In this passage, Paul expresses the greatness of Christian love. He begins by saying that speaking in any tongue is worthless if the speaker does not have love. Furthermore, one who prophesies, knows all of God’s Word, and has mature faith is nothing if he does not have love. Also, the one who gives all his possessions for the poor, and the one who dies as a martyr, but does not have love, gains nothing from those actions.
In verse 4, Paul begins to list the characteristics of love. It has patience, kindness, contentment, humility, prudence, selflessness, gentleness, forgiveness, hatred for sin, joy in the truth, and endures any sin, believes any truth, hopes for every promise of God, and endures every trouble. Furthermore, love does not end. However, prophecy will end, the gift of tongues will end, and the gift of knowledge will end. The reason for this is that Christians had partial knowledge, and prophesied partial revelation. However, those partial gifts would be done away with when the perfect, or complete, knowledge of revelation came (the completion of the New Testament). In verse 11, Paul illustrates this with the picture of entering into adulthood: Paul acted like a child when he was a child, but stopped acting like that when he became a man. In the same way, Paul says, Christians see themselves partially, but will someday see themselves as who they are fully. Furthermore, they have partial knowledge, but will know fully. Finally, Paul concludes, faith, hope, and love continue to live, but the greatest one is love.