Among the writings of Paul, 1 Corinthians is the letter which teaches the church what it means to be a Christian community.
The opening verses (ch1 vv1-9) have the effect of defining where the church comes from and what it’s based on, and I will want to show how the rest
of the teaching follows on from that.
I was drawing out a definition of the church in the attached thread;
Defining the church
One of the key points was that the church is a “gathered assembly”, an EKKLESIA.
So the next concern is the place of love (AGAPE) in this community (ch13).
vv1-3 First, the importance of love.
This paragraph builds on the contrast between “everything” and “nothing”.
We might have everything
in terms of some kind of excellence, but the value of this, without love, will be nothing
So in the case of speaking in tongues.
We might be able to speak “in the tongues of men and angels”.
He’s not suggesting, I think, that the speakers in tongues do
speak the language of angels.
He’s using the phrase, rather, to mean “every possible kind of language”.
Yet all these languages, without love, would leave us with nothing
They would be meaningless, empty sounds, like so many gongs and cymbals.
He probably begins with “tongues” because the Corinthians were attaching so much importance to them.
Then he talks about some of the other gifts mentioned in the previous chapter;
We might have prophecy, and the understanding of all
mysteries (“word of wisdom”?), and all
knowledge, and we might have all
faith, the kind that can move mountains.
Yet with all these gifts, and without love, we would still be nothing
It even applies to the act of giving.
We might be giving away everything
That “everything” might include our very lives.
Yet all this giving, without love, would gain us nothing in return.
vv4-7 The nature of love.
The items in the well-known description can be arranged in pairs, and there are two central themes running through them;
Love will not act badly ,towards others and
Love will not react
badly, towards what others are doing.
Love is a) patient, and b)kind.
The first means to be “long-suffering”, under injuries from others.
The second means to be considerate, not giving others a need to be longsuffering themselves.
Love is a) not jealous and b) not boastful.
The first thing to avoid is envy of what others have.
The second thing to avoid is giving others a reason to be envious.
Love does not a) “puff itself out” or b) “behave shamefully”.
The first thing to avoid is an attitude of superior virtue.
The second thing to avoid is the kind of bad behaviour which makes others feel superior..
Love does not a) make claims for itself or b) allow itself to be provoked.
The first of these two items varies in the manuscripts.
The older reading was “does not claim what does not belong to itself”, i.e. “does not defraud”.
The more modern reading is “does not claim what does
belong to itself”, i.e. “does not insist on its rights”.
Either way, the second thing to avoid is being provoked by the claims of others.
The next three items are;
Love does not “keep a record of” evil.
Love does not “rejoice at” ADIKIA- unrighteousness, or injustice.
But love rejoices-together-with (SUNKAIREI) the truth.
If ADIKIA means the injustice that others experience (as Chrysostom thought), then the first two can be paired together;
Love does not indulge in a) resentment or b) “schadenfreude”.
That is, love does not grieve over the injuries it suffers from others
Nor rejoice over the injuries which others are suffering.
Then “being on the side of the truth” could stand as the positive aspect of all the previous statements taken together.
But the verse division associates the two kinds of rejoicing, and the more standard interpretation is that ADIKIA is the injustice which other people
Yet we could still link the first two together, as both noting, and gloating over, the fact that other people are sinning.
Whereas love, instead, will be delighted when they escape the world of sin and share in the knowledge of God’s truth.
Finally, Paul returns to the “everything” theme.
He’s already established that knowing all things and saying all things and giving all things would have no value on their own.
But love shows itself in bearing and believing, and hoping and enduring all things.
(“Bearing things in faith” is dealing with the present, while “enduring things in hope” is more about the future)
These are exactly the same qualities that are needed in a state of persecution, and the lesson seems to be that they still apply in the lesser
troubles of dealing with the neighbours.
The practical application of this teaching can be found all the way through the letter, every time Paul draws attention to something which the
Corinthians would not have been doing, if love had been guiding them.
They would not be dividing into contentious groups (ch1).
They would not be letting the contention spread into the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. (ch10).
They would not be looking down on people with different gifts (ch12)
They would not be wronging and defrauding one another (ch6 v8).
They would not be indulging their freedom from scruples at the risk of leading others astray (ch8 vv10-11).
They would not be disregarding their anxious pastor’s guidance (passim).
In fact much of the letter need not have been written at all.
vv8-13 The permanence of love.
Most of the gifts on which the Corinthians have been priding themselves. Like prophecy and tongues and “words of knowledge” will be
For one thing, the understanding of God that comes through prophecy and “knowledge” can only be fragmentary.
The arrival of the complete picture, “that which is perfect”, will make them redundant.
In comparison, what we have now is like a child’s knowledge of the world.
It’s like catching sight of God’s face in a (polished bronze) mirror.
When we have “grown up”, when we can see God “face to face”, then we will have grown beyond that fragmentary knowledge.
In fact Paul offers the astonishing prospect of knowing God as closely as he now knows us.
There remains faith, hope, and love.
The inclusion of faith and hope might seem surprising.
Faith is “the conviction of things unseen”, and hope is the same thing with reference to the future.
Surely the full “sight” of God would make them as redundant as prophecy and “knowledge”?
Yet they “remain”.
In fact the verb “remains” is singular, and not plural.
Faith, hope, and love are three qualities which Paul is counting as one.
Now where have we heard that before?
Paul has told us that the church are bound together as one body in Christ.
He’s also told us that the church has a common bond in receiving the Spirit.
These two bonds are closely linked, and their practical effect should be that the church is united through the bond of love.