How often have we sat at a wedding, perhaps it happened at your own, and heard a Scripture reading from 1 Corinthians 13, “the love chapter”? We’ve seen the passage many times—on valentines, wedding invitations, even written on headstones at the cemetery.
While the passage itself might be familiar, we seldom hear much about the church to whom it was written. Let me give you a little backstory:
Paul left his preaching ministry at Athens and traveled approximately 50 miles to the city of Corinth. It was strategically located near two significant seaports and was consequently home to many sailing fleets throughout the Mediterranean. It was also home to the biennial Isthmus Games, second only in importance to the Olympics, which were dedicated to the Greek god Poseidon. The victor of the games was given a crown of celery leaves to wear! It’s very possible that Paul attended the games as he referenced the “crown that will not last” in 1 Corinthians 9:24–27.
Because of its unique location, Corinth controlled the trade route between Europe and the Orient. Anything of importance going either direction traveled through these ports. Small boats were hauled over land while larger boats were unloaded in one port and the goods transported by carts the four miles over land to the next port where they were loaded back onto ships to continue their journey.
The crowning jewels of Corinth were the Temple of Apollo and the Temple of Aphrodite. The latter, sitting atop the hill of the Acropolis, sponsored 1,000 temple prostitutes housed in the lofts of the 33 wine shops later uncovered by modern archeologists. Since Corinth was home to countless sailors and traveling salesmen, there was no shortage of business for those who “worshipped” the goddess Aphrodite along the streets of the city at night.
It was to this city that Paul brought the gospel message of biblical love. If ever there was a city that needed to hear such a message, it was Corinth. Various forms of counterfeit “love” were sold on the streets and in the shops. Paul, realizing their desperate need for truth, proclaimed the message of authentic love. He sought to dispel their belief that love was self-serving. That’s why we read Paul’s teaching that biblical love is something entirely different.
Imagine Paul standing in the city square and preaching the following message to those who had so often given their lives over to a counterfeit message:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,
but do not have love, I am only a resounding
gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of
prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all
knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move
mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over
my body to hardship that I may boast, but do
not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not
envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does
not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record
of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but
rejoices with the truth. It always protects,
always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are
prophecies, they will cease; where there
are tongues, they will be stilled; where
there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we
know in part and we prophesy in part, but
when completeness comes, what is in part
disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a
child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a
child. When I became a man, I put the ways of
childhood behind me. For now we see only a
reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face
to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know
fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope
and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. How do you think Paul felt when he presented
such a different perspective of love to those
who heard his message?
2. How do you think people responded the first
time they heard such a different picture of
3. Why is it so hard for us to demonstrate this
kind of love to those around us?
4. What is the hardest love quality for you to
As a family, identify another member of your community who needs to experience this kind of love. Then strategize what you can do to demonstrate biblical love to that person or family this week. This might include cooking a hurting family a meal and then bringing it over for them to enjoy. Better yet, how about inviting this family into your home one night this week and share the meal with them. Close the night together by asking how you can pray for them and then praying for their needs. Another way to live out this passage is to ask God to speak to your children about another child at school or perhaps in one of their after school activities who is in need of a friend. Maybe it’s someone who has recently moved into your community or lost a family member, gone through a divorce, etc. Pray about finding a way to reach out to that child with biblical love this week and pray for an opportunity to live it out before them.