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1 Corinthians 13:1-8 Study Guide: Love Never Ceases

Community Group Study Guide — Love Never Ceases
1 Corinthians 13:1-8a

Main idea:
1 Corinthians 13 is one of the main points of the entire letter. In a church that is divided and competitive, Paul reminds them of their call to love one another and does so by giving them a detailed description of what this love looks like. They can have spiritual gifts, knowledge, powerful actions and incredible generosity but unless it is motivated by love, and empowered by Christ’s transforming love, it is nothing. 

Study Information:
Love never ends. In a, “what have you done for me lately” world, this is a hard reality to imagine. Could it be that there is a love that we receive from God that never ends? Is it possible that our actions when done in love, make a signifiant and lasting impact? Yes. 

Love is probably one of the more “loaded” words in the english language at this point in time. Love is often viewed through selfish lenses or equated to an emotional experience, and certainly we experience love from people that comes and goes based on circumstances or conditions. And yet we read Paul’s definition here and see that it is not only emotion and certainly not selfish. This kind of love actually seems really difficult, if not downright impossible. However, as followers of Jesus we know that this kind of love has been shown to us when we did not deserve it by God. Jesus who gave up his body, who had all faith and who revealed the mysteries of God to us in his person and work… all of it motivated by his love that never ends. Paul wants us to understand that our life in the church is strongest and most effective when we have genuine love for one another. 

This passage often gets read at events like a wedding. It is possible that you’ve even heard it in a non church context or have seen it on a greeting card. Yet, the type of love Paul is talking about here is not romantic love but your desire to seek the good of your brothers and sister in Christ. This means the people in your community group, the older gentleman you see getting coffee at church and the mom and toddler a few rows in front of you in the worship center. This kind of brotherly affection is what ought to motivate our use of spiritual gifts and service in the church. To understand this we will first look at why 1 Corinthians 13 sits where it does in this letter - on one side we get a description of the church as as a family of faith using their gifts to serve each other and on the other we get a theology of tongues and prophecy. So why does this description of love come at this part of the letter? Second, we will look at Paul’s detailed description of what love is. 

Love as the Foundation of Spiritual Gifts and Unity in the Church:
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
We learned in 1 Corinthians 12 that spiritual gifts are given to followers of Jesus to manifest God’s grace and to grow the church in unity and interconnection. Last study guide we discussed the image of the church as a body where different parts are interconnected and supporting each other in unseen ways. The problem in Corinth is that the members of that church competed and used their gifts to express how they were better or more deserving than each other. Paul corrects this misinterpretation of spiritual gifts by showing them that they can be impressive from a worldly perspective but without love there is no lasting or meaningful effect to their gifting or actions. 

Paul narrows in on three areas where gifting can be used without love and therefore be meaningless: speaking, knowledge and doing. The Corinthians valued intellectually stimulating rhetoric and the supernatural gift of tongues. Powerful speeches and displays of the spirit so much so that they forgot that those only exist in the church to build up people’s knowledge of Jesus. We experience this when someone expresses the right arguments in a powerful way but really has no concern for the person they’re arguing with or taking to. The Corinthians will also be rebuked in chapter 14 for using the gift of tongues to compete with each other. Powerful words are no more than a noisy gong when you have the wrong motives (1 Corinthians 13:1). When it comes to gifts of knowledge like wisdom, prophecy, understanding the mysteries of the faith (think: really good theology!) and even great faith; without love these things are of no account. Someone can be incredibly intelligent and lack kindness or a desire to do good for one another and therefore completely miss the point. Finally, even acts of generosity like what the early church did in selling their property to give to those in need, or acts of sacrifice like martyrdom are of no gain if it is not done with love. Someone can donate a ton of money and even sacrifice for others in drastic ways but without a desire to see others really benefit from it it is worthless in God’s eyes. We typically think works of generosity and sacrifice are works of love but we see here that even those things can be done in such a way that is selfish. 

The way that God measures value and power is different than the world. Power and value are not wrapped up in one’s eloquence, knowledge or actions, but rather in their motives and heart for why they are doing those things. Spiritual gifts combined with love for one another can build unity in our church and show God’s power to our city. 

Do You Want to Know What Love Is?
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
So what is love according to God? What does it look like to have healthy relationships with one another in the body of Christ? 

Love is…

  • patient and therefore does not get bent out of shape when things do not go their way or according to their timing.
  • kind and therefore has hints of compassion and goodwill in their interactions.
  • does not envy or boast and therefore is not competitive or self exalting.
  • is not arrogant or rude and therefore it is not harsh or quick to put others down.
  • not insisting on its own way meaning that love is flexible and built around considerations for others.
  • is not irritable or resentful meaning that love is not easily angered or holds a grudge. 
  • does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth and therefore does not celebrate sin or evil. Love is not permissive in nature and this means that genuine love has boundaries.
  • love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and therefore it is persistent, optimistic and unconditional in nature. Love does not give in to cynicism or despair. 
  • love never ends and therefore we’re reminded that our eternity will be filled with this type of love from God and for one another forever.

If you want to love others then your relationships will look like this; and if you are blessed enough to be loved by others you have received a good gift. When we look at this definition of love we see a wonderful, sacrificial, kind, holy and faithful church and that is a powerful force for sanctification and mission. Imagine a place where followers of Jesus are selflessly using their gifts for one another’s benefit, where they are patient and not easily annoyed by each other and when rumors float around they believe the best about one another instead of falling into suspicion or gossip. Imagine a place where people who do not know Christ come in and are greeted with kindness and generosity and not just because it is expected but rather because people are so filled with love for God and each other it cannot help but come out of their lives. Love is not some emotional feeling but a radical commitment to one another’s good and it is marked by selflessness. This type love is a gift and something that God authors in us through the Holy Spirit. Paul prays in Ephesians 3:14-17 that we’d truly understand and know this kind of love that God has for us, and here in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is showing us how this kind of love can transform our community and mission. 

If you want to have meaningful relationships in the body of Christ and make a lasting impact, pray that God would grow you in this type of love and look for opportunities to use your gifts so that others can be built up in faith.  

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a

Paul could have put this description somewhere else in the letter, why do you think it is situated in this part of 1 Corinthians and how does it relate to spiritual gifts?

Are actions of generosity and sacrifice “love” in and of themselves? How can someone “give up their body to be burned” and do so without it being motivated by love?

Compare and contrast the definition we’re given for love in verses 4-8 to how the world thinks about love. 

What are some ways you can specifically grow in your love for others in the body of Christ based on this definition? As a group spend time praying for one another and those areas.