Sandwiched between chapters on spiritual gifts, I Corinthians 13 gleams like a jewel. Its words on love have inspired and encouraged many. Its verses have appeared on numerous plaques and been read at countless weddings. Yet perhaps one of the best ways to understand the Bible's "love chapter" is to consider it in context - as a part of Paul's teaching on spiritual gifts.
After all, I Corinthians 13 begins with Paul musing about the limits of some of the gifts he has just been discussing: tongues (vs. 1), prophecy and knowledge (vs. 2), and generosity and martyrdom (vs. 3). As great as these gifts are - and Paul describes them as being used in the extreme - they are worthless if unaccompanied with love.
The qualities of love are detailed in vs. 4-7. It is a picture of what the Church, as well as individual Christians, should be striving for in life.
The spiritual gifts mentioned earlier make a return appearance beginning in vs. 8. Love, unlike other gifts, is eternal. It never ends. But prophecy? Tongues? Knowledge? These are temporary and limited. They are meant for the childhood and adolescent phases of our spiritual walk, not for our ultimate maturity or eternity.
If you want to experience something in its completeness, Paul says, consider those three things that abide: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.