This chapter is often read at weddings to give a foundational description of love. It is also otherwise used to promote a charismatic understanding about miraculous gifts like prophecy and tongues. But this chapter isn’t really about either one of those things.
Context dictates the text. Both the immediate and overarching contexts of this chapter demand an alternate understanding of these verses.
In the previous chapter (ch.12), Paul had already laid the foundation for a basic theology of spiritual gifts, mentioning that they are given and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God.
A proper understanding of spiritual gift theology should promote unity in the church and an esteemed value of every believer.
At the end of chapter 12, Paul reminds them that every Christian WON’T have every gift (The implications of that are VERY important). No one will be able to function autonomously. WE NEED EACH OTHER to function as God intended.
His last statement is the key to understanding chapter 13…”and I will show you a more excellent way.”
1 Corinthians 13 has everything to do with the WAY that spiritual gifts are demonstrated. It has everything to do with the Christians’ character and how the Christian allows their character to affect how they use their spiritual gifts.
Ability without character is useless. That’s a huge point Paul tries to get across (vv.1-3)
Apparently, many of the believers in the Church were becoming impressed with themselves and their supernatural abilities, to the point where they started treating others poorly who didn’t have those same gifts. (I’m referring back to ch.12 a bit)
So Paul outlines what the proper character for using spiritual gifts should be (vv.4-7). This is the favorite section in weddings giving the description of love.
Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I’m not saying that verses 4-7 have NOTHING to do with what love is. They give us a GREAT understanding of what love should look like. But, we mustn’t separate that from the point of the passage.
This is specifically referring to the LOVING WAY that spiritual gifts should be being used in the church as Christians relate to one another. If you’re not using your spiritual gifts with love, then that’s a problem.
Paul wants love to be THE underlying and compelling force when thinking about spiritual gifts. Nothing else should be the primary motivator.
Many have said that verses 8-10 give a time stamp on when miraculous gifts will be done away with. But that’s not Paul’s intention. His intention is to say that miraculous gifts should not be the focus because they aren’t eternal. Love is eternal, so focus on that.
If your focus is on things that don’t last forever, then you’ll be disappointed when you cross into eternity and those things aren’t there…
Verse 11 seems out of place until you remember these contextual pieces mentioned above. Paul is saying that childish thinking is selfish and inconsistent with the love paradigm he mentions in verses 4-7. The Grown-up way to think is through love.
All this goes to make one major point…You can’t just be gifted, you need to be Godly too. Character matters. Love matters. Love lasts forever.
And we love, because He first loved us…