If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is 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. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Summary – Following on the heels of chapter 12’s final verse, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way,” chapter 13 unpacks the more excellent way. Commonly called the “Love Chapter,” the translation above uses the word “love” 9 times in only 13 verses! Three major sections of the chapter break up into (1) Action Without Love = Nothing, vss 1-3, (2) What Love Is, vss 4-7, and (3) Maturity in the Faith will be Accompanied by Greater Love, vss 8-13. Of note, section (2) is often read at weddings. Certainly, these characteristics apply to marital/spousal love; however Paul is really getting at love among Christians! That really changes the perspective. Finally, verse 8 comes with a classic debate: when do tongues cease (or do they at all, as Pentecostals would ask)? Some say the “perfect” that comes is the Bible, meaning the gift of tongues has been silent for nearly millennia. Others say, more rightly, that the “perfect” is the advent of Christ, or our going to Him. When in the presence of the Savior, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge which all deal with the knowledge of God, will be swept away for our knowledge of God will be complete and full in the consummation of our salvation. Nevertheless, as a Christian grows closer to Christ in maturity, the importance of the “revelatory” or “higher gifts” (12:31) shrinks to almost nothing. Beyond a ministry of spectacular ministry of tongues, healing, and prophecy, a life of consistent and self-sacrificial and patient love is the “greatest” and “more excellent” way.
Insight – Jesus tells the story of two sons, perhaps named Yolev and Elias. Their father, Abinadab, tells Yolev something like, “Go plow the field today, please.” Yolev says to his dad, “Ah sorry, I’m going fishing in the creek with Shemuel later. Not going to be able to plow.” So their father goes to Elias and asks him the same thing. “Sure Dad, I’ll do it this afternoon after I finish cleaning the horse barn.” A couple hours go by and their father sees Elias sleeping on the couch with a copy of ESPN the magazine on his chest! Abinadab goes out to the field to see what’s going on and finds Yolev, who was supposed to be fishing, happily plowing the field. “What happened to fishing?” Abinadab asked. “Well Dad, I decided that fishing could wait: helping you out was more important,” Yolev said. So which son actually pleased his father? Yolev did, even though he originally said he couldn’t do the work. You see, saying “I’m sorry” if you don’t mean it is like going fishing without tying a hook on your string. St. Paul tells us that we can do the greatest things, the nicest things, or believe things strongly, but if we don’t love those around us, those things are pointless! God calls us to be people who really love one another, rather than just pretending to.
Child Catechism – What is patient and kind? Love.
Discussion – What is the relationship between Paul’s analogy of the “child” and the role of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge in verses 8-13? Discuss the difference between looking at someone in a mirror versus seeing them face to face.
Prayer – Our Loving God, we know what love is because your Son laid down His life for us. We desire your love to be spread throughout the world through our service to those around us. Destroy in us, we beseech you, the pride which causes us to do good things for our own glory, and replace it with a spirit of rejoicing in the Truth, so that great things would be done for your glory. And prepare us for that moment when our dim knowledge of you is stripped away and we will be like you for we will see you as you are. Through your Grace, Amen.