1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13
“The Rule of Engagement”

Date: 2-Jan-11
Required Resources: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians; shiny crystal like object (to make point)

Purpose (Why am I teaching this lesson? What effect did the writer expect it to have on the recipients?)
The purpose of this lesson is to motivate the participants to exercise love in a more selfless way.

Theme (What central idea does this passage communicate?)
A gift exercised outside the context of love is meaningless

Review & Homework:
A. Salutations & Reminders (v1:1-1:9)
B. Divisions within the church (v1:10-4:21)
C. …of conduct unbecoming a believer (v5:1-13) {church discipline}
D. Dealing with offenses in The Body (v6:1-11)
E. The bondage of sexual sin (v6:12-20)
 – Now For The Matters You Wrote About —
F. Marriage, Divorce & Singleness (v7:1-40)
G. Christian Liberty (v8:1-11:1)
H. Order in Worship (v11:2-14:39 )
1. Submission to established order (v11:2-16)
2. Order in the Observance of the Lord’s Table (v11:17-34)
3. About Spiritual Gifts (v12:1-11)
— Indentifying your Spiritual Gift(s) –
4. The functioning of Spiritual Gifts (v12:12-31a)
    Ü 5. The rule of using Spiritual Gifts (v12:31b -13:13)
6. Proper use of the sign gifts (v14:1-25)
7. Orderly worship (v14:26-39)
  • Read 1 Corinthians 12:3b thru 13:13 and complete a page in your study booklet.
  • See if you can come up with a unique title for this often taught passage
  • Come to class with a list (and definitions) of the Greek words translated into English as love.

Review Homework

¿: Is love a choice or a feeling?

Some believe that chapter 13 is a parenthetical passage designed to relieve the tension between chapters 12 & 14 as Paul speaks of the misuse of the spiritual gifts.  On the contrary, this passage is vital to the proper use of gifts in the Body.

Throughout history it seems the church has found it difficult to be loving.  It is easier to get our doctrine right than be loving.  It is easier to be active in church work than to be loving.

To best understand this passage we must look at love in the context of where this chapter is located.  To look at love in isolation is beautiful but it misses the point.

Review context of 1 Corinthians 13, sandwiched between chapter 12 and 14 on the exercise of gifts in the body.

The Text
1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:3
Only Emptiness Can be Found Without Love

31b And now I will show you the most excellent way.
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

READ MacArthur, pg 329  ¶ 2-5

Paul speaks in the first person, showing that this applies to himself as well as to his readers.

tongues of men and of angels” – Paul may be saying there are separate languages OR Paul may be being all inclusive by all who spoke languages we know of.  Since angels are appointed over men, it is reasonable that they speak the language of that respective nation.

The Greek word used for tongues is the literal tongue, it means language.  It would be equivalent to you and I saying, “Jim enjoys speaking in his mother tongue.”

The implication is “known” languages.  Although there is nothing in scripture that even infers an “angelic language,” and angels always speak in men’s languages when communicating with men, this does not preclude an angelic language – it just doesn’t seem to support it.

To help us interpret the meaning we have to look at the context of the teaching surrounding the text.

The central message of this passage is not to teach on language – these verses are obviously hyperbole in order to drive the point about love home.  Any secondary teaching about known/unknown languages is only inferred, not taught in this passage.

The central message: Any supernaturally bestowed spiritual gift becomes useless without love.

Note that Paul is not simply saying tongues is unimportant – he also classes it with prophecy which is highly touted in 1 Cor. 14:1, 5.  This will be important to our understanding of v13:8 where he says all the gifts will cease at some time.

The absence of love in ministry means that I am changed for the worse. “I have become hollow,” “I am nothing,” “I gain nothing for all my effort.”

The greatest truth, spoken in the most elegant way, falls short without love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Qualities of Love

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.



¿: What is the source of our love? [Gal 5:22-23]

There are 15 QUALITIES of love mentioned.  Each is like a color in a brilliant diamond.  They are all active words, adding their individual hue to the whole.

