In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul gives us one of the most beautiful definitions of love that we find in all human literature. No surprise given that the God of love inspired such words through Paul's pen. 1 Corinthians 13 is what love looks like when practiced rightly – patient, kind, humble, self-giving, self-forgetful, forgiving, rejoicing with the truth, enduring…beautiful! Yet, in all its beauty we find it incredibly hard to love people in this way. We often do not even love our “loved-ones” like this, let alone those we find difficult to love. Even when we feel convicted of our shortcomings and truly desire to love like this we still often fall far short. So, how do we grow in 1 Corinthians 13 love?
Love Demonstrated – Romans 5:8-11
Romans 5 provides the foundation and the power for us to love like Paul calls us to love in 1 Corinthians 13. Will we love perfectly? No, but the foundation for our love is the perfect love of God and so when we fall short we are driven back to his perfect love to save sinners like us. There we will find forgiveness, peace, love and power to love like God.
Romans 5:8–11 - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
God shows his love for us. Yes, the perfect love of 1 Corinthians 13 is demonstrated for us by God himself. Of course, God always loves with this perfect love so examples of it abound throughout scripture. But where is this perfect love most clearly demonstrated? That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! The perfect love of God is most clearly demonstrated at the cross where Christ died for the ungodly. Jesus died to reconcile sinful, rebellious humans to a holy gracious God. Jesus died so that by his blood we might be declared righteous. Now, as those reconciled to God by the death of his Son, we have no reason to ever again doubt the perfect love of God for us. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead assures that in his life we find life…and love.
Jesus’ love for sinners demonstrated and accomplished most clearly at the cross is the foundation for our love for God and people created in his image. If our own strength or feelings or ability to muster love deep within is the foundation of our love we will never come close to loving people with a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love. We certainly will not love the hard to love or our enemies. We will simply love what we find lovely and even then we will often fall into a self-absorbed bent that fails to love with patience, kindness, forgiveness, etc. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). That is the foundation of our love for God and people because a 1 Corinthians 13 type of love must originate from God himself. If we have not experienced that love for ourselves we will not love others in that way.
Love Poured Out – Romans 5:5
However, God’s love does not remain an abstract concept or feeling that we then simply try to replicate. His love has actually been poured into our hearts through the person of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 5:5 - … God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to love like God! He is in us and with us to love others the way we have been loved. We don’t have to muster up love within ourselves. Love is given to us in the Holy Spirit, and we love by letting the Holy Spirit love people through us. The Holy Spirit applies Christ’s finished work of the cross to our hearts so that we are assured of the love of God for us. Then the Holy Spirit forms Christ in us by continuing to apply the gospel into every aspect of our lives freeing us to love our “loved ones” and even our enemies. God already loves with a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love so it is not difficult for the Holy Spirit to love God and people in that way. We simply surrender ourselves to his will. We repent of all our failed attempts to love and find renewed power in the love of God for us and in us for others.
1 Corinthians 13 occurs in-the-midst of two chapters on the misuse and abuse of spiritual gifts in the church. No wonder! The Corinthians were using spiritual gifts to build themselves up at the expense of others, but spiritual gifts can never be rightly practiced if not done in love. If the Holy Spirit has truly been poured into our hearts then we will know God’s love and love others with God’s love empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is the greatest gift of the Spirit – to know and experience and share God’s love in Jesus Christ to save sinners.
1 Corinthians 13 love is beautiful! It might seem almost too good to be true. However, the good news is that it is not out of reach. For all who trust in Jesus Christ to save sinners this love is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. Yes, let 1 Corinthians 13 convict you of all the ways you fall short, but don’t let it leave you there. Let the Holy Spirit speaking through 1 Corinthians 13 draw you to see your need for Jesus. Then let him draw you to see the love of Jesus to save you and the beauty of Jesus to love you with a love so perfectly beautiful.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
For further exploration - listen to Kaleo's sermon series on 1 Corinthians.