The love passage in 1 Corinthians 13 is often times used in the context of a wedding ceremony explaining how a husband and wife should love each other. Not that this use of the passage is wrong but I think that by generally only using it in this context we lose some of the radical imperative for the church as a whole.
As a refresher here is the commonly quoted passage in a wedding ceremony:
1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (NIV2011) — 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Within the context of the letter to the Corinthians this comes at the cusp of Paul speaking about the unity of the church and the different functions of its members (1 Cor. 12). Indeed, much of the letter is a call to the unity of believers within the congregation. Sin within the congregation affects the whole of the congregation and not just the members involved (1 Cor. 5). Internal conflict between Christians should be settled within the Church because they are united by one Spirit and will judge the world and angels (1 Cor. 6). Men and women of the church are called to put the needs and concerns of other believers before their own (1 Cor. 8–9). And much more could be said about the call to unity and care to others in the congregation in this letter.
So, the primary context of 1 Corinthians 13 is a call for those in the Church to show this love to one another. It makes me wonder if our use today mainly in wedding ceremonies has lessened the force of this passage. Not only should husbands and wives love each other in this way but even more so should believers in the congregation show this love to one another.
How much better off would our churches be if we rightly recognize that this is the love that members should excercise towards one another? What if we even broadened Paul’s call to love in this not only to our local congregation but to those outside as well. Love is self-sacrificial: being patient, kind and not envious, boastful, or arrogant all go against human nature. It is putting others before our own selfish desires. Indeed, love is the greatest of the Christian virtues.
Without love, we can say with the apostle Paul, “I am nothing.”