The Heart of 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13 defines real love. But what does perfect love look like?

A lot of people are yearning to experience perfect love. What does Christlike love look like? What does the Bible say about love? How are we to differentiate it from the kind of love that other people offer us? Let’s examine the verses of 1 Corinthians 13 to see love in the eyes of God. 

What is the Meaning of 1 Corinthians 13

The Apostle Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13 the true meaning of love in God’s eyes. This chapter shows us how it is different from how this world teaches us what love is. The significance of this chapter lies primarily in the unselfish love that Christ not only taught but has shown us. This world teaches us a self-seeking kind of love, while God teaches us that true love is selfless.  

What is Agape Love?

Agape (which is agapē in Greek) in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, is depicted as God’s fatherly love for humanity and our love reciprocated towards God. The Scripture describes agape love as the highest form and is unselfish. It surpasses or transcends other kinds of love, such as eros or romantic love and philia or friendship love. John 3:16 aptly describes that because of God’s agape love for humanity, He sent His one and only Son to save us from sin and death. It didn’t matter if we were deserving of this gift or not. He did it because He loves us. It is the true expression of agape love. 

What is the Main Idea of 1 Corinthians 13

In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul teaches us about the true meaning of love. He discussed the things that don’t constitute love. Paul also noted how lack of love instigates division and problems. Then he explained how love in the perspective of God should appear. In this chapter, Paul reminds us that as Christians, love should be our number one priority and should be the driving force of the things we do. We are to care for others the way Christ shows his love and compassion for us.

The Way of Love

The whole of 1 Corinthians 13 is what the Apostle Paul denotes as the way or the path of love. In Chapter 12, he admonishes that spiritual gifts should not cause division but instead edify the church. Going into Chapter 13, Paul then reminds us that whatever we do, if not done out of our love for God and others, is all meaningless. He also insinuated in Philippians 3 that all his accomplishments were trash compared to a life lived for Christ. This kind of sacrificial, unselfish love should be our motivation to do what we do to glorify God and not ourselves. 

Characteristics of Love and Its Supremacy

What does unconditional love look like according to 1 Corinthians 13? First, Paul helps us understand why loving like Christ is essential. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, he imparts that it won’t matter if we have powerful spiritual gifts, are generous, or have strong faith if we don’t do it out of love. These actions will not lead others to Christ, and we will only end up getting the glory that defeats our purpose of doing work for Him. 

Our ministry would only be self-seeking, just a noisy clanging, and not doing anything to advance the Kingdom of God. As Mark 8:36 reminds us, what profit do we get if our actions glorify us and yet we lose our soul in return? To love like Christ is to forget our motives and ambitions so we can glorify God and lead other people to Him.

Love is kind and long-suffering, it says in 1 Corinthians 13:4. Paul describes love here as not being a mere concept but love in action. How do we show love? What does loving look like? He says here that love emulates kindness. When we show genuine compassion to others, that is love in action. 

He also says that love endures and suffers long. When we show mercy, forgiveness, and grace to those who hurt us, we exemplify love. God’s love is working in us, and this is a great testimony that can lead people to Christ. For it is only by His power and works in us that loving the unlovable can be possible. 

What Love is Not

As explained by the Apostle Paul in the Scriptures, selfless love contradicts what this world teaches us. According to 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, there are eight things that this kind of love is not. It is not envious of others, doesn’t flaunt itself, is not self-focused nor proud, and does not show rudeness. It is also not self-seeking, not easily provoked, it doesn’t bear grudges nor think of evil, and it does not rejoice when bad things happen to others. 

When we love as Christ does, we don’t force our own opinion and preference on others. We also don’t think of ourselves as better than anyone. We show humility, patience, and kindness even if others treat us unkindly. It may seem ridiculous and impossible to others who don’t know Christ. But as His followers, we know that this is possible. It is because we have already experienced His love amid our brokenness. Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were still living in sin, Jesus gave His life for us. It is why we can love others the way He loves us so that they may see Him in us. It is His commandment in John 13:34.

Four Sweet Companions of Love

According to Charles Spurgeon in one of his sermons, four sweet things accompany love. 1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love can bear, hope, believe, and endure all things. Simply put, love just covers everything. Just like what 1 Peter 4:8 tells us, we need to love one another deeply because this deep kind of love covers numerous sins. 

And what best example do we have than Christ? We only need to look at His life and see the depth of His love for us. He endured tremendous pain, suffering, and death so that He could save us. As Jesus teaches us in John 15:13, there’s no greater love than one that lays down his life for his friends. We can keep on bearing, hoping, believing, and enduring because we have Christ. We can deeply love because He deeply loved us first. 

