Devotional: 1 Corinthians 13:4-13
This is another familiar portion of Scripture. We tend to think of this as the “love” chapter, and don’t really notice that while most of what Paul had to say to the Corinthians who trusted Christ about Spiritual giftings he puts in the previous “chapter” (they didn’t have chapter breaks originally), he is STILL talking about those gifts in this chapter. I think that this portion (including the first few verses of chapter 13) speak to our motivation for having and using the gifts the Spirit gives. The love spoken of in these verses is “agape”: God’s level of love, which lies in His nature and is demonstrated by the exercise of His deliberate choice and will in sending His Son to die in the place of beings who have no value except that which He has given them. We are told in Ephesians 4:12, that these gifts from the Holy Spirit are given for the “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ”. That then should be our attitude towards both receiving and using Spiritual gifts. If our only purpose is to “have” them, to build up ourselves or our egos, we are indeed going to be as obnoxious as useless, clanging cymbals that are out of harmony (unity) with the rest of Christ’s Body.
Verses 8-12 puzzle me. Why would the gifts cease? We are also told in Romans 8:29 that God’s goal for trusters in Christ is for us to be conformed to the image of His Son. I think maybe 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 is referring to is that period of time AFTER we have joined with the LORD in the air. At that point, we will have been completed (Philippians 1:6), made totally blameless (1 Corinthians 1:8), holy and beyond reproach (Colossians 1:22-23). Then, we will perfectly reflect the image of Christ, without dents or smudges that mar His features. His body will no longer need to be “equipped” for ministry and for building up His Body. His Body will be complete.
I also notice that this week’s reading starts with a picture of what God’s kind of love looks like in practical terms and it also ends with the idea that faith, hope and love are more important than the other gifts we are given. We love because He first loved us; without receiving that love (expressed in grace), we have none to give to anyone else. Remember, too, that faith itself is a gift (Ephesians 2:8). Without Christ, there is no hope of being made right with God, no hope of avoiding His wrath over our sin. This goes back to what I said last week: until we totally receive God’s gifts of love, faith and hope, until we fully embrace His personal gift of grace and forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice in our place, and are a conduit for God to pour it out on others, to build them up (and not ourselves) we cannot expect to know and use the “lesser” spiritual gifts He has given to us.
This is certainly a familiar passage. What I noticed while reading it this week is that it is so much more than a “Love is…” list! In verses 4 to 7, I was struck by what a beautiful portrait Paul paints of the person whose life is characterized by love: Patient and kind! Always hopeful! Enduring! Rejoicing with the truth! Not irritable or jealous or boastful or proud or rude! Not demanding their own way! Never giving up! I don’t know about you, but I need these reminders of what a Holy Spirit-led life looks like! I also need the reality-check that such a life is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. How blessed I am that my dad lived this out in his daily life. I will always remember how he weathered both adversity and good times with the same patience, perseverance, and unwavering trust in the Lord. Interestingly, he was also humble, and the first one to acknowledge his wonder that God would love him. He demonstrated for me what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Losing him 2 years ago was heart-breaking, and I miss him so much, but I cry tears of happiness when I think of the glorious homecoming it surely was for him as he finally got to see his Lord face to face! Oh to have seen the wonder and unspeakable joy in his eyes!
It occurs to me as I look at this passage that there is a reason it makes me think of my dad. He had learned over time to put his trust entirely in God and take him at his Word. And because of that, I got to be a first-hand witness of the results of his surrendered-to-Jesus life. I had the privilege as his daughter of seeing the visible traits of love, listed in verses 4-7, in his daily life, no matter the circumstances that confronted him. Although Dad was a gifted athlete, a history buff, a musician, and a U.S. Marine, none of those were his identity. His priorities were his faith and his family. He said NO to many things so that he could say YES to his Lord and his family. It occurs to me as I read this passage in 1 Corinthians about the character traits of love that the baton has been passed and I need to get my head out of the sand and find my pace as I continue the race. I want to trample the old nature as it pops up its head so that the new nature is flowing through me unobstructed. I want to be fully surrendered so that Jesus and his love are what others see as I interact with them. I echo what Guest Pastor Hunter said last Sunday, “I want to see some salvation! I want to see lives changed! I want to move God’s hand! I want to be touching lives for Jesus! I want to stop being scared of rejection; after all, Jesus was rejected by nearly everyone!”
Devotional reading to be shared on June 3rd: Ephesians 4:7-16