1 Corinthians 13 is a beautifully written passage in the Bible describing love. It speaks not of the romantic kind of love, but an all-encompassing love. This love is all powerful and the reason for being. The images that this passage invokes show love to be powerful and the reason for being. Without love, life is not meaningful and empty. According to Congote (2), the love described in this passage from the Bible describes the type of love required by Christians in order to become closer to God. He also cites, that though this passage is often read at weddings, it should not be confused with a romantic love (Congote 7). In writing this passage to the Corinthians, Paul is trying to stress that although they are religious people, they are missing love in their worship and their treatment of each other. This passage is meant to move them and evoke powerful images of the importance of love in the faith of a Christian (Congote 6). Paul employs beautiful imagery in his writing that brings the senses alive while reading the passage.
“If I speak in tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1). The opening line of the passage equates man to the angels, who are beautiful and powerful. Their language is also depicted as being too beautiful and powerful to hear for a human. The writer uses the metaphor of a “resounding gong” or “clanging cymbal” to describe the ugliness and harshness that language can sound like if words are spoken without love.
“If I have faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (Cor 13:2). The metaphor of faith and belief in God is strong enough to move a mountain is a powerful and often quoted line. There are those who profess their faith in God but do not practice love in their life. Preachers who live a life of faith and teaching of faith but do not have love in their hearts are worthless. Faith can only truly exist in conjunction with love. Without love for the people around them and towards humanity, faith is meaningless. The passage even criticizes those who would martyr themselves for their faith as meaningless if it is not an act of love: “and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:3).
In describing the attributes that are associated with love, Paul is describing the observable behaviors that constitute love. Speaking of love is not enough, a person must show it in their actions. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs.” (1 Cor 13: 4-5). Each of these actions are observable and demonstrate a man’s love. The feeling of love inside of a person is worthless if it is not expressed through actions such as these.
Paul uses anaphora in 1 Cor 13:7 to stress the importance of these concepts. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” These concepts are difficult for many people to maintain steadily over time, the stress on the word “always” leaves no room for interpretation. Man must maintain these attitudes and action all of the time in order to demonstrate his love. Losing hope or not trusting another human are not indicative of real love.
1 Corinthians 13:8-9 states, “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” What is being said here, any knowledge that has come before as a prophecy from God, and where men still speak of what will be in the future, it is not important. The important thing is living a life in love on a daily basis. The future holds no negative consequences for those who walk and live in love.
When comparing childhood to adulthood, the poems states, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (1 Cor 13:11). This line equates life before real love as childlike and incapable of true understanding. In order to accept and embrace a life that is lived in love, a person needs to let go of their beliefs and attitudes before they embraced Christianity as a faith and chose to live in God’s love. This metaphor for life before accepting God and comparing it to life after is very clever and easy to understand. Childhood is a wonderful time of life, but it was temporary and we must let it go and let it become a part of the past.
1 Cor 13:12, the passage describes entering the unknown, but doing it with trust. Trusting in the love that will bring man closer to God. “For now we see only a reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully; even as I am fully known.” This lone describes the leap of face that must be taken in order to become closer to God. Through love and this trust, one must be brave and realize that all of their questions will not be answered immediately.
The poem closes with a very famous line that is often quoted and referred to: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these love.” (1 Cor 13:13). All three of these qualities, faith, hope and love are required in the Christian faith to be close to God and to be a good human being. Paul reiterates the importance of love in this closing line, because as he has argued throughout the passage love is the most God-like of qualities that man can embrace and live.
Aguilar describes in his essay that love as described in 1 Corinthians 13, it the foundation for a life that is built out of faith. The foundation of love is what supports and gives strength to the beliefs that accompany faith (15-16). 1 Corinthians 13 is a plan on how a person needs to live their life. Only through genuine love can man expect to find true faith and a sense of peace in God.
Aguilar, J. “1 Corinthians 13: Literary Structure and Theology.” Fordham University n.d. Web
14 Apr. 2015 http://faculty.fordham.edu/joaguilar/1Cor12-14.pdf
Congote, Gregory OSB, "An Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 12:31 - 13:1-3" (2009). School of
Theology • Seminary Graduate Papers/Theses. Paper 736.