Love does not “feel” these qualities, it is these qualities in their ACTIVE sense.  Love does not feel patient is acts out in patience.

patient – “unwearied endurance under provocation”
Ü Love’s patience is the ability to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of by a person over and over again and yet not becoming upset or angry.

kind – “active goodness manifest toward the interests of others”
Ü Same root as used in Matt 11:30 (“easy” = “kind”)

Patience takes anything from others, kindness gives anything to others.

è == Love Does Not Exist With the Following == ç
“not envy (or jealousy) – “to have strong desire for”
Ü Envy has two forms:
  1) I want what you have
  2) I wish you didn’t have it
¿: Have you ever talked behind someone’s back in jealousy?  If so, you are trying to take something from them.

Ü Envy puts others down

A loving person is never envious.  He is loving toward another even if their success works against his own.

“not boast (or bragging) – “to parade oneself”
Ü Boasting is the other side of envy.

Ü Boasting builds self up

Envy is to want what others have.  Boasting is making others want what you have.

C.S. Lewis called bragging the “utmost evil.”  It is the epitome of pride which is the root of original sin.

“not proud – “to be puffed up in ones own mind”
Ü Pride is taking what you have or do and glorifying yourself in your own eyes.

Ü Ezekiel 28:11-19 chronicles the pride of satan

“not rude (or “act unbecomingly” NASB) – “to be inconsiderate of others feelings”
Ü Love is gracious

Ü Our attitudes and behaviors, especially in the name of righteousness, are less righteous than what we may be criticizing.

Our gracelessness is never excused even in light of behavior we may consider offensive.

“not self-seeking – “wanting to have ones own way”
Ü Love is not preoccupied with it’s own things but with the interests of others

Ü Two tombstones on England that talk of self-seeking love
Here lies a miser who lived for himself,
Who cared for nothing but gathering wealth.
Now where he is and how he fares;
Nobody knows and nobody cares.
Sacred to the memory of General Charles George Gordon, who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.

“not easily angered – “aroused to strong feelings of displeasure” (exasperated in Greek)
Ü Love does not get self-defensive or seek retaliation when someone displeases us or prevents us from having our way

“no keep record of wrongs (or take into account) – a bookkeeping term that means to calculate or reckon. It’s purpose is to make a permanent record that can be consulted when needed
Ü Resentment is careful to keep books, which it reads and re-reads for one purpose – to settle the score

Ü Love does not forgive and forget, love remembers and still forgives

“not delight in evil – to delight in evil is to justify it; to make the wrong appear right
Ü Isaiah 5:20 warns about this
¿: Name some movies where the protagonist “wins” by doing wrong?  Do we cheer (or overlook) such behavior?

Ü Delighting in evil can be taking pleasure in misfortunes that befall our enemies

Ü Gossip is delighting in evil.  Gossip that is true is still gossip

è ============= ç
rejoice with truth – God’s truth is consistent with love
Ü 2 John 6 compares love to God’s commands (truth)

protects – “protects others from exposure, ridicule, or harm”
Ü Proverbs 10:12 discusses loves protection

Ü Love never protects sin, but is anxious to protect the sinner

When a best friend does wrong, are we quick to cover her faults by saying, “She didn’t mean it”
Then when a person we don’t like sins are we quick to offer, “That’s typical of him?”

trusts – “believes all things”
Ü When there is doubt about guilt or motivation, love opts for the favorable possibility

Ü If guilty, love credits the best motives; love believes

¿: What did Job’s friends believe about him? [his misfortune was due to sin]

Hatred believes the worst

hopes – when love runs out of faith it still hopes in God’s never-ceasing grace.
Ü When our hope becomes weak, our love has become weak

perseveres – it endures all things, at all costs
The Greek for this word is a military term used of an army holding their position at all cost

