This passage of scripture is one of the most popular sections from the bible. It is commonly read at wedding ceremonies, funerals and other church occassions. Tony Blair (Prime Minister of the Unitied Kingdom between 1997 and 2007) read from 1 Corinthians 13 at the funeral of Lady Diana in 1997, and more recently, the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama quoted from verse 11 ("When I was a child, I spoke as a child ...etc") in his inaugural address to the nation in 2009.
Context of 1 Corinthians 13
St Paul's first letter to the church at Corinthian seeks to address various factions that have emerged within church life. Some are followers of Paul, others of Cephas, and still others of Apollos. Division in the church is intensified further by disagreements over the spiritual gifts, including "speaking in tongues". Paul seeks to address this issue by emphasising the centrality of love, which is important over and above all other gifts and talents. This is to be no ordinary type of love, but "agape" love, a love which is selfless, unconditional, and voluntary.
Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13
The first of the commentaries on this site is by Matthew Henry (1162-1714, England) taken from the "Concise Commentary on the Bible". Here, Henry notes that the word "charity" (used in the King James Version) is not to be understood as "almsgiving" (or the modern day usage of this term which is connected with giving to the poor) but rather it is about God's love: "love in its fullest meaning; true love to God and man". In the next section of this commentary, Henry's exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13 notes that Paul explores the meaning of this love - it does not seek it's own praise or pleasure, but instead defers to the welfare of others. Henry interprets the final section of 1 Corinthians to mean that it is love that is supreme, for one day faith and hope will no longer be necessary when we see God face to face, yet love will always endure.
Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910, non-conformist minister) is interested in explaining what Paul means by "What will drop away" when the perfect comes. He concludes this explanation of 1 Corinthians 13 by believing that everything we currently know, everything that makes up our lives, will pass away "when we get yonder". He next asks the question "What will last?" and likens faith, hope and love to the three primary colours which are unified in a white beam of light. In the final exposition section, MacLaren exhorts the reader to live a life which is full of the perminant, everlasting things of this white light, because these are the things which are truely of worth and shall last "as long as Christ, their Object, lives, and as long as we in Him live also".
Also in this section is a sermon on 1 Corinthians 13 entitled "Now, and Then" by the famous nineteenth century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, and another sermon entitled "Love's Labours". Finally, we have some thoughts on 1 Corinthians 13 taken from John Wesley's Notes on the bible.
Wesley (1703-1791) is credited (along with his hymn writing brother Charles Wesley) as being the founder of the Methodist movement in the United Kingdom. The notes on 1 Cor 13 explore some of the meaning behind the words and phrases used in this chapter.
1 Corinthians 13 Bible Versions
Further down the navigation on the left-hand side of this page is a section with various bible versions of this famous chapter from Corinthians. There's 1 Corinthians 13 from the KJV (King James Version, also known as the "Authorized Version" of the Bible) . There's a catholic version of the chapter, as well as the reading of 1 Corinthians 13 from Young's Literal Translation and the words from the American Standard and the Weymouth New Testament Version. For those learning english, there's 1 Cor 13 from the Bible in Basic English, which also may be useful as a verison for older children to read.
1 Corinthians 13 text
1 If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don’t have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing. 3 If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, 5 doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; 6 doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10 but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three. The greatest of these is love.