This chapter seems to be out of place as it is placed between chapter 12 and chapter 14, where Paul is dealing with the one body and gifts. Nevertheless nothing in the Bible is on the wrong place. Of course it could not be otherwise, because the real Author of the Bible is the Holy Spirit. And when you wonder why such a section, that at first glance seems to be put on the wrong place, but it is put there specifically, then your faith in the inspiration of the Bible only grows stronger. That is also the case here.
In chapter 12 Paul showed the diversity of the gifts. In chapter 14 he shows how these gifts should be effective in practice. In chapter 13 we see that love is like an axle, on which the chapters 12 and 14 revolve. For if you want to practice your gift properly and if you want to have the proper effect also, then love is the only way to make it happen.
Love exceeds every gift. That’s why it is the “still more excellent way” as it is written in the last verse of the previous chapter. Love, as it is meant here, is not just a feeling of affection. It is not the cheap love that is found in the world, where love is in fact self-love. No, here it is about the nature of God Himself. “God is love” (1Jn 4:8,168The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.16We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.).
The great characteristic of the Divine love, thus from which you can recognize the Divine love, is because it is a perfectly selfless love. It is the giving love that is focused on the other. Was not that the purpose of the gift? Isn’t the gift focused on the other to be of profit for the other? Love gives you the strength to be able to do that, for you have received the Divine nature (2Pet 1:44For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of [the] divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.).
In the life of the Lord Jesus, Who is God Himself, everything that is said about love in our chapter, is found in a perfect way. You may put this chapter, so to speak, right next to the Gospels and you will find the practice or application of it on every page. Then you will also see that Divine love goes much further than sympathy or human affection. You probably have no difficulty to practice your gift towards a brother or sister who suits you, but love goes much further than that.
Love, as it is presented here, gets to work, even if there is nothing attractive to be found with the other person. You may be very annoyed by a brother or sister. But you know, the Divine unselfish love is not offended by anything. Love gets to work, because it is love. To love, it makes no difference how the opposite is or responds.
The great example is God. I already pointed that out: God is love. Well, in 1 John 4 is written how God showed that (1Jn 4:9-109By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.). He gave His only begotten Son. Even though God surely knew that man did not want Him and even though He knew what they would do to Him, He nevertheless gave Him! That is love. It is the same love that is needed to be able to practice your gift. Without this love everything means nothing. Things you want to impress others with, have no value at all, without love.
V11If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.. Paul applies a lot of this chapter to himself. He often uses the word ‘I’. If you read this part, you might apply this to yourself as well. He starts with ‘speaking in tongues’. That was in high esteem with the Corinthians. They were proud of this gift. Just imagine that you were able to speak all the languages in the world, without having learned them and that you could even speak the language of the angels. That would be quite something! However, if you would not let yourself be guided by love in practicing them, it would be nothing more than hollow sounds that fade away after a short while and have no permanent effect.
V22If 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 do not have love, I am nothing.. With the other gifts it is the same thing. Even if you would be able to, on the basis of the Bible, tell everything about the future (“prophesy”) and were introduced to the “mysteries”, the secrets of God and knew the Bible by heart (“all knowledge”) and do impressive acts of faith (“all faith”), you would be nothing; you would be zero point zero, zero and void indeed, if love has not been your inner motive to practice those gifts.
V33And if I give all my possessions to feed [the poor], and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.. And what about bestowing all your goods to feed the poor? Is that not a generous aim?! It would still be entirely useless if love were not the reason that activated you. People could give away all they possess to ease their conscience. They might have dishonestly gained many of their goods. They think to cleanse their conscience by giving away everything. But that will not profit them at all, because they lack love.
There were also people who even gave their body to be burned. They might have poured gasoline over themselves and set themselves on fire to draw people’s attention to something they sacrificed themselves for. They might have succeeded to appear in the media, but that did not profit themselves, because their dedication was without the Divine love. To God that meant nothing.
V44Love is patient, love is kind [and] is not jealous; love does not brag [and] is not arrogant,. Then in verses 4-74Love is patient, love is kind [and] is not jealous; love does not brag [and] is not arrogant,5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong [suffered],6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. a description follows of the way love reveals itself. In fact it says more about what love is not, than what love actually is. It is like the description of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 21, where you read about things that will not be there anymore (Rev 21:44and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be [any] death; there will no longer be [any] mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”). You live in a world wherein you have to do with the consequences of sin in every possible way. Divine love is not disturbed by that, but on the contrary sees that as a chance to prove itself. That is perfectly seen in the life of the Lord Jesus. This chapter is therefore, as it has already been said, a description of Him.
Because sin is still in you, the best proof of love you can give is by abandoning a number of things. However, the first two things that are mentioned have a positive effect. Be “patient” is not a favorite characteristic to the world we live in. It means that you can control yourself if you see things that are wrong, or if you yourself are cheated. Instead of demanding your rights you are patient with the other person. You even go further. You are ”kind” (good) to all the people around you. Is that not what the Lord Jesus was?
Then the characteristics follow that are not present in the Divine love. Who is never “jealous”? “Does not brag” you can compare most with not ‘acting like a braggart’ or showing how beautiful you are, or not displaying and promoting your latest purchase (whatever that may be). To be “arrogant” is wanting to be more than you are. Hasn’t that ever happened?
V55does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong [suffered],. Haven’t you ever behaved ”unbecomingly”? This means, haven’t you ever blatantly ignored somebody’s feelings? Have you always considered the other person’s concern only, without seeking your “own” interest? Has somebody wronged you by doing something against you? Are you willing to abandon all evil thoughts about that person and “not take into account” the wrong done to you? Isn’t it more usual that you are often more inclined to repay evil with evil? We rather wish evil on a person than not to impute it.
V66does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;. Are there times you remember when you had pleasure in watching other people make a big mistake? Of course that was to ease your own conscience. Back then you did not like to hear the truth, while love on the contrary, has pleasure in that.
All these issues were not found with the Lord Jesus. Neither are they found in the love, the Divine nature, the new life you received, for that is the life of the Lord Jesus. If you give love priority, you will experience, that with you, the same wrong things are missing and the same good things are found as with the Lord Jesus.
V77bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.. Some good things are written in verse 77bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.. Love “bears all things”. That goes far. Tolerate everything and accept that people ignore you? Yes, if love is the issue!
Love “believes all things”. That is not the simple-minded naivety that believes everything. It means that love is not suspicious. You might say this: love trusts the other until the contrary shows otherwise.
Love “hopes all things”. Love knows that evil will not have the last word and it continues to hope (the biblical hope means: knowing for sure) that good will always conquer.
Love “endures all things”. That means it can stand a good deal. It goes on, right through all afflictions.
Now read 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 again.
Reflection: Which positive features of love do you encounter here and which negative features? What are your weak points? How can you change them?