In verse three of the chapter Paul writes “If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit” (1 Corinthians 13:3). The use of “boast” should be a reminder of the constant jockeying for status and honor that was the dominant component of the culture. Again, this seems as though it could be directed towards a single individual within the Corinthian congregation.
If that is so, then while he is most certainly ascribing honor to love (and probably the one that is thought to embody love), Paul can also be heard taking aim at various members of the community, pricking the conscience of a number of those that are assembled and listening to the reading of his letter, as they hear “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (13:4-7). Clearly, some of these things have no place in the church of Christ, nor should they be on display between and among the members of that body. Envy, bragging, puffery, rudeness to those lower in the social order outside the church, and self-serving behavior would stem from the pursuit of honor.
With all that has been said to this point, one should be sufficiently capable of catching the ethos of the remainder of chapter thirteen---listening to Paul in concert with his original audience and hearing: “Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways” (13:8-11).
The bottom line here is that all of these things that are being employed so as to gain individual honor will come to an end. What’s more, Paul equates the pursuit of honor as it was then in effect as little more than childish ways. An adult---a mature member of the body of Christ---does not engage in such ultimately meaningless pursuits, especially if those pursuits stand in opposition to that which the covenant God expects from those that constitute His kingdom come to earth (when those that believe in Jesus act as if Jesus is King of all).
“Paul continues on to write “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (13:12-13). Paul would seem to be here insisting that true honor will come from demonstrations of love that are not concerned with individual honor but with the honor of the one that is ostensibly being served.