1 Corinthians 13 Paraphrased
1 Corinthians 13, “The Love Chapter,” is used most often in weddings as a way to describe human love.
But if you look closer, the love described here is not like human love at all. A love that “keeps no record of wrongs?” That doesn’t sound like most relationships I know.
A love that’s patient? Always trusts? Is that the kind of love we experience with other people? I don’t think so!
The Love Chapter is not an accurate picture of human love, but a revelation of God’s love – holy love. It shows us love of a different breed – something we can’t pull off on our own. The quality of God’s love for us is nothing like the quality of love that we humans have for one another. Human love is derivative of the original, a copy of a copy. Human love is, as Paul says, a shabby and “tainted reflection” of the holy love we were created to dwell in.
And yet the love of God is the ideal we strive to emulate to as we consider what it means to love God and our neighbor. This ideal version of love is modeled for us here in 1 Corinthians 13. The primary purpose of this passage of scripture is not to show you how you ought to love others, but to describe the way God loves you.
Of course, the meaning doesn’t stop there. It also teaches us how to love others. But these words can’t begin to be understood in those terms until it is first fully apprehended as a description of God’s holy love for each one of us.
I am no Eugene Peterson; the paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 that follows is my clumsy attempt to expose the heart of this sacred text and allow it’s thump-thump-thump to change the rhythm of your own heart.
Hear the heartbeat of God’s love for you anew as you read:
Nothing Without Love (vv 1-3)
1. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I utter nonsense babblings on the one hand or deliver clever, pie-in-the-sky rhetoric on the other – but have not heard the truth that I am first and foremost a beloved child of God, every syllable sputters. If I don’t first understand that my maker loves me regardless of any jig my tongue can dance, I am a smash-mouthed nothing. Just a banging gong or a choppy cymbal; a piano far out of tune or a guitar with broken strings; a concert violinist fidgeting with a shredded bow.
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 do not have love, I am nothing.
If I have the gift of prophecy –
if I can rightly divide the Word of God with the best of them, teach so skilfully that even a child can understand the Four Spiritual Laws and the Romans Road and any other such vain attempt to box in and put corners on the Living Water of Christ … If I can do all that, but somehow manage to miss the first point of all of those messages – that I am loved by God – I have lost the plot.
If I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge –
If I am a real brainiac with a Bible in one hand and a dung-pile of degrees in the other … If I am the one people come to for answers, and if I flatter myself into thinking I have more than half a clue about the wisdom of Go but somehow I fail to grasp the most important truth – that God loves me – then I am a fool indeed. If I don’t get that “God so loved the world” means “God so loved me,” I am dumber than a bag of hammers.
If I have a faith that can move mountains –
If I have seen God’s power manifested in ways that would make your insides loop-the-loop… if I trust God so much that I have the courage to step out into parts unknown, but don’t have the greater courage to simply trust that He loves me... whatever I accomplish is meaningless. Those mountains may as well have never moved in the first place. God’s love has better things to do than relocate rock piles.
3. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor –
If I make Mother Teresa look like a fat-cat Wall Street tycoon … if I am so obedient to God’s decrees for social justice that I give til it hurts, and then a little more … if I march for the rights of unborn human children, stand up for the victims of human trafficking, care for every widow and orphan I meet, but somehow lose sight of the fact that God so loved me, I may have done some good but I have lost what matters most.
If I give over my body to the flames so that I may boast –
If I am unafraid to stand up and testify in the hostile courtroom of today’s culture ... if I am so unashamed of the Gospel of Christ that people throw tomatoes at me, can’t stand to be around me, shut me out, unfriend me, cut me out of the will, persecute me … if I am one of those people who don’t care what you think about me, just as long as I get a chance to share the message – if I do all this for Jesus, but never comprehend how His own suffering was borne out of His deep affection for me, I gain less than zero.
A Different Breed of Love (vv 4-7)
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
God’s love for you is patient –
He isn’t pushy, because no one can love in a hurry. His love doesn’t force you to do anything, to be anywhere, to pick up the pace. When you’re stuck in traffic, He is happy to be stuck with you, talking and singing and laughing with you.
