World English Bible translation
13:1If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don't have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. 13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don't have love, I am nothing. 13:3 If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don't have love, it profits me nothing.
13:4Love is patient and is kind; love doesn't envy. Love doesn't brag, is not proud, 13:5 doesn't behave itself inappropriately, doesn't seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; 13:6 doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 13:7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 13:8 Love never fails.
The Corinthians were a divided church. At the root of all the problems that Paul has discussed with them are their own envies and rivalries that had become more important than their worship of God. Even when they practiced the Lord's Supper, they did so selfishly and separately. It was not as though they lacked in the gifts of the Spirit, but they used these gifts to reinforce their rivalries. The very gifts of God that were given to make them one were being used to cleave them into separate parts. So, in this famous section, Paul offers to show them a better way.
The gifts of God are powerful and impressive. God uses His gifts to draw people towards His grace and to capture our hearts and minds. To speak His words, God offers some men the gifts of tongues and interpretation. To communicate His will, God offers some men the gift of prophecy that proclaims the mysteries and the knowledge of God. But Paul writes to the Corinthians that even though a man were given the greatest of these gifts, if the man does not have love he is nothing. Love is greater than all the gifts. No matter what we do in the name of God, if it is done without love, it is nothing.
But just having said that is not enough. As flesh and blood, we have no real knowledge what God means by "love." So Paul describes the love that is God's love. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love doesn't envy. Paul describes the rarefied air of the highest plane on which men can possibly dwell. When we achieve the state of being that Paul characterizes in this passage it is rare and fleeting. Who among men is always patient? Who among us is always kind and does not envy? We have our moments to be sure. As Paul writes in another place that at times a good man can lay down his life for his brother. We have flashes of nobility and self-sacrifice.
But what Paul illustrates in this passage is the very heart of God -- the heart of God that never changes. God is always patient and always kind. God doesn't envy. Good news, is it not? But Paul goes on to write even more dramatic words. Love doesn't seek its own way. Love takes no account of evil. We often imagine God with stylus and pad, gleefully recording each mistake and error that we make. Our God, though, doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness. He takes no account of evil. He bears all things. He believes all things. He endures all things.
More than anything else, this description of love explains God's purpose of the incarnation and work of Jesus Christ our savior. In Christ, God was made flesh. His love lived among us as a man of flesh and blood. He didn't envy those in high position, rather he was born and lived a poor life. He did not brag, nor was He proud. Paul told the Philippians that though Jesus was equal with God, He did not choose to cling to that equality. He laid it aside and became like a servant to all of us.
Through Jesus Christ, God reached out to us and demonstrated love in its most tangible form. Love doesn't seek its own way. It sacrifices for others. Even for others that are rebellious. Love is not provoked. Stripped and beaten, reviled and abused, love bore all things that we might know the full measure of His love. Love endured, not just the petty mistakes and sins that you and I commit daily. Love endured the cross. Love endured suffering and death. He endured all so that we might be saved, and having been saved, that in moments of illumination we might briefly grasp the full measure of His love. Love reaches out beyond all that separates us so that He might embrace the children who have been lost.
One final thing. Love never fails. Not then. Not now. Love never fails!
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