Chapter 13 is probably one of the most important chapters in the whole Bible after those that depict Salvation. If there’s a concept to base all our mentalities on, it would be love. However, the love that it talks about here is not the same as the modern interpretation of love. A few weeks ago, the sermon at church talked about three types of love: physical/romantic love, platonic (friendship) love and the love of God. The love of God, or in Greek “Agape” is unconditional. A common misconception is that Christians constantly try to seek and earn the love of God by doing unnecessary things, then worrying excessively about whether what we did has been good enough. Instead, God’s love for us is unconditional. It doesn’t matter how much sin we commit or even how much we try to earn His love – it is unconditional.
This love is described comprehensively in verse 4, allowing us to understand its breadth by relating it to other virtues which ultimately gives a practical application.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. — 1 Corinthians 4-7
These three verses are extremely powerful yet straightforward. To summarise, it is selfless, patient, humble, righteous, forgiving and most importantly is consistently unconditional. This is emphasised in verse 7 when Paul continually repeats the word always. Love is not love when it is only easy to give or show. Instead, love is when our behaviour and mentality upholds all the qualities within this definition regardless of whatever we might be facing.
One of the most often quoted bible verses is 1 John 4:19, which reads “We love because He first loved us.” This concept is conveyed in the simplest of terms but perhaps the hardest to fulfil completely. God wants us to take the unconditional love He has given to us, reciprocate it and to spread it to those around us. This is the greatest command in the bible and ALL the commands in the bible can essentially be derived from this principle. In loving God, we develop a strong relationship and good communication with Him – naturally, this grants us the understanding of faith, purity, righteousness, justice, honesty, love for others, which will be reflected in our actions if our hearts are kept fixated onto God.
It’s importance is described in verse 2-3:
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. — 1 Corinthians 13:2-3
Here, love is placed above all else. Regardless of how much faith, strength, knowledge and how many gifts (e.g. prophecy) one may have, it amounts to nothing if he/she does not have love.
Chapter 14 discusses the issue or praying in tongues, something that is quite controversial in contemporary Christianity. Some churches embrace it wholly, others prefer to rely solely on ‘regular’ prayer. Here, Paul makes a clear statement that both has its merits whilst there will be situations where one is more appropriate. Rather than serving as a command, Paul’s motive here is to provide guidance and practical ministering advice.
The following verses summarises his points:
For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening,encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.
Praying in tongues is like creating a direct line between one’s spirit to the Holy Spirit as it is when you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your prayers – almost as though it is praying on your behalf but through you. Even if the person (i.e. their mind) does not know what they are saying themselves, it is fostering a better spiritual relationship with God. Hence, it strengthens Christians on a personal level and it is good in that context. However, prophecy is more appropriate for the context of strengthening the church as it promotes faith and unity amongst the church.
22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy,however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? — 1 Corinthians 14:22-23
In larger congregations where there may be new believers, prophecies, sermons and testimonies should be held at emphasis rather than having prayer in tongues. This is as new believers and non-believers will not understand what is being said and the significance of it whereas prophecies are much more relatable.
In God’s kingdom, both a personal relationship and a strongly united church are extremely essential. We must focus on our personal relationship with God. This involves private prayer time (perhaps with the use of tongues), repenting, gaining the gifts of the spirits and correcting old habits whilst fostering new qualities and virtues. This serves as an important foundation in Christian life – the change in one’s life is the beginning in affecting those around him/her. However, one must not only focus his/her energy in cultivating a fruitful relationship with the Lord but should instead should put effort in doing the work of God’s kingdom and reinforcing the church. Serving and helping the church grow not only allows more people to receive blessings but is also beneficial to one’s personal growth in God.