Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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. (1 Cor 13:4-7)
The above scripture on love could very well represent the most beloved (or famous) passage on love in all of the Bible. (I suppose John 3:16 could also vie for the top spot, but in that passage, God is the one who loves.)
This text is often read during a wedding ceremony as an example of the type of love that a couple will strive to achieve.
Admittedly, it is a lofty goal, but nevertheless, the passage provides the inspiration and ideal that is fitting for such a sacred assembly.
Context is the Key?
Ironically enough, romantic love is not really in view in the Corinthians passage. This should not diminish its use within a wedding ceremony since the ideals that it embodies should govern all marriages.
However, in order to truly understand this passage we must look at something called context. Context is what surrounds the passage. In other words, this text falls smack in the middle of a discussion on the use of spiritual gifts. Paul makes two important points.
- Everyone is given a gift for the edification of the church and every member of the community (no matter their role or gift) is important.
- There are no gifts that are better than others. This was in response to some members who were apparently boasting about their gifts (speaking in tongues or prophesying). In addition, they were disrupting the services with their demonstrations.
Chapter 13, all having to do with love, falls smack in the middle of these two points.
Paul states that if you do not exercise love toward your brother / sister in Christ, then it doesn’t matter if you are a spiritual giant and possess all of these wonderful supernatural gifts.
In practical terms, anyone who boasts or is prideful is clearly not demonstrating love towards others. And love that is real and true is never exploitative or selfish.
Other Major Problems In the Church
We must also keep in mind that the Corinthian church had other problems that all appeared to come from this lack of loving for each other. These problems included:
- Deep internal divisions
- Sexual immorality (which was tolerated by many)
- Members of the church taking each other to court
- Members using their liberty in Christ to cause others to sin against their conscious
- Getting drunk and overeating at the Lord’s supper
In the midst of all this turmoil, stands the prime example of love that should be demonstrated in our relationships towards our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
This type of love is not characterized by eros (romantic love) or phileo (brotherly love) but by agape, a grace-filled, fully complete, unconditional, radically compassionate, eternally merciful, genuine concern for another’s well being.
It is what should govern EVERY ONE of our human relationships and most especially those with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
P.S. If you want to know how to do a contextual study of a Bible passage, check out Rule #3 – Context, Context, Context in our 7 Rules of Bible Interpretation EVERY Christian Should Know.