We have the love chapter but who are we supposed to love?

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vauneth not itself, is not puffed up.
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceeth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faith: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
 
     More than than likely you have read this on a postcard before.  However it probably is in modern english and changes the word charity out for love.  We find it in what is called the Bibles love chapter.  It is a wonderful passage that is hardly ever read in its true context.  Usually it is read on a Valentine card or heard somewhere in a wedding ceremony.  The question then is “What is the real context of this passage?”  In order to answer that in a second go ahead and read all of 1 Corinthian 13.
 
     Perhaps you have already figured out by reading the chapter that this passage was not part of a wedding sermon.  That’s really interesting.  What is the actual context of the passage?  Let’s start with the whole book.  The apostle Paul was writing to a very young assembly of believers in Corinth.  Their group was perhaps around five years old and were already full of troubles.  If we think that the darkness present in many churches today is a new phenomena then we are incredibly wrong.  Corinth had it all.  Gossiping factions, favoritism, sexual immorality, broken families and pride, just to name a few.  All of this adds up into one of the main reasons Paul writes.
 
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.  For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of chlo’e, that there are contentions among you.” 1 Cor. 1:10-12
 
     Paul had to deal with a whole lot of craziness at Corinth.  Look at this outline over the content of this letter.
  • Chapter 1: Greeting and purpose for writing.
  • Chapter 2: The Wisdom of God.
  • Chapter 3: Bodies are the temple of God.
  • Chapter 4: Ministers of God that have not progressed in grace.
  • Chapter 5: Put away sexual immorality in the church.
  • Chapter 6: Legal matters and more on the bodies as the temple of God.
  • Chapter 7: Marriage and being single for God.
  • Chapter 8: Food and Idolatry.
  • Chapter 9: Freedom in grace.
  • Chapter 10: Separate from the world.
  • Chapter 11: Proper worship and participation in communion.
  • Chapter 12:  Different types of gifts that make up the body of Christ.
  • Chapter 13: The love chapter.  
  • Chapter 14:  Tongues vs. Prophecy.
  • Chapter 15: Doctrine of the Resurrection.
  • Chapter 16: Salutations.
    It would seem that if Paul’s chapter on love was really geared towards a couple that was courting or  married then he probably would of put it in chapter eight where he talks plainly about marriage.  Yet he places it between chapters 12 and 14.  There is a purpose for it.  Chapter 12 talks about nine spiritual gifts are found throughout the body of Christ.  Two of those gifts, prophecy and tongues, will be discussed thoroughly in chapter 14.  If those two chapters on gifts are connected then somehow chapter 13 and the discourse on love would also fit there.
 
     In chapter 12 Paul really hits on the fact that even though there is such a diversity in the body of Christ there is is still a deeply tied unity by the Spirit.  Chapter 14 deals with the fact that prophecy is a better gift than tongues and since this is such a lengthy chapter on this subject it implies there must of been much discord between the users of these two gift sets.  Could it be that chapter 13 is the solution to the problems of disunity?  
 
      Now take it deeper and lets read the last verse of chapter 12 and the first verse of chapter 14.  
 
“But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet whew I unto you a more excellent way” 1 Cor. 12:31
 
“Follow charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” 1 Cor. 14:1
 
      I think we are getting somewhere now.  It is seemingly more likely that this is definitely not a lovers chapter.  Yet, who are we dealing with.  If it’s not caught yet, this is a letter to a church, about how the church behaves in world and around the members of the church.  This thirteenth chapter to the Corinthians is about how Christians ought to love each.  It could even be said that this is how Christians love everybody.  Remember Christ’s command to love our neighbors and enemies?  How would this type of love change the way we view everyone around.  Love means you could be more patient with everyone.  Love means that you don’t use anyone for personal gain.  Love means that you provoke no one and think evil of none.
 
     Let’s take this one more step.  The word that is translated charity or love in our English language is  agapē (ἀγάπη) in the Greek.  It is a “strong, non-sexual affection and regard for a person and their good as understood by God’s moral character; especially characterized by a willing forfeiture of rights or privileges in another person’s behalf.”[1]  It is not the Greek word eros which was the type of love shared between those in marriage.  Neither was this word phileos which dealt with the love that is found in friendship.  This love solely applied to God.  In fact it could be said that the only way to have this love was to receive it from God.  This was also a gift from the Holy Spirit.  The nature of God’s love.  In fact, the only way we can exhibit this type of love towards all mankind is to have received this love first from God.

    So, don’t shy away from this passage of scripture because it sounds mushy.  It is not that type of love.  It is the love that a Christian has for not only their brother and sisters in Christ but for every person in the world.  When God sheds His love in our hearts it overflows into all of our relationships regardless of their status.


[1] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.