1 Corinthians 13
Is Christ Divided?
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.
Week sixteen, beginning Sunday 4 November: 1 Corinthians 13
Main theme: The priority of love
Questions to prompt discussion
1.What is love? What does the culture think love is? And how is Christian love something different?
2.What is the role of this chapter in the argument of the letter as a whole? In other words, how does this chapter sum up what has gone before?
3.Paul describes things that may get in the way of love for the Corinthians - can you think of things which get in the way of love for the church in Mersea? What can we do to become more loving? Are there any disciplines which help?
The English word 'love' does not necessarily capture the full flavour of the Greek word 'agapē' which Paul is using in this passage (the KJV translates it as 'charity' but that's not necessarily an improvement!). We tend to use the word 'love' for all of these different senses: eros - love linked to an appreciation of beauty, often with sexual desire but not always ("Platonic love" is still erotic in this sense); philia - friendship, formed by a common attachment to a shared purpose; and agapē - general compassion and benevolence. The Bible develops the language of agapē significantly, not least in the Johannine writings (God is agapē - 1 John 4.8). Our wider culture also has a rather indistinct and romantic notion of love which is, again, dissimilar from the Christian notion of agapē.
The chapter looks back to the arguments over matters seen as important in Corinth (eg spiritual gifts, social hierarchy) and forward to the resurrection (chapter 15). It splits into three distinct sections: vv 1-3 that the absence of love makes otherwise noble endeavours worthless (note that the endeavours increase in import progressively); vv 4-7 describe what love is (note the active character of what is described, it's not an inward sentiment); vv 8-13 articulate the eternal quality of love (foreshadowing the resurrection). There is some academic speculation that this passage is not written by Paul, because it is quite different in style to the rest of the latter. However, given the natural fit of the subject matter with the content and purpose of the letter as a whole I see no reason to doubt Pauline authorship. Tom Wright makes the interesting point that Paul could never have written such a passage unless he could have counted on the Corinthian church recognising him in it, ie that they knew Paul as someone who displayed such loving character.
Notes on verses
v3 - cf Mark 10.21
v 6 - cf 5.1-8
v12 - a mirror would have been highly polished metal at this time
v 13 - a consistent theme in Paul, cf Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5:5-6; Colossians 1:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 5:8.