The Permanence of Love

When we love like Christ, that love is eternal. It is what 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 is telling us. Paul had addressed how believers magnify and put so much importance on spiritual gifts. In these verses, he is teaching us to emphasize more on love. These gifts give us a temporary and partial view of what’s to come, what God has in store for us. 

One day they will end when Christ comes, and we see Him face to face, but love will still be there. It will remain forever. He is imparting to us that these spiritual gifts are just vessels or containers for God’s work. But the real work that God wants us to do is to love. Prophecies and knowledge will fail, tongues will cease, but love never ends. 

Faith, Hope, and Love (v.13)

The three most remarkable things that we, as believers, should pursue are faith, hope, and love. But among the three, love is the most essential and the permanent one. 1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us to focus our gaze on these three things. 

We hope because no matter what happens, Jesus is with us. We have faith because we know we are putting our trust in Someone powerful. We love because God loved us first. We endure our life here on our temporary home on earth, for when we are finally in heaven, God will already have fulfilled the purpose of our faith and hope. But love will continue because love is who God is.

What is the Heart of 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13 centers on the idea of the importance, supremacy, and permanence of love. The Apostle Paul reminds us not to emphasize things or work that would take people’s gaze off Christ. We should fuel our ministry and work with the kind of love that Jesus shows us. After all, this is the greatest commandment that He instructs us in Luke 10:27.

When Was 1 Corinthians 13 Written

The Apostle Paul was in his third journey as a missionary, and he was in Ephesus when he wrote this letter for the church in Corinth. Scholars suggest that this is dated somewhere in the range of AD 53 to 57. The disturbing news of rivalry, jealousy, and immoral behaviors propelled him to write this epistle to them. 

How to Pray 1 Corinthians 13

Loving is never easy, especially when it comes to loving difficult people. But this is what God had called us to do. We have to remember that we are all sinners, and we cannot look down on others just because we are followers of Christ. Matthew 5:45 tells us that God is just. The sun rises both on good and evil, and the rain pours both on the just and unjust. 

So what do we do when it is hard to love? We ask for help from the Lord, for we cannot do it on our own. It is beyond our ability, and it can only be possible through Christ. Here is a simple prayer that can help get us started in praying this prayer of love. 

“Dear God, 

Thank you for you are loving, abounding in grace, and rich in mercy. Thank you for offering us the gift of salvation and new life. 

Thank you for your perfect love that never fails. We pray that you fill us with Your love to overflowing. So we can share that overflow with others, and they too will experience Your love. 

Thank You for constantly reminding us that our lives are not about our achievement or gifts and skills but love. 

Thank you, Jesus, for showing us the type of love that is patient and kind. Help us to love others with the same patience and kindness. 

Thank you for reminding us that love doesn’t bear grudges and that it doesn’t rejoice in evil. Help us not to be jealous, envious, and embittered towards others.

Help us to love and see others in Your eyes, Jesus. May we fulfill the work that you had set before us, and that is to love. Be glorified in all that we do. In Your sweetest name, we pray. Amen.”

How to Apply 1 Corinthians 13 Today

If we want to love like Christ, just as the Apostle Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13, we must think like Christ. Romans 12:2 tells us not to conform with the ways of this world. We have to change the way we think for us to discern and know the will of God. 

Loving Others like Christ

While this world teaches us to love only those who care for us, Christ teaches us differently. We are to love even the unlovable and those who oppress us (Matthew 5:44). His perfect example is when He prayed for the same people who hurt Him while suffering on the cross. He prayed to God the Father to forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23:34). 

What a powerful expression of love. And that is how Christ loves us daily. That even when we stumble and fall, he bears our burdens and is ready to embrace and help us when we run to Him. And again, we can love others just as much because we know how it feels to be loved when we are at our most unlovable state. 

Why is Love So Important?

1 Corinthians 13 tells us that sacrificial, unconditional love should be our priority. And here, we were taught that we have nothing of value if we don’t have love. All our gifts, skills, efforts, and achievements are meaningless if not done out of love. Also, love is God’s attribute; it is His character and His whole being (1 John 4:8). It is His character, His personality. It is impossible to do God’s work without love as our motivation. 

In Summary

If we want to understand what perfect love is, the Apostle Paul lays it down for us in 1 Corinthians 13. He shows how love should look and that it is not merely a feeling or concept. We offer love in action, and it is the work that God had tasked us to do. And because this is the perfect kind of love and we are imperfect as humans, we must rely on Christ to do this.

Only by abiding in Him and anchoring ourselves to Him will we be able to think and love the way He does. And as we experience His love, we can share the overflow to others so they, too, may know Him. We can reflect and glorify Christ in our lives, and that is the purpose of love. 

Alex Shute
AUTHOR
Alex Shute
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.