Bible Studies for Life Sunday School Lesson for July 31

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By Roy Ciampa, Ph. D.
Armstrong Chair of Religion, Samford University

WHAT DOES LOVE LOOK LIKE?

1 Corinthians 13:1–13

It does not matter what incredible gifts we have or what amazing things we do if we our lives are not governed by love. Spiritual gifts are one manifestation of God’s incredible love for us, but they, like everything else we have been given, only find their proper role when that love God has shown us is reflected in all we do.

Love must undergird everything we do. (1–3)

Paul mentions a few of the spiritual gifts he discussed in the previous chapter and would discuss in more detail later in this chapter and Chapter 14, including speaking in tongues; prophecy; knowledge; faith; and helping or leading.

In fact, he considers what the most extreme version of these gifts might be. Speaking in tongues might be not merely a supernatural ability to speak in some unknown human languages but instead even the ability to speak in the languages of angels. Prophecy might be not just some prophetic ability but a prophetic gift so extreme one can understand all mysteries and all knowledge. Paul considers not just strong faith but a faith so strong it can actually move mountains. Finally, the gift of helping generously or leading in somewhat sacrificial ways could become extreme generosity and sacrificial leadership.

The point is even if we were to have these most amazing versions of some of the spiritual gifts, they would not amount to anything in God’s eyes if we are not governed by love (agape). What doesn’t flow from love has no value in His eyes.

Love reflects the character of Christ. (4–7)

The Greek word agape (love) came to have deep, Christ-centered theological meaning among Christians because they repeatedly used it as the primary word to describe the love of God revealed in Christ. In these verses, Paul explains what Christlike love is supposed to look like in practice.

Paul intentionally described love in ways that showed how poorly the Corinthians actually practiced it. The Corinthians tended to be impatient, unkind, full of envy, boastful, arrogant, rude, self-seeking, irritable, keeping records of wrongs and even rejoicing in unrighteousness. They (like us) failed regularly when it came to bearing all things, believing, hoping and enduring. Paul clarifies their behavior undermined any claim to reflecting God’s love in their lives. Love refrains from all those vices and many more. It shows up in the form of patience, kindness, generosity of spirit, humility, forgiveness, allegiance to righteousness and truth, carrying burdens and holding fast to faith, hope and endurance. In other words, love leads us to reflect the character of Christ and to refrain from everything inconsistent with Christ’s character.

Love does not diminish, fade or go away. (8–13)

The spiritual gifts (like prophecy, tongues and knowledge) are special abilities given by the Holy Spirit to help us minister to this fallen world in Christ’s name. They are like spiritual superpowers for Christians living in a fallen world. But once Christ returns, they will be unnecessary. In our resurrected existence, the spiritual gifts will be replaced by abilities to understand and communicate with each other and with God that are as superior as adult thinking is to childish thinking or as superior as seeing someone face-to-face is to looking through a distorted mirror. We won’t need the gift of knowledge when we finally see the Lord face-to-face and know Him fully as He knows us now.

Many things may be left behind in the resurrection, but love will never be left behind. Love will be the essence of our experience for all eternity. Faith and hope may also endure throughout eternity, but love, especially love as it has been revealed to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ, is the greatest of all virtues, and it will reign through Christ for all eternity.