God’s limitless love for you is kind –
He’s never going to dress you down for wearing the wrong thing or embarass you by dragging out your past failures. His love isn’t out to make you look bad. You are a co-heir to His throne, and He treats you like one. He knows your faults, and He chooses to look past them all.
God’s love does not envy the false gods you keep –
He waits patiently while you worship at the mall of materialism, build a shrine to weight loss, seek praise for yourself on social media, and kneel at the altar of knowledge. The way we treat Him is heartbreaking, but God’s love is not extinguished by our frequently misplaced affections.
God’s love for you does not boast –
He isn’t in it for the attention – He would love you if there was no one else in the world to see it.
The love God has for you is not proud –
He would walk 500 miles and more to be with you. He would cross the raging sea. He would give up all His glory and become one of us. He was willing to suffer shame and be humiliated on Calvary – all in the name of His love for you.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
God’s love for you does not dishonor others –
He loves everyone else as much as He loves you. Don’t get cocky – who are you to judge? Your neighbors, your enemies, your friends and foes are all loved by God just the same way you are – without limit.
God’s love for you is not self-seeking –
He is never so busy with “important” things that He doesn’t make time for you. If He was testifying before Congress and you called, He would pick up the phone. You are never an interruption; you are that important to Him.
God’s love for you is not easily angered –
And aren’t you glad for that? Please note that I didn’t say “never angered,” just “not easily” angered. Just the same, that is something we should all be very glad for!
God’s love for you keeps no record of wrongs –
Even though you insist on keeping a stack of dismal scorecards in your closet. Why do you replay your failures when He has blotted them all out?
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Just because He loves you doesn’t mean you don’t disappoint Him when you make bad choices. It tears Him apart when you do what you know is wrong, when you harm yourself, or others, or Him. But by the same token, He rockets through the roof with joy when you say and do the right things.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
God’s love for you always protects you –
Life’s storms are too dangerous to face alone. You need shelter, and that’s exactly what God’s love is. Won’t you swallow your pride and take refuge in His everlasting love?
God’s love for you always trusts you –
Enough to give you another chance – even if you’ve dropped the ball a thousand times.
God’s love for you always hopes for the best –
Even if your life has been a tragedy of errors. His love hopes in you especially when you have given up on yourself.
God’s love for you always perseveres –
Even when the road get long. More tenacious than Churchill, God’s love for you never, ever gives up. Ever!
Reflections & Remains (vv 8-13)
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.
God’s love for you never fails –
He never runs out of gas. He never runs out of faith. He never gets tired. He never lets up. He never lets go.
But where there are prophecies and pamphlets, TV preachers and big tent revivals, they will cease –
Who needs them anyway? The love of God is more persuasive than ten thousand crusades.
Where there are tongues and TED talks that ooze spirituality, they will be canceled –
All of man’s tapes will eventually be paused, stopped, and ejected, but the love of God will keep on playing forever.
Where there is knowledge and people are high on intellectualism, where people mistake the task of Bible memorization for the journey of discipleship – such things will pass away.
God doesn’t care about your IQ. The love of God sails right on by the mothballed ships of human knowledge.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
We comprehend just a little, and we speak just a little more –
We struggle to grasp a love so bold; it is just too vast for us to imagine. We struggle once again to proclaim this kind of love to others and somehow do it justice. All words fall short, so for now we have to be content with scratching the surface.
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
But it won’t always be that way. One day, when heaven comes to earth, skin diving in the shallows will give way to touching the depths of the ocean floor.
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 the ways of childhood behind me.
We all start small. But when I finally came of age, I couldn’t wait to put the ways of childhood behind me. I opened my heart and my soul, my mind and my strength, to bigger and better things. I grew up!
12 For now we see only a 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 so it is with the love of God. For today we see only a reflection of His love in the dingy mirror universe we call human love; but then we shall stand face to face with the real thing.
Now I have only half the puzzle complete. Everything I know of God’s love for me in this life is just a sample spoonful. But then… oh man. Then I will feast on His love until I need a new belt.
Now I sip through the narrow straw of human love, then I will drink from the fire hose. When God’s love is revealed, I shall know Him in full, even as I am fully wrapped in His embrace even now.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
And here’s one you can take to the bank: when all else passes away and all the crust of religion is gone – these three will remain undefeated: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these three – the big fish you’ve got to land – is God’s love for you.