1 Corinthians 13, pt.1

This week we are reading through Paul’s great hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13. As you read through this chapter this week, please re-read chapter 12 which sets up Paul’s discussion here. (I have attached John Chrysostom’s Homily 32 which draws these two chapters together.) The chapter can be divided into three parts, all of which build on each other: Primacy of Love, Description of Love, and the Permanency of Love.  It is through this love that Paul says that the divisions within the Corinthian congregation will cease.

As you read through the chapter (and please read it, ruminate over it, pray though it, and contemplate the divine within it), think through how this chapter speaks to us today. Look at how this chapter emphasizes the insufficiency and imperfection of knowledge and faith. As Paul says in verse 2, if we understand all the mysteries of God or if we have a faith that exceeds even that of the twelve disciples themselves (Matt 17:20) we are nothing.  Paul doesn’t say that without love we are defective or deficient, but that it is as if we never existed. 

This primacy of love over faith and knowledge derives from the incompleteness and impermanence of the latter. In verse 9, Paul says we only know in part because, within this age, our knowledge is like that of a child or of us trying to see through a glass darkly. But in the age to come, even this incomplete knowledge will end. Our faith, of course, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), but once these things have come and are seen, faith will vanish into sight and hope will be emptied in delight.  For knowledge and faith and hope will all pass away.  Therefore, the unspoken question posed by Paul is why the congregation in Corinth has divisions over these impermanent things.

Another contemporary issue that arises is how to read this chapter in light of Jesus’s command in the Sermon on the Mount that we must love our enemies. As Jesus says, if we only love those who love us, what reward is there for even the tax collectors and pagans do as much? For while we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-11. Therefore, think about who your enemies are – the malicious co-worker, the thief that breaks in and steals, the crazy jihadist that seeks our destruction – and apply the love described in verses 4-7 to that person.  How does this application make a difference in how we see and treat the other person?

Dinner is at 6. The menu is macaroni and cheese. Hope to see you here.

Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost,
taught by you, we covet most,
of your gifts at Pentecost,
holy, heavenly love.

Faith that mountains could remove,
tongues of earth or heaven above,
knowledge, all things, empty prove
without heavenly love.

Though I as a martyr bleed,
give my goods the poor to feed,
all is vain, if love I need;
therefore give me love.

Love is kind, and suffers long,
love is meek, and thinks no wrong,
love than death itself more strong;
therefore give us love.

Prophecy will fade away,
melting in the light of day;
love will ever with us stay;
therefore give us love.

Faith and hope and love we see
joining hand in hand, agree;
but the greatest of the three,
and the best, is love.

Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost (Christopher Wordsworth, 1862)

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