1 Corinthians 13:1–13: Love: A Still More Excellent Way
With good reason, 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most well known and beloved passages in all the Bible. Here, Paul writes a soaring, semi-poetic ode to love, the greatest of the gospel graces (1 Cor. 13:13). In spite of our familiarity with this passage—or, perhaps, because of it—we do not always read this passage in context with the rest of 1 Corinthians. Here, Paul is not only extolling the virtues and value of love. Much more, he is critiquing the Corinthians’ lack of love. First, Paul points out the foolishness of pursuing giftedness apart from love (1 Cor. 13:1–3). Then, Paul contrasts the character, conduct, and confidence of love against the behavior of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:4–7). Finally, Paul explains why the Corinthians should pursue love more than giftedness (1 Cor. 13:8–13). In this passage, Paul insists that everything is nothing without love.
1. How eloquently do you “talk the talk” of Christianity (1 Cor. 13:3)? How much intellectual certainty (prophesy, knowledge) or practical certainty (faith) do you have in Christianity (1 Cor. 13:2)? How much confidence do you gain from your works (1 Cor. 13:3)? Do you impress others by your giftedness? Do you find your Christian confidence in your giftedness? What does Paul warn us about giftedness without love (1 For. 13:1–3)?
2. How does Paul contrast the conduct of love with the conduct of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:4–7)? How does our study so far of these many other passages that Paul echoes here help us to understand Paul’s point about love? Of the many words Paul uses, which word(s) do you find the most convicting? How does Paul compare the conduct of love to God’s kindness toward us in Christ? Which of these word(s) do you find most reminiscent of the gospel?
1. Why must the gospel gifts pass away (1 Cor. 3:8)? What is the difference between the partial and the perfect (1 Cor. 13:9–10, 12b)? What is the difference between the partial and the perfect? What does Paul mean when he compares the ways of children with the ways of adults (1 Cor. 13:11)? What does Paul mean when he contrasts seeing in a mirror indirectly with seeing face to face (1 Cor. 13:12a)? How do these illustrations help us to understand the contrast between partial and perfect?
3. Why is it so significant to know that faith, hope, and love will abide forever (1 Cor. 13:13)? What role will faith and hope play in the future, once we walk by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)? How ought we to relate to those gospel graces differently from the gospel gifts? How do you think that the gospel graces are related to the gospel gifts? Why is love superior to faith and hope? What role will love play throughout eternity to come? With our future in mind, how should we cultivate love today?