One of the things that allows Scripture to come to life is when we see what is written in its original context and purpose. This has truly been the case for me with one of the most well-known and beloved passages in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13. It is certainly a beautiful piece of literature by any measure, used in weddings across the centuries and adorning thousands of pieces of artwork and cross-stitch pillows. But it its original context, 1 Corinthians 13 is so much more than just a poetic pause from Paul’s intense message to the Corinthians. It is a very specific and applicable message to them . . . and to me. It continues the emphasis that he has been making throughout the entire letter – that the Christian life is not what we do, but who Jesus is and what only He can be and do through our lives. When we allow Him to work in our lives, He produces His life and quality in us – and 1 Corinthians 13 is a description of what that looks like. One commentator suggests just filling in “Jesus” every time you see the word “love” in this chapter, and you will get a picture of the truth.
This was as important for Paul himself to keep in mind as anyone. He well remembers that his life before Jesus Christ was wrapped up in human doing and performance. At the heart of Saul’s Pharisaical requirements was the pursuit of making something else besides Jesus our focus, what we seek after, and what becomes the measure of ourselves and others. The Corinthians had been busy with their own pursuits – their own set of “requirements.” The first three verses of chapter 13 reveal what some of these pursuits were: speaking in languages, having the gift of prophecy, understanding all mysteries and knowledge, having all faith, bestowing good to feed the poor. These were their pursuits, what they sought after, and what they used to evaluate themselves and other spiritually. Of course, there is not a single “bad” thing in any of those that Paul lists. They are all good. The problem is that it was their own doing and pursuit instead of the life of Jesus Christ working in and through them. The proof of this was what was coming out of them in the process of their quest. Thus, Paul paints a contrast in verses 4-7 of what “love” (the life of Jesus in and through us) is and is not. It is worth asking if the life of Jesus (“love”) is being demonstrated through my life in the way these verses describe. If not, it is worth asking if anything else has become my focus, what I seek after, and what I use to measure myself and others. The good news is that the One who IS love offers to be all that He is in our lives today. Just read verses 4-7, fill in “Jesus” for “love,” and know that this is how He is toward us today.
Dr. John Juneman is the Leadership Pastor for CLM and a teacher at TPS