I’ve been thinking about love recently. What is love? What does it look like? What does it mean for me to love my husband and children?
I know of no better definition of love than 1 Corinthians 13. Even if you are not a Christian you will almost certainly have come across this passage of the Bible. It has been read at almost every wedding I’ve been to.
From a literary point of view, it is poetry. From a philosophical point of view, it is truth. Anyone, from any religious background or none, will read this and affirm its validity.
Yet from a spiritual point of view … it is condemnation.
I have a love/hate relationship with 1 Corinthians 13. I love its lyrical beauty. I love its truth. But I find it painful reading.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love does not envy, does not boast, is not proud.
It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Excuse me while I crawl deeper under my quilt and cover my head in shame.
The more I read the deeper my spirits sink. Because even on my best days I fall far short of this description. Even at my most loving I am, at best, inconsistent and unable to sustain a loving attitude for long. In fact, most of the time, I am actively impatient, selfish and self-seeking, and this is before I begin to delve into the deeper motives of my heart. When I do that, I am utterly undone because I discover that, almost always, the moments when I am being loving are always undermined by at least one layer of self-seeking. I am not sure I have ever done something for someone without seeking some benefit for myself.
So what am I to do?
Many people will say, “try harder”. Make more effort to be that better person. Push down the selfishness and strive for better motives. This is religion’s answer.
And to a point this is true. But ultimately I will always fail. I will always end in despair because I know my own heart and it is selfish to the very core.
Here’s the thing. The incredible, wonderful thing that, for me, raises Christianity above all other religions and makes it shine.
Backtrack a bit to 1 Corinthians 12. Paul is talking about spiritual gifts – abilities and qualities that Jesus gives people so they can serve his church. Paul encourages his readers to ‘desire the greater gifts’. And then he talks about love.
So here it is: love is a gift. Patience is a gift. Kindness is a gift. Being content and humble and thinking of others first is a gift. This is not something I can muster within myself. Trying harder is not the answer.
All I have to do is ask and hold out my hands. God will do the rest.
And here is one more thing about 1 Corinthians 13 that blew me away.
Love, in this passage, is not some abstract entity floating around, a religious ideal for us to aim for.
Paul is describing a person.
You could replace ‘love’ with ‘Jesus’ and every statement would be just as true.
Love is a person. A person who walked this earth and lived among people as grumpy and irritable and selfish as me … and who loved them anyway.