1 Corinthians 13

1 This chapter deals with priorities in the Christian life. People may seek signs and activities, but these are not the important things in the daily Christian life. The most important thing is love.

First, Paul touches on the gift of tongues. This gift was, and sometimes still is, sought in earnest. It is a spectacular gift that some incorrectly hold as the only proof that someone is a Christian (Mark 16:17). However, people who seek this gift primarily do so for edification, either in their own eyes or in the eyes of others. Some are put under such pressure to "acquire" this gift that they "fake" it by merely babbling. Such a selfish application of this gift is not done in love. What is the result? At best the misuse (or faking) of tongues only fills the air with meaningless noise (like the "white noise" of a cymbal). At worse, it causes confusion, pride, and envy.

There are only a few explicit examples of tongues given in the bible (Acts 2, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6). They happened unexpectedly, and only when the Holy Spirit first empowered groups of people.

It seems that those who specifically search out a particular gift have already started with the wrong motivation. Instead of seeking, praying, and pleading for a miraculous gift, we should seek and pray for a loving spirit. Love can be understood in any language, and is far more difficult to misinterpret.

2 In 1 Cor 12:28 and other places Paul ranks prophecy above tongues. Prophecy is speaking God's word, and often takes the form of instruction, encouragement, and rebuke. The primary example of a prophet without love is Jonah. He eventually prophesied to the Ninevites, but he did not do so in love. Jonah's ministry was successful in God's eyes, but missed the joy of his own ministry because he despised the people to which he was preaching.

Understanding the Good News and the Scriptures is important for the Christian's daily walk. However, many study the Scriptures merely for academic reasons. The secular approach to Scripture ultimately serves no useful purpose. Those who do understand what Scripture says but do not love others will never be effective in applying what they know. Most of the religious leaders of that time had this problem.

There are many who believe that God exists, but do not love Him or other people. The crux of our eternal life with God is our relationship with Jesus. Thus, faith without love is of no benefit to the believer. Again, most of the religious leaders of that time believed that God existed and rigorously obeyed the Law of Moses, but they did not know and love God.

The final verdict for those who appear to have great religious prowess without love is that they are nothing in God's eyes. What a terrible realization it will be for some to find that their great efforts amount to nothing of eternal value if they do not practice their faith with love.

3 Actions can be an indication of what is in the heart, but they can also be misleading. Generosity is not necessarily an indicator of love. Helping the poor is good, but if it is done without love, then it has no eternal value. God is more concerned about the attitude of the heart rather than the action.

The second example in this verse is more vague and could refer to a number of things. Some pagan religions had a suicidal self-sacrifice that was supposed to show their supreme devotion to their gods. The Bible, of course, does not condone suicide. Such acts only serve selfish pride. There is no love expressed in suicide. Another possible reference is to those who believe they will receive a special heavenly reward if they die in battle against their enemies. There is not a single indicator of this in the Bible. While God at times directed the Israelites to carry out His judgement against the pagan inhabitants of the Promised Land, it is clear that no earthly battle is an expression of love. Another possible application is for those who seek martyrdom. To be killed by others for the sake of faith is seen by some to be the ultimate and most sincere sign of devotion. However, the prideful motivation is the same as the suicidal martyr mentioned previously. Martyrdom may happen, but it is not something to be sought. Whether one dies for his faith, dies in an accident, or dies of natural causes, if that person does not have love, then how he died will make no difference.

4 The patience described here is one that will endure hardships. Love does not give up on someone simply because they are difficult to deal with. Unconditional love means that one will continue to love even if the recipient is unresponsive or hostile.

Selfishness and love are opposites. Envy is a type of selfishness that undeservedly wants something that another has.

Pride is the selfish desire for attention. Love, however, focuses on others, not oneself.

5 Love is sensitive to other people's feelings and sensitivities. When we love someone, we do not want to offend him with our words or actions. Love does not speak out of place or context.

A hostile person might goad a loving person, but the loving person should not lash out or seek revenge.

Love wants others to experience good, not evil.

6 Love is not happy when others sin or are victims of sin. Selfish and evil people will gloat when something bad happens to their enemies. Love, instead, feels sad.

Love is happy when people come to understand the truth of God. What could make someone happier than knowing that someone else has escaped certain destruction by establishing a relationship with God?