Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Epistle

by Crossings

The Greatest
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Analysis by Betty Krafft

1 Corinthians 13: 1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.


DIAGNOSIS: LOOKING INWARD — LOVING SELF

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Lovely?
Paul’s correspondence with the congregation at Corinth reveals a church that is concupiscent-turned in on itself. The members of the congregation are comparing their spiritual gifts to determine who is “more gifted,” or more spiritual. Instead of using their gifts as God intended, to serve others, they compete with each other to prove who is best. Paul exposes this problem when he says that without “agape” (that is, love that is totally other-directed), spiritual gifts serve no good purpose. Our eloquent speech (v. 1), our prophecies (v. 2), our knowledge (v. 2), our philanthropy (v. 3), and even our faith (v. 2) are worthless without love.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Loveless
Paul preached about agape using Jesus Christ as his sole example: In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection he gave himself for the life of the world; and, because of his love, believers receive the Spirit’s gifts. But the Corinthians were “turned in on themselves,” and so they focused on their individual gifts, and forgot about Christ’s selfless love for them. They became puffed up with how good they were (v. 4). They had faith in themselves instead of Christ.

We struggle with the same temptation. We too become puffed up with how good are gifts are. We too place faith in our ability (or, for that matter, our inability) to love, and we forget Christ’s love for us and for our neighbor.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Unlovable
Like the Corinthians, we fail to love because we turn away from the source of love and toward ourselves. By definition love must have an object. But if the object is oneself, then the sentiment expressed must be something other than love. That is our predicament. God is love (1 John 4:8) and the source of all love. But we have abandoned the Source. And to try to do acts of agape love without Christ is like trying to ride a horse without the horse. Without God in Christ, we can only pretend at agape-and like all things human, our pretenses will come to an end (v. 8). God knows a fake when he sees one. In all our striving to be more spiritual, more gifted, closer to God, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. And that makes us unlovable to God.

PROGNOSIS: LOOKING OUTWARD — SELFLESS LOVE

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – Loved
And we would be stuck in the mire of our selfish love if God had not stepped in to redeem us. But God, who is agape, will not leave us alone. Instead, God redeems us with the very love we are incapable of producing on our own-a love that dies for sinners on the cross, and rises from the dead that we may have life with God. God redeems us through the unselfish love of Christ.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Lovers
Such a selfless love as Christ’s is nearly incomprehensible to us. So we begin to understand it like children: We know only in part (v. 11). But we rejoice in the promise that in Christ we are fully known (v. 12). And, like children, we receive our life in Christ with wonder and joy. No longer are we concerned about whether our gifts exceed our neighbor’s, or whether we are spiritually more impressive; instead, we assume our new identity as children borne of God who is Love.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Loving
In Christ, God has redeemed us and made us a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17)-a creation that turns toward others in agape. And through Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit, we can love because we have been fully loved. We love because in Christ we are fully known (v. 12). Christ’s love transforms us from the inside out: No longer are we turned in on ourselves; instead we are gifted with the ability to look out toward others with agape. And because this love comes, not from our finite selves, but from the eternal Christ, we can rest assured that this love will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things (v. 7). This love, which redeems and transforms us, abides in us in faith and hope (v. 13). It is also ours to share with a world that desperately needs agape.

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