pray, pray for growth, especially if we have regressed instead of progressed.
Three, love is helped when we make it a priority. Paul appealed for the Corinthians to minimize spectacular gifts like preaching, teaching, tongues, healing, and maximize love. Without love, spiritual gifts tend to pride and ill will. Apart from the warmth of love, other expressions of Christian living turn cold. The Corinthians preferred impressive, sensational, spectacular forms of service. We often do the same. Do whatever is necessary to give love its proper place.
If leadership, preaching, teaching, or knowledge stifle our love, drop the stifler. If we cannot handle a promotion at work or church and love at the same time, drop the promotion. Remove any obstacle keeping us from loving as we should, for love is of unequaled importance.
Four, time can help improve our love. We sometimes do not express love to others because we are in a hurry. People attending public worship are often like crowds at a ball game. Once the main event ends, everyone dashes for the exit. Slow down. Take time to love one another. Help a precious senior citizen down the stairs. “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man” (LV 19:32). Lovingly pat a child on the head. Say an encouraging word to as many as you can. Allow time for love to manifest itself.
I heard a lady once say of a deacon, “That’s the finest man in our church.” He had taken time that week to visit her in the hospital.
Five, valuing people improves love. People should be treated as creatures made in God’s image. It pains me to hear harshness in discussions. Arguments drain away my vital essence. One-line quips and verbal jabs are always out of place. We can’t rightfully claim to love God when we keep jabbing at His image.
Six, act no matter how we feel. We have been taught, “Don’t do unless you feel.” However, ours is a religion of action, and we often must do things against our feelings.
The same is true of love. It is a matter of the will, not the emotions. If we do deeds of love, we will eventually love to do them. Did Jesus feel like going to the cross? No, but He did it anyway. “Where is the cross on which you died for other lives?” (Parker).