22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. 26 Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.
1 If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. 3 If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.
4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end.
13 Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.
In Galatians, the apostle Paul named some virtues God offered to grow in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 13, after discussing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in chapter 12, he listed traits of the love that we must have to use any of the Spirit’s gifts as God intended. Who wouldn’t want those qualities in a spouse, a date, a friend, a sibling or a co-worker? Paul knew that it’s hard to live these ideals fully in this life: “We know in part,” he went on to write in 1 Corinthians 13:9. But the ideals we aim for matter. As one teacher said, “Ideals are like stars. You may not be able to reach them, but you can set your course by them.”
Holy Spirit, plant your fruit in my heart, and teach me how to be good soil in which that fruit can flourish. Let me be a person who gifts others with love, joy and peace. Amen.
I have read 1 Corinthians 13 in more weddings than I could possibly count. Understanding the theological context in which it was written gave me the knowledge that Paul didn’t write this to be used in weddings. Paul would more likely encourage people to read it in the middle of a fight. He wrote it when the church in Corinth wasn’t getting along. They were highly conflicted. The church was arguing within its ranks. It was struggling to overcome the temptations created by the surrounding culture. It was a mess.
Rather than reading Paul’s words at the height of a relationship, why not pull it out in the middle of an argument? On the verge of separation? Read 1 Corinthians 13. Use it as a mirror for how you’re behaving in the relationship. Are you patient, kind, arrogant, rude? Are you seeking your advantage? Being irritable? Keeping a record of wrongs? (Note that I didn’t invite you to use it as a measurement of how your partner is behaving.)
Some of the most challenging soul work I’ve done in my 48 years was taking responsibility for the role I played in my first marriage ending in divorce. I wanted to blame my husband for everything, but very rarely is only one partner to blame. A relationship is built by two people and is most often damaged by two people. Even if one person committed a horrible act that began the relationship’s downfall, in order to be healthy, we must take responsibility for the ways we didn’t live up to Paul’s description of love. I was not patient. I was irritable 82% of the time, and I kept a long record of wrongs I wasn’t willing to surrender. (But do hear this--if the relationship is abusive, it’s not your fault. Do not fall into the trap of believing you are responsible for your partner’s abuse. Ever.)
It was only after working with my therapist that I could enter a relationship that is beautiful and life-giving. God allowed me to change unhealthy behavior patterns so that I didn’t carry them into a new marriage. No relationship is perfect. They take hard work, commitment, and constant self-reflection. They require relentlessly forgiving, being forgiven, and stepping forward into a life characterized by faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
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