Scripture Reading: 1 Cor. 13:1-13

First Corinthians 13 is the direct continuation of chapter twelve. In the last verse of chapter twelve, verse 31, Paul says, “But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And yet I show to you a way of excellence.” The way of excellence is love. Thus, chapter thirteen presents this excellent way.

In chapter twelve Paul emphasizes speaking, the Spirit, the Body, and God’s administration. Now in chapter thirteen we have love as the fifth emphasis. Speaking ushers us into the Spirit, the Spirit brings us into the Body, and the Body preserves us in the Spirit. Furthermore, the Body is for God’s administration. Paul’s fifth emphasis, the matter of love, is the way to use the gifts, the way to be in the Body, and the way to be for the Body.

Chapter thirteen is not an isolated section of 1 Corinthians. Rather, it comes between chapters twelve and fourteen and with them forms a portion in this Epistle dealing with the gifts. Therefore, we should never consider chapter thirteen as if it stood by itself. No, it is a continuation of chapter twelve and leads into chapter fourteen. The first verse of chapter fourteen indicates this: “Pursue love, and desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but rather that you may prophesy.” The last verse of chapter twelve brings us into chapter thirteen, and the first verse of chapter fourteen concludes chapter thirteen and brings us into chapter fourteen. In 12:31 Paul speaks of the excellent way to exercise the gifts, in chapter thirteen he presents love as this excellent way, and in 14:1 he advises us to pursue love and desire earnestly the spiritual gifts, especially that we may prophesy. Thus, these chapters make up one unit, with chapter thirteen continuing chapter twelve and chapter fourteen continuing chapter thirteen.

Is love only a way, or is it also a gift? According to Romans 12, there is ground to say that love is a gift. In Romans 12:6-8 Paul says that we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us and that we should exercise them accordingly. According to verse 8, even the showing of mercy is a gift. Then in verses 9 and 10 Paul goes on to say, “Let love be without hypocrisy.…Love one another warmly in brotherly love, vying with one another in showing honor.” Then in verses 12 and 13 he says, “Rejoicing in hope, enduring in tribulation, persevering in prayer, communicating to the needs of the saints, pursuing hospitality.” All these, along with love, are spoken of in a chapter concerned with gifts. Therefore, we may say that love is at least on the border of the gifts.

Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 13:8 may also indicate that love is a gift and not merely a way: “Love never falls away; but whether prophecies, they shall be done away; or tongues, they shall cease; or knowledge, it shall be done away.” Here Paul lists love along with the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. There is no doubt that to prophesy, speak in tongues, and teach with the word of knowledge are gifts. Although prophecies will be done away, tongues will cease, and knowledge will be done away, love will never fall away.

I have pointed out that there are certain brothers and sisters who apparently do not have any gifts. However, they are absolutely for the Body. To be for the Body is a matter of love, and to care for the members of the Body requires love. If we do not have love, how can we care for others? Love is necessary to care for the members so that the Body may be built up. Thus, love is the greatest gift. Nothing edifies people as much as love does. Love is a spiritual antibiotic. If there is love in a local church, there will be no need to worry about spiritual diseases. Love is the best medicine to cure such diseases. Love is a gift, even the greatest gift.

It is not difficult to have the gift of love. There is no need to fast for love or pray to receive it. Furthermore, there is no need to imitate, pretend, or perform. Love is within us. As long as you have the divine life through regeneration, you also have love, for love is the expression of life, another form of life.