If you were formulating a top ten list of the world’s favorite Scripture passages, today’s reading would surely be on it. Most of us have attended at least one wedding where these verses have been read as a part of the ceremony. Even people who have never read the Bible can quote portions of this chapter.
It may seem to you, once again, that Paul has suddenly changed the subject. But the fact that he continues to talk about spiritual gifts in chapter 14 indicates that Paul’s love poem (these verses are written in poetic form using parallelism and symmetrical language) is a commentary on those gifts. Indeed, the apostle mentions several gifts as a contrast to love to emphasize its priority. Paul begins with tongues and prophecy because these gifts were being abused by the Corinthian church (vv. 1–2). He will deal with them in greater detail in the next chapter. Love, says Paul, is superior to all spiritual gifts. If our spiritual gifts are not exercised in love, even the most excellent gift is reduced to nothing (vv. 2–3).
In verses 4–7, the apostle lists attributes of love. It should be no surprise that these characteristics are also attributes of God. Scripture tells us God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The four qualities Paul highlights in these verses were especially evident in the life of Christ who was “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29). The negatives in verses 4–5 mirror many of the Corinthian believers’ failings: envy, boasting, pride, dishonor, self– seeking, anger, and keeping account of wrongs. The gifts are temporary and incomplete (vv. 8–10). Instead of being marks of spiritual perfection, they are signs of the church’s immaturity (v. 11).
>> Paul does not dismiss spiritual gifts as unimportant, but he does imply that the Corinthians’ view of them was imbalanced. As important as the exercise of spiritual gifts is to the church, the practice of love is even more necessary.
The apostle Paul outlines high standards for how we should love one another. God of love, we lean on You as the source of this love, asking that You empower us to live out Paul’s instructions in these verses.