The love passage in 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most well-known passages in the New Testament. It is often written on greeting cards or read at weddings. Prime Minister Tony Blair famously read it at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997.
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the oath at his inauguration in 1933, with his hand on his family Bible, open to 1 Corinthians 13. The passage is famous among both believers and unbelievers and in popular culture.
Despite its popularity, it has been one of the most misunderstood and misused passages in the Scripture. The apostle Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians to confront them for their loveless attitude.
Paul wrote this passage in response to the misuse of spiritual gifts that occurred in the church in Corinth. The Corinthian believers used their spiritual gifts, not for the edification of the body of Christ but themselves. They desired for more and better spiritual gifts so that they could show off to other believers.
Let’s be honest! Of course, everyone wants better gifts. Do I desire to preach better? Do I want to preach to a large congregation? Do I want God to give me more of the gift of preaching?
Yes, I do. However, that desire is self-centered because I want to use my spiritual gifts for my interests and not the interests of others, and it is a misuse of spiritual gifts. However, Paul introduced to the Corinthians and to us “a more excellent way” to do ministry, a more effective way than having better or more spiritual gifts.
The Necessity of Love
In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul shows the Corinthian believers the necessity of love in ministry. No matter how wonderful and exciting, spiritual gifts are useless and even destructive when not ministered in love. When we do not use our gifts in love, our ministry is ineffective.
In these verses, Paul listed out five spiritual gifts: tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, and giving. He pointed out that the exercise of these gifts without love is nothing. Without love, even the heavenly language seems annoying. Without love, a sermon or a speech could be cold.
Without love, knowing it all will not help. Without love, knowing theology is pointless. In fact, “knowing it all” often puffs up and inflates our egos. A loveless pastor, a loveless scholar, or a loveless teacher is useless in ministry. Also, faith without love is worthless as well even if that faith can remove mountains. Even self-sacrifice without love could be self-centered (Matthew 6:2).
Many Christians donate their money to various charities and non-profit organizations to look generous to others. Giving without love is self-promoting. Giving without love expects returns. Without love, the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life is worthless.
Many Christians, to gain recognition, were willing to die as a martyr so that they would be remembered as the heroes of faith. Jesus offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice to pay the penalty of sins for His people, but He didn’t die just to be a great moral example for others to follow.
He didn’t die on the cross to draw attention to Himself. He died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice because of His great love for His own people.
The More Excellent Way
There is no such thing as a loveless ministry. A loving ministry is an effective ministry, and a ministry is only effective as much as it is loving. The way of ministry is the way of love. Moreover, Jesus also demands each one of us to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, and love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew Chapter 22 verse 37).
There is no such thing as loveless Christian. Followers of Jesus Christ should be marked by love. In John 13:35, Jesus said, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” How do others know that we are disciples of Jesus? Because we love one another. Love is the ingredient for a successful ministry.
Dat Nguyen is a student at the Master’s Seminary and a member of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, California. His desire is to be a faithful minister of the Word of God. He loves playing basketball and watching movies.