Many Christians consider 1 Corinthians 13 as one of their favorite chapters in the Bible. It is the “love” chapter. Countless topical sermons are preached from this text. Many wedding ceremonies use this text as a focus. Yet, many people likely do not realize the context of this great chapter. Paul is addressing conduct between Christians especially as it relates to worship assemblies. Believers at Corinth were segregating themselves over social class (chapter 11) and even over spiritual gifts (chapter 12). Chapter 13 is a strategic section (in the broader discussion of chapters 11-14) regarding the conduct of Christians especially when assembled for worship.
There was no shortage of spiritual gifts present among the believers of this congregation (12:4-11). For some reason, it appears that an elitist attitude had infiltrated the church. Some apparently were teaching that tongue-speaking was the greatest spiritual gift (cf. 14:18-19). Paul later makes clear that the gift of prophecy is of greater value than other spiritual gifts (14:1). However, there is a “more excellent” way than even the spiritual gifts (12:31). God wants his children to do everything with a spirit of love for one another.
This congregation had all the tools for a dynamic and Spirit-filled (literally) worship service. But Paul argues that even an excellent worship assembly is nothing but worthless noise if not done in an attitude of love toward others. Tongue speaking is empty racket without love (13:1). Even inspired teaching and mountain-moving-faith is pointless without love (13:2). The highest forms of dedication and sacrifice gain nothing if those actions omit love for others (13:3).
When it comes to differences and variations in the worship assembly we must make sure we have love for one another (13:1-7). We must be patient and gentle with one another. We must not envy one another or boast about ourselves. We must destroy arrogance and rudeness and we must not insist that things be done “our way.” We must not be easily irritated and must avoid becoming resentful. We must not rejoice when the methods of those with whom we disagree fail. Regardless of the methodology, we must rejoice anytime the truth is upheld and proclaimed. We must protect one another and give one another the benefit of the doubt. Even when our best efforts fail, we must not lose hope. We must not be overwhelmed by circumstances but endure by putting up with more than a lot with one another. When it comes to our worship assemblies, no matter what else is done, love must “never fail.”
Why should we put such a premium on having love toward one another when it comes to the “worship wars”? Because all spiritual gifts will cease (13:8-10). Worship services will end. And what remains? When the tongues cease, the prophesy stops, the songs end, and the prayers are prayed, what did it produce within us? Did we love each other? There is nothing more counter to the Spirit of God than to be divided over worship. Worship is meant to bring us together, not isolate and separate us. Love must be our guide in worship.
Paul makes clear that love does not “insist on having its own way” (13:5, ESV). A neglect of this description of love is the fuel that feeds many of the worship wars among us. If I am acting in love, I will not demand that only older hymns are sung. If I am acting in love, I will not insist that we sing all contemporary praise anthems. Equally important is that “love is not rude” (13:5, ESV). If I am acting in love, I will not insult those who love Stamps-Baxter hymns or songs written by the Gaithers. If I am acting in love, I will not show disdain for newer worship songs by contemptuously calling them “campfire songs.” When it comes to our worship assemblies, love dictates that we must not be “irritable or resentful.” To do otherwise it to act like immature children.
When it comes to our worship, we must “give up childish ways” (13:11-12). We must see past petty differences and opinions and look in the mirror clearly. Worship is all about expressions of love. We are to love God and love one another in worship. It is all about “knowing” and “being known” (13:12). We all want to be understood. We all want to be “known.” We must open ourselves to one another and encourage one another to lay down our weapons and open our hearts before God. We must all stop hiding in the trenches while the bombs of the worship wars go off all around us. Let’s call a cease-fire of love and meet one another halfway on the field and really look at each other “face to face.”
The church must always stand for truth. We must unwaveringly embrace the faith. We must hold firmly to our hope. But there is something greater than our faith. There is even something greater than our hope. The Bible says it best, “the greatest of these is love” (13:13). We must always worship in truth, but we must never omit a spirit of love from our assemblies. Worshipping in a spirit of love for one another immerses us in the very presence of the One who is Himself love. The fourth principle is:
“Even excellent worship is worthless noise if not done in an attitude of love toward others. Love must guide our worship and bring us together not separate us.”
© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.