Read I Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13

Recently, I received a wonderful compliment about my church. A person, who has been a guest in our worship services told me that I am the pastor of an extremely friendly church.

“You can tell that the people in your church really love one another,” he said. “Not only that – but they seem to treat everyone with kindness.”

Of course, I think this man is correct. There is a type of warmth and love in my church that is genuine, not just some Sunday morning ritual or routine.

The members of my church really do love each other – and best of all, most of them are quite willing and eager to share this love with those outside the fellowship.

Could this man have offered the same type of compliment had I been pastor of the First Church of Corinth?

According to biblical descriptions, Corinth was not a warm, loving and happy congregation. When Paul wrote these words, the Corinthian Christians were involved in a church fight. They were arguing about who were the most spiritual members of the church. The fight began when those who had the ability to speak in tongues began asserting that they had been given the highest and most important of the spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 12-13 is the Apostle Paul’s response to the church conflict at Corinth. In chapter 12, Paul says that all Christians are blessed by God with spiritual gifts. These charismatic gifts are given by the providence of God for the sake of the ministry of the church and the proclamation of the gospel.

The Value of Love

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul draws a line of demarcation between the spiritual gifts favored by the Corinthians and the supreme gift of love.

Each of the gifts that Paul cites is beneficial in some way to the growth and ministry of the church (speaking in tongues, prophecy, wisdom, faith, almsgiving and martyrdom).

A Description of Love

Next, Paul offers a description of love. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Paul teaches that Christian love is the exact opposite of the portrait emerging from the Corinthian believers.

Their fellowship is described as being argumentative, self-consumed and egotistical – quite different from the type of love that Paul descries as patient, kind, jubilant, hopeful and full of faith.

The Eternal Nature of Love

In 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, Paul concludes by once again differentiating between the supreme gift of love and the other spiritual gifts.

His argument is theological. He states that the gift of love is infinite – “love never ends.” The other gifts – tongues, healing, proclamation, etc. – are all temporal. They have their time and serve a purpose but they are not eternal. Only love is eternal.

Echoing 1 John 4:8, Paul is teaching his readers the truth that God’s gift of love is, in reality, God’s gift of Himself. The presence of love in the church – and from the church toward the world – is evidence that that the Triune God is present.

Paul concludes by saying that of the three enduring spiritual gifts – faith, hope and love – “the greatest is love.”

A mother in Pennsylvania once wrote that shortly after her 3-year-old son attended Vacation Bible School, the family went out of town on vacation to visit friends. The little boy proudly explained to his out-of-town acquaintances that he had been to Vacation Bible School, and learned that God is love. Another child listened, and exclaimed: “That’s great. Your God is at my Sunday School too!”

Is this same God present in your church? If so, then I trust that you are a part of a faith community of love, warmth and grace.

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