You can’t find a more popular portion of the Bible than .
It’s the bubbly “love” chapter, clamping down on the biblical meaning of love.
Or so you think.
First Corinthians 13 at first blush is perfect for weddings. Hallmark cards. Little plaques above your kitchen sink [where ours hangs].
Who wouldn’t love the simplicity of “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude”?
It carries a certain charm–an almost mystical hold on us when it comes to love.
I once found this chapter in an anthology of love poems, alongside the likes of and .
Unusual bedfellows if I ever saw any.
Never the Purpose of 1 Corinthians 13
I know during one of my crankier moments in life [that extended from birth to MAYBE just a couple of weeks ago] I memorized this chapter in hopes that it would manage to make me a more kinder, gentler man.
It didn’t work.
Why? Well, it was never intended to be a charter on sweetness. Or seventeen habits of highly-sentimental people.
Paul intended it to be a lot dirtier than that.
Just think were the chapter is embedded…in between two very tough chapters on spiritual gifts.
But you’re still being very narrowed minded if you leave it at that. You must step back even further.
Think about Who Paul Was Writing To
First Corinthians 12-14 are couched in a letter to who? The Corinthians. A self-absorbed, smug, stingy set of church members.
That means while writing his letter hunched over, pen in hand and brow furled bent on setting the Corinthians straight, Paul didn’t sit back and say, “I feel like writing a splendid little reverie on love. Barnabas, did you hear that? I’m going to write a love poem!”
He intended chapter 13 to serve much like God intended the ten commandments to serve: a schoolmaster who drives the disobedient to Christ.
Think about this: Paul is saying, “You think you know what love is? You don’t have a clue what love is. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful….”
In other words, 1 Corinthians 13 is a reprimand. Not an elegant poem that gives us the warm and fuzzies.
A Good Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13
Alistair Begg makes this point in a . He explains that taken in isolation, 1 Corinthians 13 is often abused, as I noted above.
But once you understand Paul’s original meaning and purpose behind the chapter, you’ll appreciate the chapter so much more.
In the end, 1 Corinthians 13 is a statement against the popular notion [that still holds today] that love is out of our control.
Paul declares that godly love is manly and willful:
It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It takes guts to endure all things.
What to Do Next
But Paul’s point in the end is that we will never measure up to the standard laid out in 1 Corinthians 13. There is only one person who did such a thing. Jesus Christ.
And what that means is that we will always struggle with this love–a love that never ends–until we humbly submit to the only living person who ever fully and completely fulfilled the law of love–Jesus Christ.
Does this mean you throw out that plaque hanging over your kitchen sink? No. It means you look at it and remember that you will never measure up to that standard until you bow down to the very lord of love–Jesus Christ.