I Corinthians 13: How I got “the love chapter” totally wrong, and you probably do too

If you grew up in church, you know I Corinthians 13 all too well. It’s the famous “love chapter” preached as Hallmark Card marriage advice at one of every two church weddings in human history. The first three verses go like this:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give  over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Years ago God helped me see this passage wasn’t actually the “love chapter” but one of three “spiritual gift chapters”—starting with I Corinthians 12 and ending in chapter 14. The “love principles” we glean in it are helpful in marriage, but it’s really about how we use our gifts to build the kingdom of God alongside other flawed believers—the other eyes, ears, hands, and feet we bump into while serving as Christ’s body, the church.

Understanding that helps frame I Corinthians 13, but still doesn’t address what Paul is actually trying to say there. What the Holy Spirit helped me realize lately is, I’ve been missing Paul’s point my entire life. In fact, I’ve been reading it so wrong that I’ve been using it to believe the very thing he’s trying to stop us from believing.

That ain’t right.

In I Corinthians 12, Paul makes the case that we are all members of Christ’s body, individual body parts that, indwelled by the Spirit of Christ, make up a kind of composite of Christ himself. He goes on to say that some of us are eyes, some are hands, and so on—various parts of the body, just as God determines. In other words, he spends I Corinthians 12 talking about what we are—our identity as it relates to our function in Christ’s spiritual body.

Next, enter our famous ‘love chapter.’ What we’ve traditionally understood the next few verses to mean? “You can do all kinds of amazing things for God, but unless you’re motivated by love, they don’t count.” In other words we think Paul is saying, the missing variable in these equations is love. If you do these things with love, motivated by love, it changes everything. But let’s try that out. Let’s rewrite these equations, ‘changed’ by the love variable:

  • If love motivates my gifted and eloquent speaking, I am a beautiful instrument for God (vs a resounding gong and clanging cymbal).
  • If love motivates my wise and mountain-moving faith, I’m a somebody (vs being a ’nothing’).
  • If love motivates my epic sacrifices, I gain points with God (vs. gaining nothing).

Does any of that sound right to you? The word “I” is used nine times. That doesn’t sound like love, does it?  Also notice how Paul says a few times, “I am… I am.” Those are statements of identity. ‘Changing’ the equations with love makes Paul’s message crystal clear: This passage is actually about where we find our identity.

Oh… wow.

Here’s what Paul is saying: “If you don’t have love, you’ll be driven to find your identity in what you do and how well you do it.” He’s not saying, “Loving well makes you something, makes you somebody, gets you ahead.” That’s self-righteousness, the opposite of the gospel he preaches! No, Paul is saying the opposite: “Don’t try to find your identity in how well you speak, how fruitful you are, or how sacrificial you are. If you play that game, you lose.”

Notice too, it’s not about giving love. It’s about having love. Or not.

Paul also wrote, “God has poured his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  The Apostle John wrote, “We love because he first loved us.” Bottom line, we have love if we have received the love God has given us through Christ. And we receive it by faith.

Let’s put this all together.

The outer ring of our identity is defined by what we are: a hand, a foot, salt, light, a branch on the vine. But the core of our identity is not what we are, but who we are. Remember what Jesus heard from his father? “You are my son. I love you. I’m pleased with you.” What we are is about our function. Who we are is about our relationship with the Father—and first of all about his love for us, not our love for him. If we live out of being loved, we won’t be tempted to find our identity in how eloquently we speak, how fruitful we are, and how sacrificial we are. We’re already somebody, already accepted, already pleasing to God through Jesus. As Paul’s third example explains, if we start with that, we won’t be tempted to gain through our giving.

With our identity settled in our status as beloved children of the Father (which we know comes through resting in the perfect work of Jesus), Paul launches the next section about love. Notice the absence of “I” statements and the refreshing “being” statements he now uses: “Love is patient, love is kind.” Love is, love isn’t. Love does, love doesn’t. But it’s now about love, not about me, not about I.

And that kind of love really does change the world.

Comment below: How does this help you understand “the love chapter?” 

What Michael Hyatt and the NSA are teaching me about Platform

platform michael hyatt

Last week Platform guru Michael Hyatt blinked at his computer screen in blood-draining disbelief.

The National Speaker’s Association (NSA) had just announced a major re-branding effort, apparently the grand climactic result of “a great deal of research, planning and market testing.”

On the left, I give you the NSA rebrand. On the right, Michael Hyatt’s hard-earned stuff and a shot of him in his natural habitat. Note the same name. A speech bubble. Same colours. Same curtain.

In the wake of this shocking discovery, Hyatt posted some honest questions to his 44,000 member tribe on Facebook (his blog is 412,000 subscribers strong). Almost immediately, the tribe uttered a collective “What the—?!”, inundating the NSA, Facebook feeds, and the blogosphere with everything from scathing rebukes to probing questions about business ethics, artistic integrity, and social accountability.

I think Michael has handled the conflict beautifully so far—and taught me some important lessons about branding along the way.

Your brand is an extension of who you are.

Michael Hyatt is known as a nice guy, and he responded to the NSA’s lack of integrity in a nice, respectful way—true to himself, true to his brand. His tribe’s response echoed this sentiment: Michael is a nice, hardworking guy, and we like him. A lot. how dare you do this to him? I’m not sure if he tried to make “nice” part of his brand, but it is a part of his brand nonetheless. Which leads me to my next and biggest takeaway.

You are not the sole creator of your brand.

