So many wonderful sermons have been preached on the text from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians chapter 13 – “the love chapter.” At the same time, it is often the case that messages on 1 Corinthians 13 are detached from the context to which this chapter is vitally connected. While in one sense it is understandable how this happened, as this chapter is a literary masterpiece on its own; however, to understand what Paul is teaching, we must study 1 Corinthians 13 in light of the rich variety of spiritual gifts described in chapter 12, and the proper use of those gifts explained in chapter 14.
The text of 1 Corinthians 13 quite clearly breaks down into three parts. First in verses 1-3, we see the necessity of love; verses 4-7 reveal the superiority of love; and finally verses 8-13 affirm the permanency of love.
First as to necessity of love, we learn that even if one should operate in all of the highest of spiritual gifts, to the greatest use possible, without love, one produces nothing, gains nothing, and is nothing. Even gifts of mercy and sacrifice, which one might consider loving, can be meaningless if done in the absence of love.
As to the superiority of love in verses 4-7, Paul contrasts love’s behavior with the behavior of those who place an inordinate value of spiritual gifts. More than a definition of love, this is a picture of what love looks like in action.
Finally then in verse 8-13, in contrast to the spiritual gifts, which are for time alone, love will go on manifesting itself forever. While the gifts are bestowed for a temporal purpose, and once having served that purpose, cease to be, love never fails.