Ü Love that preserves bears the unbearable, believes the unbelievable, and hopes in the hopeless
1 Corinthians 13:8-12
Permanence of Love

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Love never fails” – does not mean it wins (as in success).  It means it lasts.
The Greek word behind “fails” basically means to fall, like a flower petal at the end of the season

Love does not overpower human will -> It cannot always accomplish OUR purposes but without love the Kingdom is not advanced.

prophecies… cease” & “knowledge… pass away” – [katargeō (grk)] – “to abolish” – passive tense means that someone or something causes it to stop

tongues…stilled” – [pauō (grk)] – “to stop/come to end” – middle voice indicates a self-causing action. It will stop by itself.

in part” – we can only partly comprehend with our finite minds.
¿: When does the partial become full?
¿: What is the “partial”?

Love does not end, all else is only for a time.  All the gifts will cease when no longer needed.  There is debate regarding the reference to perfection is accomplished.
Ü Is perfection when the New Testament was completed?
Ü Is perfection when the church reaches maturity?
Ü Is perfection when Christ returns?
Ü Is perfection when there’s a new heaven and new earth?

¿: How does the understanding of when the perfection coming affect our understanding of the gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge?

¿: How does v12 influence our understanding of “perfection?”

¿: Is v11 (“when I became”) implying perfection had occurred?
poor reflection” – Corinth was known for it’s Corinthian bronze mirrors

V11-12 talk of our current state.  Some day we will see Him face to face
1 Corinthians 13:13
The Greatness of Love

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

faith, hope and love” – one commentator call these “the main moral principles characteristic of Christianity.”

These are the “fruit of the spirit” of the Christian life.  They will outlast the gifts of the spirit.

Faith & Hope have no purpose in heaven.  Love remains.
¿: In the context of chapter 12-14 how do you apply “the greatest of these is love?”

Personal Application:
Living Love now is of the utmost importance.  The way to live love is in the actions/attitudes which define our life.

¿: Which of the 15 qualities do you most need to lean on the Lord to change in your life?
¿: Will willpower help make these changes?

  • 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Appendix – Greek Names for Love

The English language only has one word for love and it is used interchangeably for almost everything. We can say I love my husband and I love Chocolate. Both are using the same word and it is only by the context that we can ascertain the difference. The Greeks, on the other hand, have four different words to describe love. Each word gives a different nuance to the word that helps us understand more fully what is being spoken of.


Eros is the first type of love we are all familiar with. Our English word Erotica is derived from the word Eros. Sadly, some people never get passed this type of love and base their relationships purely on sexual attraction. This is the type of love that merchandisers tend to play on with the public trying to get us to buy their products to make us more attractive to the opposite sex.
Erotic love is not a deep meaningful love but superficial and based on sexual attractiveness only.


Storge is what we find in families between the different members. It is the love of mother, father, brothers and sisters. This is a much stronger type of love and involves commitment. “Blood is thicker than water” and most people will do all they can to stand behind their families.


Philia is pertaining to what we might call a brotherly love. Not brotherly in the sense of family, but in the sense of kinsmenship. This is the type of love that makes us want to help the little old lady cross the street safely and watch out for our fellow man. It is a good type of love and helps us to see others as needing our love but, sadly, it can often also be a selfish love.


Agape is the highest form of love there is. This is an unconditional love for others in spite of their character flaws and weaknesses. It is a difficult love to obtain simply because we, as humans, are usually concerned more with ourselves and how the world and people around us affect us. In order to love in the agape way, we must overcome our selfishness and look to the needs of others.

The essence of agape love is self-sacrifice. Agape love is unique and is distinguished by its nature and character.
This word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.

God loves the unlovable and the unlovely (us!), not because we deserve to be loved, but because it is His nature to do so, and He must be true to His nature and character. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the Cross, where Christ died for the unworthy creatures who were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), not because we did anything to deserve it, “but God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

The object of agape love never does anything to merit love.
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