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.
13 Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.
This is a vital lesson: a champion’s love puts other first! Human ideas of being a champion at times involve leaving others behind, even humiliating them. But Paul’s searching words about love were for all our relationships, not just romance or marriage. And they made it plain we cannot fully live the Christian life, as Jesus meant us to, until we are at peace not only with God and our self, but also with others.
Lord, change me into a champion of love. Replace comparison with compassion in my heart and mind and make me more like Jesus is—loving to all. Amen.
Ah, 1 Corinthians 13. It’s a little passage you’ve probably heard in such places as every wedding ever. This is one of those passages I think that every Christian knows, but few really think about. Seriously, how many sermons have you heard on this passage? A high number.
This is one of a few famous passages clearly spelling out for us what love looks like, but you don’t often hear the context of why these were written. There’s some debate over this, but Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are widely considered to have been written to address the issue of rampant immorality due to pagan influence in the area. While many of the other New Testament letters were written to address very specific issues like mentoring a young leader or persevering in the face of horrible persecution, 1 Corinthians was written for the same reason many people continue to look to the Bible after 2000 years: it tells us how to be a better person even when society is telling us to do something else.
In the interest of gaining some insight into this passage, let’s take a look at what it’s addressing. Everything in here was written to counteract an idea from the pop culture of the time. Let’s reverse things to see what the culture of the time was saying:
You get what you want now. You do what you need to in order to get what you want. You deserve anything your friends have. Everyone should know about your accomplishments. You’re the best. Behaving well never gets you anywhere. Look out for number one. When life gets you down, ask to speak to life’s manager. Nobody can get away with crossing you. The strong and able deserve the most freedom. There’s no harm in a little lie. You don’t put up with other people’s shenanigans, don’t believe their lies, and don’t bother working with them when it’s clear things are not going well.
Reading this, the Corinthians passage seems shockingly relevant! These are all things I hear, either explicitly or implicitly, on a weekly basis, at least. In fact, the paragraph above could probably pass for self-help in today’s culture. Be honest, these are all things we want to believe sometimes. I believe love is patient until my wife says she can’t start the movie until 8:00—then, it’s time to focus on my needs! Love is kind, but did you see what that person did? Love is not jealous, but why can’t I buy a fancy car too like Mike?
This passage on love is all stuff I know and generally believe, but there’s no sense gauging my level of love when love is easy to practice. The real test of love comes when we really don’t want to love, and it’s in those times that my reversed passage above becomes something we really want to buy into. With that in mind, it’s kind of ironic that we keep hearing this passage at weddings, because that’s one of the times that it’s easiest to love the people around you. Not that this is a bad thing to hear at a wedding, it’s just that there are so many other times in my life when I need the reminder.
This week, you will inevitably get the opportunity to buy into the philosophy of the reversed paragraph above. Let’s be honest with ourselves when we’re tempted with that. Here’s your reminder that that’s the time when you need to remember this familiar passage from 1 Corinthians. As Paul alluded, love is the greatest thing we can aspire to, and it’s such a foundational part of our faith.
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