First Thessalonians 3 ends with Paul asking the Lord to make the Christians in Thessalonica increase and abound in love for one another. This does not catch us off guard, for love is one of the core aspects of the Christian ethic. Paul’s writing, in fact, contains some of the most important biblical teaching on love, and there is much we can learn from his extended treatment of this virtue in 1 Corinthians 13. Thus, we will take a weeklong pause in our study of 1 Thessalonians to devote our attention to 1 Corinthians 13, with Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Love guiding our devotionals.
One does not have to be a Christian in order to have some acquaintance with 1 Corinthians 13. It is quoted frequently on television and in the movies, and even many non-Christians will have it read at their weddings. However, familiarity can breed contempt, with the result being that we might think we know this text so well that we fail to appreciate its depth and our failure to meet the standard it outlines for us. Clearly, the kind of love described in this chapter is based on the love of God Himself, and our Maker has never shown anything but perfect love to His creation and to His people.
The love of God never fails in its kindness, truth, patience, goodness, or any other quality that Paul attributes to love in 1 Corinthians 13. Yet, when we are honest with ourselves, we see that our love never meets this standard. We are often unkind, impatient, lovers of sin, and so on. There are many reasons for this, but chief among them is our failure to make love one of our primary concerns. Like the first-century Corinthian Christians, we misuse our spiritual gifts and want others to serve us instead of looking for ways that we can serve them (chs. 12–14). We put ourselves first and grow jealous when others do not also put us first. Instead of acting in humility, we are filled with pride and do not want to put up with others.
This should not be. First Corinthians 13:1–3 reveals that love matters far more than our spiritual gifts. In fact, we can possess many gifts and can know much about the Lord and His salvation, but if these things are not coupled with love for God and for other people, we actually have nothing. That is because we are being conformed to the image of our Creator, who is love (1 John 4:8).Love is essential to God’s character, and it must be essential to ours as well if we are His children.