Whenever I do a wedding there is this feeling that somehow you have to fit in 1 Corinthians 13 because the word “love” is mentioned so many times. Love have made this chapter one of the best known in the whole Bible. Really, I do my best to avoid that chapter at weddings. When you preach or teach 1 Corinthians 13 as if it were about love it really sounds kind of strange. I mean what’s love got to do with speaking in the tongues of men or of angels? What’s love got to do with prophesies? What’s love got to do with wisdom and spiritual insight? What’s love got to do with it? The follow up question to that is, Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken? Anyone?
The problem people have with 1 Corinthians 13 is a problem that people have with many verses in the Bible. It is a problem of stripping verses from their context, examining them in that isolation and coming to conclusions that were never intended by the original author. Read 1 Corinthians 11 through 13 all at once and see what chapter 13 is about. The NIV heading is “Love” but it is actually about the primacy of love in using our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts in the early church were gifts given to people by the power of the Holy Spirit to do things they could not do otherwise. This included things like speaking in tongues, prophesy, extra wisdom, interpretation of those who speak in tongues, and many more. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul talks about problems of disunity and hostility in the church. Then in chapters 12 and 13 Paul gives us two things that, when properly understood, should bring unity and purpose back to God’s people. In 1 Cor 12 Paul writes about the unity of the body and how we all have different gifts but the leadership comes from the head of the body, Christ, and not ourselves. In 1 Cor 13 Paul talks about the fact that many people have gifts but they are all meaningless unless they are done lovingly. The point is, don’t get caught up in the gift. Get caught up in the one who gave the gift, God, and how He wants us to use those gifts in loving ways. Having great gifts is no excuse or substitute for treating people right. Do treat others poorly, no matter how great the gifts makes you nothing (1 Cor 13:2-3).
The whole spiritual gifts discussion in 1 Corinthians is a call back to love. While all the gifts they had may not be present in the same form as they were in the first century we still have something greater than all of that…we can still love. When we do the life and love of Jesus flows in us and through us and is more powerful than speaking in a tongue or having some great gift of wisdom. Christ is living in us and it will show. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9:15).