- The Explore the Bible lesson for April 22 focuses on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
When the Apostle Paul wrote about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the unity of the church in 1 Corinthians 12, he certainly had the simple theme of chapter 13 in mind. Love is the overall practical display of Spirit-led unity. And Paul gave the perfect transition in 1 Corinthians 12:31b: “And now I will show you the most excellent way”.
Preben Vang notes, “Unless Christ’s loving character becomes evident in the use and application of any and all of the Sprit’s gifts, their practice becomes worthless for God’s kingdom and mere demonstration of Christian immaturity” (Preben Vang, 1 Corinthians, 180).
We cannot overstate the necessity of love. Ask your group: How is love both simple and difficult to exercise? The Apostle Paul’s point is that the Corinthian church had not been exercising love. Their challenge is our challenge today.
Defining love is even more difficult. However, let us use 1 John 3:16 as our definition: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ gave his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters”.
Necessity of Love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
There are many ways to discuss these “if” scenarios, so recognize the interests and needs of your group may drive this discussion. At the same time, consider how Paul points not only to comparisons, but also to actions.
Verse 1 references how we speak. What we say matters, and what we say must have love as its driving force. Ask your group: How guilty are we of speaking hate more than love? If we speak the former, we are simply adding to the noise of life.
Verse 2 references how we think. While prophecy and knowledge are given by God, what takes place in our mind precedes outward action. Even faith begins internally. Paul asserts an absence of love in the mind will produce an absence of love outwardly.
Verse 3 references how we act. Ask your group: Why does love have to be our motive? Why is “doing good” not enough by itself? Philanthropy is admirable, to be sure, but impure motives for giving completely remove giving’s power.
Nature of Love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Consider this activity. Have your group create two lists from these verses: “What love is” and “What love is not.” It will be helpful to discuss how “what love is” could motivate us toward the ideal, and how “what love is not” was intended to convict the Corinthians of how they had been treating one another.
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Dr. Suess is credited for saying, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” With this in mind, ask your group: Why does love seem like more of an ideal or hope than a reality?
As we consider the 1 John 3:16 reference, perhaps we see that the antithesis of love is selfishness. If love is true “self-sacrifice,” then selfishness will motivate us to ignore love and focus only on self.
Permanence of Love (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
Where humans fail, love does not fail. Paul is building up his case that the Corinthians’ lack of unity is due to a lack of love, which—as we see in these verses—is due to a lack of maturity. We cannot grow and mature if we do not love.
It may seem as though Paul is belittling these “children” of Corinth, telling them of his former childish ways. We see selfishness as more of a childish trait, yet even adults still struggle with being self-focused. The clear message to Paul’s audience (and to us, as well) is that if you are a child of God, it is time to grow up and start loving.
This means love must be our total goal. It outlasts everything we desire to do. Love leads us to defeat imperfection. And of the three things that remain, love is the greatest (1 Corinthians 13:13). Ask your group: How do we change our view of love to align with Paul’s view of love?
Consider how incomplete we are when we do not have love. In verse 12, Paul pointed out we do not see clearly now, and that is because we are incomplete. But imperfection hopefully strives toward perfection, which appears to be love.
The Beatles’ hit, “All You Need Is Love”, describes love as easy, which we know is not quite true. Love may be simple, but it is not easy to do. One of the song’s lyrics says: “Nothing you can know that isn’t known. Nothing you can see that isn’t shown. Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be. It’s easy.”
It seems like love is the most natural thing to do, but it does not come to us naturally. We are incomplete, immature and imperfect, yet we desire to be complete, mature and perfect. Perhaps this is the struggle of our lives—learning to love. How then, do we stay in the struggle to be loving?
Heath A. Kirkwood is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Lorena.