Forming Faith Blog

Love Is the Way (1 Corinthians 13)

While we might see this passage where Paul waxes poetic about love on its own, it is directly connected to what comes before: a discussion of spiritual gifts and how to use them. And that use is to love God and love our neighbors.

Close up photo of assorted colored gift boxes. 1 Corinthians 13 is all about how to use spiritual gifts.
Photo by Pixabay on
The Power of God’s Love

The season of Easter is coming to an end. Our first theme of the season “God Works through Us” is finished, where we explored a bit of the Book of Acts, seeing how the Holy Spirit worked through Peter, Paul, and the other disciples to spread the good news of the Messiah through word and deed. For the final three weeks of this year’s Narrative Lectionary, the assigned readings will remain in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (though we do also hit the Pentecost story on Pentecost Sunday). Although this week’s reading is the most explicit about love, it is the power of God’s love that permeates everything.

Too Much Love?

As I reread this thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, I must admit I’m a bit fatigued with it. Along with Psalm 23, this is probably the most repeated Scripture chapter/passage (not verse), with many a sermon and study on it. While I know I cannot be original in my reflections here on this blog, I do try to not say the same things as I imagine everyone else is saying. But, in truth, our entire faith is based on love. In Lutheran terms, the gospel is love and the law is love. The good news is that God loves us so much to reconcile us to God’s self through Jesus. The law is to love God and love our neighbors. If we do not have love, we do not have anything.

What Is Love?

We need to make sure we are on the same page with our terminology. What is love, and what is it not? There are, of course, many different kinds of love, as the love for your spouse is different than the love for your children, which is different from your love for your parents and love for your friends. And all of these are different from your love of books, gardening, or video games.

One possible way to look at godly love is:

Love is the inclination, intent, and action for the improvement (increase in shalom) of the recipient of that love.

Insufficient as this definition might be, it makes clear that love is not an emotion. It is focused on the one who is loved. “Improvement” is perhaps the wrong word, but when you love someone, you want the best for them. You want them to thrive and have joy, you want nothing bad to happen to them (i.e., shalom). You want their life to be better. But it must be more than just a want. Our goal is to have this be our natural state of mind, our inclination. We must intend to do good for the recipient, and we must act to make their life better.

This definition works most clearly when it’s directed at a person, either from God to us or from us to others. It’s a bit trickier to apply this to our love for God. God is perfect and complete, so we cannot work to improve God’s life. But we can honor and obey, build a relationship based on trust.

Division and Spiritual Gifts

Moving back to our reading, it’s important to read this section in context. Paul, believe it or not, did not put chapter breaks in his letters. Those were added far, far later (early 1200s CE). So, there was nothing separating what is now 1 Corinthians 13:1 from what came before. Among the divisions in the church at Corinth was that some people thought that their spiritual gifts were better than others (and therefore they were better). Paul argues that all spiritual gifts are from the same Holy Spirit and that we are all members of one body of Christ. He goes on to say:

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains [work miracles], but do not have love, I am nothing.

1 Corinthians 12:29–13:2 (emphases added)

Paul isn’t just waxing poetic about love, nor has he changed subjects. This is a continuation of his teaching on spiritual gifts and how and why you should use them. In some ways, he is expanding on 1 Corinthians 12:7:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

We are given all gifts (spiritual and natural) to use in loving and serving God and others.

Love Fulfills the Torah

In this passage, Paul is basically expanding what he writes elsewhere:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

Which is, of course, itself echoing Jesus’ words:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40

And loving God is inextricably linked to loving others:

We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:19-21

You can sum up all the responsibilities in our lives in one word: love.

Faith Formation Connections

While you cannot go into the same depth on the meaning of love for all age groups, everyone is capable of understanding at least one aspect of love. And I would suggest that you connect 1 Corinthians 13—if not to all of the passages on love I’ve quoted—then at least link it back to the greatest commandments.

In the love of the risen Messiah,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the “L-O-V-E” activity to create a love collage from our Living the Word: Youth (NL) Year 3 (2024-2025) curriculum. This activity can be done with older children, youth, intergenerational groups, and even adults!

Order Faith Formation Resources

Are you looking for resources for the summer: VBS, family/intergenerational events, or Sunday school? Check out our Learning Together series, a set of five-lesson units on a variety of topics. You can read outside reviews on both our newest Created to Care and Do Justice units! Our faith formation resources are easy-to-use, theologically sound, and inclusive.

Introducing our newest Learning Together unit: Created to Care! Wonder at God’s creation and learn about what we can do to protect and heal it in these five lessons, intended for children and intergenerational groups, family or churchwide events, or Vacation Bible School. This curriculum is published in collaboration with BibleWorm, a weekly Narrative Lectionary podcast, to accompany their summer series on Creation Care.

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