“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it’s not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Perhaps one of the most popular sections of scripture read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13 contains a beautiful example of the nature of love. Separated from its context, it can seem that Paul is giving us an example of how we are to love our spouse, children, or family and friends. While it is possible to read this passage and be convicted about how you love your husband, mother, brother, or children, Paul is speaking about a relationship that has much deeper bloodlines—the body of Christ.
Like most of Paul’s letters, 1 Corinthians is written to a local church. This body is a gathering of believers in the Lord, Jesus Christ who are saved by his precious blood into the family of God. Often when we hear 1 Corinthians 13 mentioned it is in isolation from the verses and chapters surrounding it. This passage, like all of Scripture, is profitable because it is God’s word, but the full meaning can best be understood if we understand what Paul is doing in the preceding chapters.
Chapter 13 is sandwiched between two chapters on spiritual gifts in the church. In chapter 12 Paul teaches the Corinthian church about the unity of the gifts and their usefulness in the body of Christ. This chapter contains tremendous encouragement for us as believers. Paul shows us that no spiritual gift is better than another and each believer is useful and valued in the body of Christ. Chapter 12 provides the framework for the practical applications that come in chapter 13.
1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful application of how to use the gifts and minister in the body of Christ. Yes, we can glean application for our own familial relationships from chapter 13, but more importantly Paul wants us to see that all of our efforts to minister and use our spiritual gifts are meaningless if we do them for our own glory and gain (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Chapter 13 should be a defining characteristic of our churches, not because we want people to say we have such a loving church, but because we want people to see Christ as the greatest treasure. The overarching theme of Paul’s ministry was glorifying Christ. He wanted local churches to be a testimony to the sufficiency of Christ and his salvation of sinful people.
That is my prayer as our church (Midtown Baptist Church) begins our Sunday morning services this Sunday. I want to be free to be thankful for the gifts God has given me without comparing my gifts to other believers, because all of our gifts matter in the body (1 Corinthians 12:14-21). I want to care for the other believers in our congregation like I care for my own body, because they are members of Christ’s body just like me (1 Corinthians 12:27). I want to lean hard on Christ’s righteous work in my own life so I can love people well with the gifts God has given me, because every effort in my own strength will fall short every time.
Obeying 1 Corinthians 13 is not easy. I am a sinful person who is not naturally patient, loving, or humble. I am, however, naturally resentful, prideful, and irritable. By God’s gracious grace in my life, I’m growing more into the person he has called me to be.
So pray for us as we begin our services this week. Pray that we would be a church that values all members of the body and exalts Christ above all other things. Pray that our pastors would preach Christ boldly and that hearts would be stirred to trust him. We want him to made much of in all that we do.