The Corinthians’ selfishness blinded them to what their real motivation was supposed to be. At the end of Chapter 12, Paul says, “… let me show you a still more excellent way.”
If we don’t start with this last phrase from Chapter 12 when we begin to read Chapter 13, we will misunderstand the entire chapter. It is not a formula for how to have wedded bliss, or a great family reunion, or even a happy home. In fact, it’s not a formula at all, even though it has been used for that purpose for centuries. 1 Corinthians 13, “The Love Chapter”; engraved on plaques, read at countless weddings, quoted in poetry and song, reprinted in greeting cards by the thousands. Part of our problem is the word “love” itself. In English we use the same word to describe our love for our spouse, our children, our parents, and even diet Pepsi. This is not the case in the original language of the New Testament.
Classic Greek has four words for love:
Eros describes an intimate and passionate love. Storge is the love of family. Phileo is the love of friendship or loyalty. Agape is a selfless, sacrificial and unconditional love. It is the highest of all four types. Only Phileo and Agape are used in the New Testament.
Agape is, of course, descriptive of God’s love for humanity, but also our love for our fellow man, and it is the Greek word used throughout the chapter. Leon Morris says this about God’s love: “This love of God is a love for the utterly unworthy. It is a love which proceeds from a God who is Himself Love. It is a love lavished on others without a thought of whether they are worthy to receive it or not. It proceeds rather from the nature of the lover than from any merit in the beloved.”
Romans 5:8 says it like this: “… but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
When Paul was discussing Christian liberty in his letter to the Romans, he used the word “agape” to describe one believer’s action toward another: “For if a brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15).