In the middle of talking about gifts of the Spirit, Paul tells the Corinthians that whatever gifts they have, they are nothing without love (vs1-3). He may be mentioning gifts he has not mentioned in chapter 12 - poverty and martyrdom in 13:3 may have been seen as the lot of particular people whom the Spirit equipped for those events. But the point is clear: however spectacular our service of God, whatever we achieve for God, it is all worthless unless we exhibit God's love. The Corinthian Christians were very proud of their gifts; yet they were quarrelsome and self-centred. There was nothing wrong with their gifts - it was their attitude that needed to be changed.
Paul describes love in a very practical way. We can make it personal by reading as follows:
I am patient with people who try my patience.
I am kind - I do good even to those who do harm.
I do not envy others' gifts.
I do not boast or brag about my own gifts or achievements.
I am not rude, but I respect people.
I am not self-seeking, but I seek the welfare of others.
I am not easily angered or touchy - even when provoked.
I keep no record of wrongs; this means I cannot hold past wrongs against a person.
I do not delight in evil or unrighteousness, either from a sense of superiority or censure; still less do I delight in bad things happening to people. Rather I join in rejoicing at the truth, at those things which are good and upright and honest and beautiful.
I am protective and supportive of other people, I never lose faith, I never lose hope, I keep going even in the face of hardship or rebuff.
Such love lasts for ever. Gifts are only temporary, needed for our work in this life while we are still 'growing up'. The time will come when we will see God face to face, and the gifts of the Spirit will no longer be needed. But love lasts through eternity, as does trust and hope. Eternity will not be static; there will always be more good things to come, we will need to keep depending on God, and we will give and receive love to perfection.
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
This passage is not in the Bible to make us feel guilty. How can we encourage one another to be more loving?
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
Welcome question: Who was the first person, or what was the first animal or object, that you remember loving outside your close family?
Worship: Use songs that express God's love for us as well as our love for God.
Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, subsituting the word 'God' for 'love'.
Give paper and pens to the group, and ask them to write a love letter to God, then to read them out as an act of worship.