Study Sheet for I Corinthians 13 (click here for Study Notes)
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. 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. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
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. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 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. 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.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (NIV)
Paul prefaces this passage on love by segueing from his discussion of spiritual gifts: "And now I will show you the most excellent way," he says in 12:31. That "most excellent way" is acting in love.
1. Paul opens this section by using hyperbole. "If I speak in the tongues (alternate translation: languages) of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." What characterizes the love to which Paul refers, and why are we simply making noise if we exercise the gift of tongues or languages without it? (John 10:11; 13:34-35; 15:13; I John 3:16; Php. 2:17; I Thess. 2:8)
2. What is love, and how do we obtain it? (I John 4:8, 12-13, 16; 3:24; Gal. 5:22)
3. Paul names four more spiritual gifts-prophecy, knowledge, faith, and giving-and says if he exercises these without love, he is nothing and he gains nothing. How is it possible that the exercise of spiritual gifts can be of no account to the gifted one without love?
Paul now describes love by both telling what it does and what it does not do.
1. What does it actually mean to say, "Love is patient"? (I Cor. 8:1; Prov. 14:29; 15:18; Eph. 4:2; Eph. 3:1; I Thess. 5:14; 2 Pet. 3:9)
2. Next Paul says love does not envy or boast and is not proud. Pride can masquerade as competence or knowledge or permissiveness or even service and generosity. What are the hallmarks of pride that should warn us we're not acting in love? (Prov. 16:18-19; I Cor. 5:2; Prov. 18:12; Romans 12:16; 2 Tim. 3:2; I Peter 5:5-6)
3. Why is the fact that love "keeps no record of wrongs" such an important concept for us? (Job 14:16-17; Prov. 10:12; 17:9; Jer. 31:34; Micah 7:19;1 Peter 4:8; James 1:26; 3:9; 5:20; Matt. 18:21-22; Eph. 4:32; Hebrews 8:12)
"Love never fails," Paul declares. It will last even after spiritual gifts are gone.
1. How is love different from the spiritual gifts, and if both the fruits and the gifts are from the Spirit, why does love (and even the other fruits) not fail while gifts do? (see Gal. 5:22)
2. Why do prophecy, tongues, and knowledge ultimately "pass away"? (verse 9, 12)
3. Paul says (v.9) that "we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears." In what way(s) and why are prophecy and knowledge partial or imperfect? (see I Cor. 2:9-16; 8:2; 12:17-20; 13:12)
4. The Greek word translated "perfection" here implies "end," "fulfillment," "completeness," or "maturity." What is the perfection that is to come? (Php. 3:12; I Cor. 13:11,12)
Paul inserts his comments about moving from childhood to manhood between his statement about imperfect knowledge and prophecy passing away when perfection comes and his statement about seeing and knowing in part now and knowing and seeing fully in the future. (v. 10-12)
1. In verse 12 where Paul says, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror," to what is he referring? (Job 26:14; 36:26)
2. What does he mean when he says, "then we shall see face to face"? ((Gen. 32:30; Job 19:26; I John 3:2)
3. Paul is quite specific that when we are God's, we don't fully know him, but he knows us. Why do you think Paul makes this distinction, and how does our love result in God knowing us? (Jeremiah 1:5; I Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9; Romans 8:29)
4. How are childish thinking and incomplete knowing related to Paul's assertion that prophecy, knowledge, and other spiritual gifts are imperfect or incomplete?
5. How are maturity and perfection related to knowing fully?
Paul frequently links faith, hope and love in his epistles.
1. What exactly are faith, hope, and love, and in what (or for what) do we have faith, hope and love? (Romans 5:2-5; Gal. 5:5,6; Eph. 4:2-5; Col 1:4,5; I Thes. 1:3; 5:8; Hebrews 6:10-12)
2. How are faith, hope, and love related, and how are they different? (see above texts)
3. In what way(s) is love in a different category from faith and hope?
4. Why is love the greatest of these three? (Matt. 23:37-40; I Cor. 16:14; Gal. 5:6; I John 4:7-12, 16; I Cor. 13:8)
Because we still live in "sinful flesh", our living by the power of the Spirit is in tension with our natural desires and reactions.
1. What spiritual gifts do you have for which you feel a bit proud?
2. What spiritual gifts do you have which it seems others do not recognize or fully appreciate?
3. In what areas of your life do you harbor or display impatience, meanness, envy, pride or boasting, rudeness, self-seeking, anger, grudges, gossip, distrust, despair, or laziness?
1. What spiritual gifts have been more important to you than the practice of love and humility?
2. What spiritual gifts-or desire for recognition of your spiritual gifts-do you need to submit to God, asking him to reveal the truth to you about your own motives and about his will for you?
3. What secret feeling of superiority do you need to submit to Jesus, asking him to humble you and to do in you what He desires to do?
4. Praise God for saving you and for gifting you with his Spirit, and ask him to fill your heart with his love so it will overflow-so you can love the people in your life for God.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised July 24, 2000.