The beating heart of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is his address on love in chapter 13. Paul speaks of love, however, not to wax poetic, but to render cardiac care.
The church was beset with sexual immorality, doctrinal division, and personal agendas. They were a body that was plagued with heart disease and unable to give themselves with full vigor to “the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Love was lacking
Prior to his eloquent description of love in verses four through eight, Paul addresses the problem of the heart as he opens chapter 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Cor.13:1-3).
Like a healthy heart is necessary to a healthy and energetic body, love is necessary for spiritual vitality and energy. But there is something else that is necessary, particularly for productivity and effectiveness.
Jesus said that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Unless God builds the house, we labor in vain to build it. Only through focus on Christ, dependence on Christ, and delight in Christ will we build that which will endure
Jesus tells us in John 15 that it is by abiding in Him that we will bear fruit, much fruit, fruit that will last. A major way we abide is through prayer. That applies to us personally for our individual health, vitality and effectiveness, and it applies to the church for its corporate health, vitality and effectiveness.
When Jesus tells us in John 15:16 that whatever we ask the Father in His name, He will give to us, it is in the context of abiding. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” Abounding relates to abiding. Abiding relates to asking.
If we truly believe that apart from Christ we can do nothing, then prayer will accompany our every endeavor.
If I could borrow from Paul’s rhetorical model in 1 Corinthians 13
If we have multitudes of people, but have not prayer, we have nothing but an unarmed, nonthreatening army. And if we have a wide offering of programs, tailored to every age and interest, but have not prayer, we accomplish nothing that will endure. If people tithe and give all that they have, and spend countless hours in service, but have not prayer, it profits us nothing.
After showcasing the indispensability of love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul goes on to describe what love looks like by God’s design. He “shows” them love (1 Cor. 12:31). And what he shows us is glorious to behold. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…” (1 Cor. 13:4–5).
The love Paul shows us is decidedly Christian, enabled by Christ and illustrated in Christ. In the same way, prayer must gain its understanding and take its form from the teaching of God in His Word. (For a biblical overview of prayer and its practice, see my 32-page booklet, Why Do We Pray?)
May the Spirit of God stir His saints to prayer. And through our prayer, may He do great and wonderful things to bring glory to the name of the Lord we serve.