In our study of 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen, we will look at love and how it is the method of victory for the kingdom of God. The "love" that we will look at is the highest form of love and is commonly known as "agape". This was the basis for Jesus coming to the earth to pay for our sins and it is the basis for our sharing of our faith with others.
"And now I will show you the most excellent way." NIV translation
Although this verse is a part of chapter twelve in the NIV translation, it is a bridge to this chapter. As we saw in chapter 12, God has given many spiritual gifts to His people in order to build up the body of believers. This bridge reminds us that the gifts are given to believers so that we may build each other up in our faith.
"If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." NIV translation
We must remember that Paul sent this letter to the believers in Corinth which was the "sin city" of the day. This was where people came to indulge in their own pleasure which is the opposite of the biblical definition of love found in 1 John 3:16. Paul reminds them and us that the gift of speaking in tongues is not some cheap sideshow but is to be used to reach those around us. When the gift is used to say "look at me", the people will ignore us just as a repeated noise becomes background and is not even noticed.
"If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." NIV translation
Many times these spiritual gifts can cause us to allow pride in ourselves to creep into our walk. We are reminded that, no matter how big our spiritual gift is, it is still a tool given by God for the benefit of others. If it becomes about us, then, people will not want to hear anything about our Master and so it is worthless.
"If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." NIV translation
Paul tells us, here, that extreme sacrifice without love is worthless. The "surrender my body to the flames" speaks of boasting about one's generosity to the less fortunate. This comes from pride which is the root of sin and is what caused Satan to be cast out of heaven. In our world today, many people create a charity with their name on it so that everyone knows about their generosity. This is what Paul is speaking of here and he says that they gain nothing of heavenly value. This is also what Jesus spoke of when He said "If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (see Matthew 6:1).
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." NIV translation
This passage shows us the struggle that we all face between the flesh and the spirit. Paul begins by saying that love is two things and we are reminded of the fact that, throughout the Bible, the number two is associated with the number of witnessing. Patience and kindness are two forms of laying down our lives (desires) for the good of others. He continues with two lists of four things each that show us the opposite of love and we are reminded that, throughout the Bible, the number four is associated with our trials and struggles. Finally, he lists four things that love does and so we are reminded that the only way that we can demonstrate love is through the power of God inside us.
"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." NIV translation
We live in the shadows of what is to come because we are still people. We do not know everything now but when Jesus returns we too will be made perfect. We are growing and maturing just like a child.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." NIV translation
Faith and hope will be fulfilled when at last Jesus returns to get His own but love will continue on because God is love.