1 Corinthians 13 is probably read publicly most often in wedding services. When I plan those services with engaged couples, I can almost predict with certainty when I ask, “What passages would you like to have read at the service,” that they will invariably respond with dreamy-eyed glances at each other, “1 Corinthians 13.”
And there is nothing wrong with that. But 1 Corinthians 13, known by many as “the love chapter,” was not written primarily for wedding readings. It applies more broadly than to couples on the precipice of marriage, and it applies to more than just married individuals.
Paul wrote these words not to those about to be married, but to a church that was divided religiously (3:4ff) and socially (11:17-22), and riddled with all manner of sordid sin (e.g., 5:1-2; 6:1-6). It is in that context that love is to be demonstrated. When individuals love those who are unlovely with 1 Corinthians 13 kind-of-love, then that church is one that exemplifies Christ. [We also do well to remember that this love should be demonstrated toward those who are also our enemies: Mt. 5:44-45.]
Keeping that in mind, here are some questions derived from vv. 4-8 that test our ability to love those who are more difficult to love and those whom we naturally would tend to avoid rather than love:
- Am I patient with those who are perpetually difficult?
- Am I kind to those who are unkind?
- Am I humble when both praised and criticized and am I humble when others receive unjust praise (even accolades that belong to me)?
- Do I always act graciously — according to the need of the moment? Am I above reproof?
- Do I see the best for others ahead of myself? Am I willing to not seek my needs or desires?
- Do I refrain from anger or retribution — even when others seem to be intentionally attempting to provoke me to anger and bait me into a battle?
- Do I intentionally forget offenses and not hold them against others?
- Do I love what is righteous and hate what is evil?
- Do I rejoice in all things that are true — and in my opportunities to defend and uphold the truth, even when it is costly to me? Do I defend and speak the truth lovingly and graciously?
- Do I offer protection and peace to those who are in need — even those who may attack and be critical of me?
- Do I always believe the best about a circumstance and refrain from quick judgment without all the facts?
- Am I willing to endure anything and everything as an opportunity to love — even the one who appears to hate me?
- Am I willing to persist in loving my enemy? Do I believe that if I persist in love, it will not fail?