Your logo, colour scheme, tagline, and even your content are not your brand. Your brand is how the public perceives you. Branding is a mix of how you present yourself and how people respond to that presentation. You control who you are and how you present yourself, but the public owns their interpretation of that presentation and ultimately, the verdict on your persona (who you say you are).

For an illustration of this concept in action, check out Honest Slogans, a cheeky site where famous brands are relabelled to reflect what we’re actually thinking about them. Like this beauty, for example:


Right? We all know makeup can’t make people that beautiful.

Well, in the minds of scores of people, Michael Hyatt has become synonymous with the concept of Platform building. Michael wanted us to make this connection, but ultimately we got to decide whether the connection stuck. The tidal wave of outrage over this debacle is probably a better indicator of his branding efforts than the sales of his products are.

On the other hand, in the minds of scores of people, the National Speaker’s Association is now synonymous with things like lack of integrity at worst, or ignorance at best. Like it or not, these labels are now a part of their brand, because that’s how they’re perceived. Their logo will now evoke the idea of “knock-off” instead of “opportunity.” They could work at changing this by retracting their “re-branding” and apologizing, but it may be too late to repair the damage done. They have inadvertently re-branded themselves as underhanded. This really is unfortunate all around.

We can guide branding through honest interaction with our tribe.

Hyatt’s response reminded me of a conversation Jesus had with Peter (one of his disciples) when public opinion was swirling.

“Jesus… asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.

Jesus knew that the best people to build on are the ones who get it. He praised Peter for picking up on the truth God was revealing, then invested in Peter like crazy. When I released my latest book about growing an epic quiet time with God, Go With The Flow, I sent some of my most faithful tribe members a free ebook version. A few months ago one of my favourites posted this pic on Facebook.

The subtext: Mission accomplished. My note: She rocks.

What about you? What are you learning about branding and social media?


I’m a User… and a Believer. You?


There are two kinds of people filling our churches. Both think they’re faithful Christians.

The User believes God exists for them. They don’t say that, of course, but when it comes right down to it, his purpose (and his ultimate use in their lives) stems from his ability to help them live better, happier, more productive lives. They believe God wants nothing more than to help them have a good day.

The Believer knows they exist for God. Their purpose is to know, love, trust, and serve God’s greater purposes in the world through faith in Jesus Christ. They want nothing more than God’s will to be done, his kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven, for his glory.

How can you figure out if you’re a User or a Believer? Ask yourself these questions and be brutally honest with your answers:

The people of God in Isaiah’s day had starved their imagination by looking on the face of idols, and Isaiah made them look up at the heavens, that is, he made them begin to use their imagination aright. Nature to a saint is sacramental. If we are children of God, we have a tremendous treasure in Nature. In every wind that blows, in every night and day of the year, in every sign of the sky, in every blossoming and in every withering of the earth, there is a real coming of God to us if we will simply use our starved imagination to realize it.

Get ‘Go With The Flow’ before the price goes up!


The response I’ve received from readers of my new book, ‘Go With The Flow,’ has been incredible.

Boy, do I love hearing that what I’ve written is making a difference in people’s lives!

I found myself highlighting sentences and paragraphs because I needed to refer back to them over and over. – John Vonhof

See what I mean?

Total awesomeness. This will indeed revolutionize my quiet times, just like Brad promised. – Lindsay Franklin

Thank-you, Jesus.

Sinking the stress Kraken


Stress is a slippery bugger, hard to pin down and even harder to shake loose. It’s like a Kraken, a creature of the deep summoned to sink ships and scare people. And kill them to death. The last month or so I found myself swamped and suckered by a stress Kraken. A big one, too. But then Jesus showed up and set me free. Sank the stress Kraken in like fifteen minutes, and now my heart is carefree and peaceful. Crazy, right? I need to share how Jesus did it. I figure maybe you can open up to Jesus and let him do his thing in your heart, too.

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This is probably the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. What I want to know is, what else do you think we could use them for, or what features would be totally amazing? For example, one girl mentioned you could have a car key fob that would light up a path to your car in a parking lot so you wouldn’t need to remember where you parked.

Solar freaking roadways. Who knew.

Are you abiding in Jesus in 3D?


One day Jesus borrowed Peter’s boat so more people could crowd around him on the beach while he preached.

It was a gooder.

After blowing Peter’s mind with a stupid-awesome catch of fish that made absolutely no sense on a human level, Jesus made his three dimensional (3D) invitation.

It still stands today, for us:

“Come, follow me—and I will make you a fisher of men” (Mark 1:17).

Come, follow me.

I will make you.

Fishers of men.

Let’s unpack the first dimension.

Go With The Flow now in paperback!


The response to my new book, Go With The Flow, has been incredible to say the least. I set out to write a book that teaches people how to grow an awesome quiet time with God. This is what people have been saying:

“This book offers a different and liberating way for Christians to think of their daily time in prayer and Bible study.” – Joseph Benz

“I gave the book 5 stars — I can recommend it without reservation and trust that God will do something amazing for every single person who actually applies it to his or her life.” – Teddi Deppner

“I appreciate the fresh perspective on devotions and look forward to applying his thoughts to my own quiet times. This is a good read for those who need fresh air breathed into their walk with Jesus.” – Thom Dick

“Bottom Line: Total awesomeness. This will indeed revolutionize my quiet times, just like Brad promised.” – Lindsay Franklin

“This is a short read, but it’s powerful in how it can transform our quiet times. I hope it comes out in print, because I’d but copies for friends who, like me, have struggled with their quiet times. In the meantime, get a copy and read it, and then send a copy to a friend.” – Jon Vonhoff

Well, John, Merry Christmas! Because…

Go With The Flow is now in paperback, available today on Amazon.