I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: 1 Corinthians 13
B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …
C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday in February 13
- First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)
- Psalm 112:1-9 (10)
- Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16)
- Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1 Speech without love is only noise.
2 Prophecies used without love fall on deaf ears. Consider Samuel’s use of the prophecy he received while sleeping in the Temple with Eli. He tells Eli only reluctantly, because of the love he has for Eli, yet if he did not love Eli he could have used the prophecy for Eli’s downfall..
3 Martyrdom without love is suicide. Contrast this with Father Kolbe (sp?), who chose death out of love for his fellow Concentration Camp prisoners.
6 Love does not rejoice at the downfall of one’s enemy.
8b These are the very gifts that Paul notes in the next chapter that are so sought after.
13 Does Paul mean that all other spiritual gifts will pass away, except these three? Has he expanded on faith and hope elsewhere?
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
- 3 [ kauqhsomai | kauchswmai ] These words differ only in two letters which are similar in sound. This could have easily been a scribal error. Most translations favor ‘I may be burned’, but the NRSV favors ‘I may boast’. The former is more consistent with the theme of sacrifice in this sentence.
II. Literary Study.
A. What is the context of the passage, and the book?
- In the preceding Chapter, Paul explains the necessity of the variety of gifts. He compares the variety of gifts in a congregation to the variety of functions in a body. Thus each gift is essential for the life of the whole body.
- The chapter is followed by an argument on the proper use of speaking in tongues and seeking after spiritual gifts. Set after the “Love Chapter,” Paul appears to use speaking in tongues as an example of how not using the gift of love minimizes the value of a spiritual gift and how to discern proper use of a spiritual gift with love for those present.
B. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?
- This letter is at least Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth (5:9). It was written in response to a letter from this church (7:1).
- The city of Corinth is a busy Greek seaport and capital. It was famous for its prosperity, trade, and materialism, but infamous for its prostitutes. Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility, was their patron diety. The city set the standard for luxury and licentiousness.
- The congregation contained a diverse cross-section of the population: rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and landowner, educated and not. The diversity may have driven the formation of factions within the congregation (11:17-34). The conduct of the members ranged from asceticism to licentiousness.
- The letter may be considered in two sections: rical in style. However this text interrupts the rhetoric and is almost poetic. It is a breather from Paul’s assertive answers to the Corinthians answers.
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
- gegona is Perfect, Active, Indicative, First person, Singular in contrast to v. 4 where the verbs are Passive.
- agape — the Latin translation of this word yields the word charity. This is not lust (eros), not sexuality, not romantic love, not courtly love; not friendship(filia), but concern WITH other children of God. Although the Greek words for “love” have significant overlap (see below under commentaries).
III. Question the text.
B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?
The mirror/face-to-face and child/adult metaphors imply that we are incomplete in our understanding of love and of God.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Paul explains that spiritual gifts should be used with charity, otherwise they are useless.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- The best of spiritual gifts are imperfect now and thus REQUIRE the use of charity with these gifts to compensate for the imperfections.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- As a reoccurring wedding text, it is probably selected as hope for what the love between the couple might be, as a description of love, and as a passing from childhood to adulthood. But really this text is a description of how to use other gifts.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Roy A. Harrisville (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: I Corinthians). “If, for Paul, love is to the spiritual gifts what Christ is to the members of his body, and if love is the presence of Christ in his body, then “love,” that way beyond all this” spells “Christ.” He partitions the chapter in to three sections [perhaps a three point sermon]: 1-3: the uselessness/nothingness of gifts apart from love; 4-7: love’s nature and activity; and 8-13: love’s imperishibility.
Craig Blomberg (The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians). “The verb agapaw can be used interchangeably with fileo (e.g. in John 21:15-17) [Perhaps the meanings overlap, but in the John 21 passage Jesus uses agapaw while Peter responds with fileo. Peter isn’t getting Jesus’ question.], while in the LXX agapaw can even refer to Amnon’s incestuous love/lust for his sister Tamar (2 Sam 13:1)!” “Agaph transcends jealousy without destroying it; it is right, for example, to be upset when someone runs off with your spouse! ‘Love does not move us to seek justice for ourselves,’ but it should ‘drive us to move heaven and earth when seeking justice for others.'” [quoting Lewis B. Smedes]. “The most loving thing to do for the repeatedly abusive, perennially alcoholic husband is not to cover-up for him or to believe his empty promises of reform, but to insist that he seek professional help and to refuse to carry on with “business as usual” if he does not.”
William Baird (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Corinthians / 2 Corinthians). “Love is not a special charisma for a particular believer; love is essential to the exercise of every Christian.” “Agaph, in contrast to other Greek words for love, signifies unmotivated, spontaneous love.” Regarding v. 3: “Here Paul has stopped preaching to the charismatics and started meddling with us liberals!”