From beginning to end, the Bible is a book about love by an Author who is love. But one chapter has become famous as the Love Chapter: 1 Corinthians 13.
From wedding ceremonies to inspirational posters, the Love Chapter has become one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. Since the Bible tells us that God Himself is love (1 John 4:8), it is fitting that this beautiful description of love should be well-known.
The apostle Paul used the word love nine times in this short chapter and colorfully and powerfully illustrated what it is and is not.
The text of the Love Chapter
Here is 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter, from the New King James Version:
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The context of spiritual gifts
Why did Paul write 1 Corinthians 13? The Corinthian church was a troubled congregation, and through much of this letter, the apostle Paul was addressing some of the problems they had. For one thing, they misunderstood spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1). Paul wanted them to understand that different gifts were given to unify and build up the Church, not divide it.
The apostle Paul used the Greek word agape, one of several Greek words that can be translated love. Agape in the New Testament is used to describe the deep, constant, unselfish love that is God’s very nature.At the end of chapter 12 Paul explained the underlying approach that should motivate our use of all gifts. “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” (verse 31)—which, chapter 13 shows, is the way of love. We should use the gifts to serve others, not for selfish reasons.
The apostle Paul used the Greek word agape, one of several Greek words that can be translated love. Agape in the New Testament is used to describe the deep, constant, unselfish love that is God’s very nature (1 John 4:8).
Vine’s definition includes: “Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments, John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:3; 2 John 6. Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God.
“Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all, Rom. 15:2, and works no ill to any, 13:8-10; love seeks opportunity to do good to ‘all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith,’ Gal. 6:10” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, p. 382).
Paul’s beautiful description in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is even more revealing of the true nature of love.
A portrait of Christ
As Paul “paints his picture of what love is, he consciously or unconsciously draws us a portrait of a person—Jesus himself. He is the living embodiment of this outgoing, long-suffering, self-giving, self-effacing love” (Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, 1973, p. 594).
So the Love Chapter serves as a starting point for further study of this most important characteristic that God wants us to learn and practice. Below are some resources that can help.