1 Corinthians 13
A Christian love song
Love doesn’t look like this1So what if I speak a bunch of languages—including tongues,  the heavenly language of angels. If I don’t love others, the only noise I’m making is the sound of someone playing the cymbals at the wrong time—or worse, the gong.
2So what if I can predict the future, and I know everything about anything, and I can tell a mountain how high to jump. If I don’t love people, what good am I?
3Big deal if I give away all my money or shed some blood for Jesus’s sake. If I don’t love others, for heaven’s sake, I’m just cash poor and iron deficient.
Love looks like this4
In case you don’t know what love looks like, it looks like patience and kindness.
It doesn’t look a thing like jealousy. Or bragging.
It’s not snooty with pride.
It’s certainly not a control freak.
It doesn’t rub you raw with constant irritation.
And it doesn’t keep a file on everything you’ve ever done wrong.
6Love doesn’t yell Hallelujah when the bad guys win.
But it’ll sing Hallelujah when it hears the truth.
7Love has a heart big enough to put up with everything.
Love never runs out of faith.
Never runs out of hope.
Never gives up.
8Love never ends.
Prophecies come and go.
Words fade to silence.
Knowledge is forgotten. 9We don’t see the big picture yet. Even prophecy has its limits. 10But someday, when the time is just right, we’ll get to see the big picture—everything there is to see. 11Until then, remember this. When we were kids, we talked like kids and we thought like kids. That’s because we had the brains of a kid. We’re grown up now. So we act like it. 12We still don’t see clearly yet. Everything’s a bit out of focus. That’ll change with a face-to-face. Today, I know just a little. But then, I’ll know everything—just as God knows everything about me.
13For now, we have the three greatest virtues in life. Faith. Hope. Love. These are the best. And the best of the best is love.
Paul uses the Greek word glossa, often translated as “language” or “tongues.” Many Bible experts say that here, Paul seems to be referring to a spiritual language that can sound to others like gibberish. Many early Christians, including Paul and Christians in Corinth, seemed to believe that the Holy Spirit allowed some people to speak in a language that makes no sense to most people who hear it. But Paul says it’s a language that can and should be translated if someone speaks it during a worship service (1 Corinthians 14:28).
With poetic flair, Paul says we might be able to speak several languages and then talk in tongues when we go to church. But he says if we don’t have love, we’re just the “sound of someone playing the cymbals at the wrong time—or worse, the gong” (1 Corinthians 13:1). For those of us who are not poets, how would you put that in a plain and simple sentence?
In 1 Corinthians 13:2-3, Paul seems to be targeting several groups of respectable people. He seems to do this to make his point that it doesn’t matter if you are among the most respectable people in the world, if you don’t love people, you don’t have what it takes. What groups of respectable people do you think he seems to be targeting? And if he were writing today, what other groups of people do you think he might add to this note?
Paul tells the Corinthian Christians what love looks like. He does it in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Which one-liner do you think would resonate best with most people?
Paul says, “We don’t see the big picture yet. . . . But someday, when the time is just right, we’ll get to see the big picture—everything there is to see” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). That sounds like an odd thing to say after wrapping up a poetic description of love. It’s anyone’s guess why Paul jumped from love to this. What guess would you make? How does our limited ability to see the future have anything to do with love?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul has described what he thinks love looks like. What does love look like to you or to people in your life? What stories have you witnessed or heard about from family or close friends that illustrate what love is like?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says the three greatest virtues in life are “Faith. Hope. Love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). What do you think people today:
- have most faith in?
- hope for most in life?
- love most dearly?