“I just don’t feel very loved by you,” he blurted. I knew something was bugging him, but I didn’t expect that answer when I asked him if something was wrong. I stood there, frozen, like a deer caught between headlights, trying to process what my husband of 20 years just said.
“How can you even say that?” I questioned. “Don’t you see all the things I do for you?”
I reflected on my day, and how I felt like a champion because I conquered my to-do list like a true supermom. Now, sitting in bed, trying to keep my eyes open, I’m being told that I don’t make the most important person in my life feel loved.
He continued, “Name one thing you did for me today out of love.” As much as I didn’t want to admit it, he was on to something; he was right, and my supermom ego was deflating. In all my hustle and bustle to check off the tasks on my to-do list, I apparently forgot to add “be love” to my list. I wasn’t exactly following the verse on the plaque that hung over my mantle, “Let all that you do be done in love.”
Paul was dealing with a similar situation with the church of Corinth. They were getting caught up in their spiritual gifts and were using them in the wrong way, becoming prideful and forgetting the purpose for these gifts.
He wrote 1 Corinthians 13 as a response to their struggles, and in it Paul explains how love plays the most important role in our relationships with God and each other, and in our ministry.
You’ll see that this chapter is almost perfectly divided into three sections:
- Verses 1-3 highlights the mistake we all make at some point in our ministry – doing all the things, but forgetting to do it in love
- Verses 4-8a describes what perfect love is
- Verses 8b-13 details who we are in Christ and the promises we have as we are made complete in Him
Part 1 – The Problem: Something’s Missing, and It’s Not Your Lack of Effort
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
You see, the Corinthians did all the things they thought they were supposed to do, using their spiritual gifts – preaching, prophesying, being strong in their faith, and giving to the poor – but they missed the key ingredient of love.
So many times, we make the mistake of thinking that if we try harder, serve more, or have stronger faith, then we must be doing what we’re called to do.
We tend to confuse our spiritual gifts and acts of service with love.
But the truth of the matter is, according to Paul, that even if I work hard, donate to the poor, memorize Bible verses, speak the right words, go on mission trips to Africa, and lead a small group, but I do not have love, it’s all meaningless and good for nothing.
God gave us spiritual gifts to be used in conjunction with love, as a means for spreading the good news of his love to others.
“Each of you should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10
When we forget the purpose behind what we are called to do and put the focus on the individual gifts, we lose sight of what God has commanded us to do – to love God and love others.
Part 2 – The Solution: It Starts With Perfect Love For Imperfect People
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
What a tall order to live up to!
Paul gave us quite an audacious list of what love is and is not. I fall short on most of these at different points in my life. Thankfully, it is not intended to be used as a checklist, but rather as an example of perfect love.
Perfect love is not attainable by imperfect sinners like you and me.
Perfect love is portrayed through God’s love for us, and through Jesus as he walked among us, and paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sin.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Although we may not be able to love perfectly (yet), we are still commanded to love (now).
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
When we experience God’s love in our own life, we are then able to love others as Christ loves us because our ability to love is a direct result of being loved by God.
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
Part 3 – We’re A Work In Progress, The Best Is Yet To Come
“But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:8b-13
In the end, all that matters is love. All the gifts we received were given to us for God’s glory and to aid in sharing His love with others so that they may also come to know Him and have a personal relationship with Him. Once His work is complete, those gifts will no longer be needed. Only three will remain – faith, hope and love, with the greatest gift being love.
Even though we have not yet been made perfect, we are supposed to press on, run the race, keep pushing forward, doing our best to live and love like Jesus did.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14
One day we will finally see Jesus face to face. It may seem confusing at times, as we try so hard to live out the love we read about in the Bible, but Paul says that when we are made complete, what now seems like a blurry reflection of Christ will then be made clear.
Even though we know what perfect love looks like, we aren’t expected to love perfectly, at least not on our own.
Perfect love is a result of our relationship with God and being filled with His spirit.
All the characteristics of God’s love listed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 will become easier for us to portray as we grow closer to God. That’s the effect of the Holy Spirit working in us.
The closer you walk with God, the more you will be filled with his spirit, and the more perfect your love will be.
Remember, we are created in his perfect image, which means we can also achieve perfect love. Until the day of completion, we are a work in progress, but one day we will be made perfect and complete in his love.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
Article first released on iBelieve.com on February 9, 2022. Check it out here: https://www.ibelieve.com/relationships/a-deeper-dive-into-1-corinthians-13.html