In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul penned some of the most famous words on love. This passage is quoted at weddings, among friends, and about our posture toward our neighbors.
By Brandon D. Smith, Christian Standard Bible
And it’s not wrong, by any means, to appropriate this passage in those settings. But it seems that Paul was directly addressing a specific issue in the Corinthian church—theological pride.
In chapter 12, Paul takes up the issue of spiritual gifts. His point can be summarized in verse 12: “For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). Paul’s primary concern is to see the church at Corinth not bicker about who has the best gift, but instead for them to appreciate how each person contributes to the overall mission of the church.
Then, in chapter 13, he shifts into exhortations about loving one another.
If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
–1 Corinthians 13:1-3
The Corinthian church is famously divided, and the division always seems to come back to various theological debates. They argue over whose teaching is best (Chapter 3), food offered to idols (Chapter 8), liberty in Christ (Chapter 10), and so on. And Paul continually tries to remind them that they’re not all right about everything all the time.
In a partisan world where Jews and Greeks had several wildly different customs and philosophies that informed their theology, Paul wanted them to embrace the others’ perspective while also focusing on the more important issues of the gospel, the resurrection, and their call to be united even in their diversity.
In an attempt to offer five exercises in theological humility, I hope we can recover some of what Paul was so doggedly fighting for in his attempt to unify the theologically and culturally diverse church in Corinth.