1 Corinthians 13

This paper on 1 Corinthians 13 is the last written work by our esteemed brother Mr. Walter Gustafson, who went to be with the Lord in 2020. It is a privilege to publish his final series of articles.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the only person who fully lived out 1 Corinthians 13 in a balanced way. But the apostle Paul and the apostle John are both balanced about love and faith. Paul is sometimes referred to as the apostle of faith, and yet he wrote the greatest treatise on love to be found in all of literature in 1 Corinthians 13. The apostle John is often referred to as the apostle of love, yet he tells us that he wrote his Gospel for faith (Joh 20:30,31). There are other verses that show this same balance. The apostle of faith wrote, “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity [love], I am nothing” (1Co 13:2).[1] He also wrote, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity [love], these three; but the greatest of these is charity [love]” (v13). The apostle of love wrote, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1Jn 5:4). So, we see that both Paul and John were balanced believers. They were not like Ephraim in Hosea 7:8 – “Ephraim is a cake not turned.” That is to say that Ephraim was like a pancake all done on one side, or perhaps overdone, while the other side was not done at all, really not fit for eating!

It is important for us to notice that Paul and John were not only balanced about faith and love, but they were also balanced about love itself. Neither Paul nor John looked on love as something sentimental that allows evil. Agape love is the characteristic word of Christianity. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more” (1:9). This verse as I have quoted it may seem as if Paul wanted the Philippians to be carried away with love, but he definitively qualifies that love by adding “in knowledge and in all judgment” (or “all discernment” RV). John also shows his balance about love. He writes, “But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected” (1Jn 2:5); and in chapter 5 he adds, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (v3). So, John rightly links love with keeping His Word and His commandments.

1 Corinthians 13 is in the middle of three chapters that are intimately connected. In chapter 12 we have the endowment of gift. In chapter 14 we have the exercise of gift. In chapter 13 we have the energy with which the gift should be exercised. John R. Caldwell, in his good commentary of 1 Corinthians, is probably the first one to use this illustration. In chapter 12 we have the machinery. In chapter 14 we have the machinery in motion, and in chapter 13 we have the oil that keeps the machinery working smoothly.

William Rodgers points out that if the assembly at Corinth had had the love of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, they would have been spared their troubles in a sevenfold way.

In chapter 1 they would not have been puffed up one against another, because love “is not puffed up.”

In chapter 5 they would not have tolerated the fornicator, because love “rejoiceth not in iniquity.”

In chapter 6 they would not have been going to law one against another, because love “suffereth long and is kind.”

In chapters 8 and 10 they would not have wounded the consciences of their fellow believers, because love “seeketh not her own.”

In chapter 11 none of them would have been drunken and none of the sisters would have had their heads uncovered, because love “behaveth not itself unseemly.”

In chapter 12 those with lesser gift would not have been jealous of those with greater gift, because love “envieth not.”

In chapter 12 none of them would say to another believer, “I have no need of thee,” because love “vaunteth not itself.”

The last verse of chapter 12 and the first verse of chapter 14 show that there is an intimate connection between chapters 12, 13 and 14. In 12:31 we read, “Desire earnestly the greater gifts. And a still more excellent way shew I unto you” (RV). We should notice that he doesn’t write “a more excellent thing,” but “a more excellent way.” In chapter 14 Paul clearly shows that love is greater than the greatest gift both in character and in permanence, but his first aim in 12:31 is to point out that love is the most excellent way to discover which is really the greatest gift. If I have love, I will judge that the greatest gift is the one that helps God’s people the most. The first verse of chapter 14 shows that these three chapters are linked together by the phrase “Follow after love,” the love of chapter 13. If any person wants to know why we should follow after love, the whole of chapter 13 is the answer. Following after love will make us more like Christ.

To be continued

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV and RV.