(Originally posted December 2020)
We all know the words of 1 Corinthians 13. Right? It’s one of the most familiar verses in scripture. Who hasn’t been to a wedding, or two, or twenty, that present it as a reminder of the love and commitment a couple is offering to each other?
But do you know the original intent of Paul when he wrote it? You may think he sat around the campfire with his “flock” and wrote this song to commemorate the establishment of his new faith community (though it’s not credited to him, and he gets no residuals. Pity): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYJMtn6IJeE
Anyway, everybody’s high-fiving as Paul slaps his own back for his ingenious efforts in the name of love. He may have even imagined himself receiving a Pulitzer Prize or at least Time’s coveted “Man of the Year” award. Temporarily losing sight of his own advice about “pride” and all.
Okay, fine…truth be told, none of that happened. He wasn’t in some mushy mindset when he wrote those words to the Corinthians. Actually, Paul wrote them in a fit of anger. I kid you not.
When he established Corinth, he imagined it to be perfect. God’s dwelling place, a community of love and care for each other and all humankind. Peace on earth, Goodwill to men…and all that.
But things quickly fell apart. He was peeved at them because of their short memories. As soon as Paul was out of sight and on his way to his next church planting, the Corinthians began to fight and argue over everything. The rich and powerful immediately began to demand more and more for themselves, believing they deserved it. Jealousy often led to striving for importance and self-promotion.
But the deepest split came when the self-proclaimed “authorities” felt compelled to form a committee to decide, and then pronounce, who was going to heaven and who was headed for hell because of their messed up beliefs. So, they drew a line in the sand: the “ins” over here, the “outs” way over there – “keep going till we tell you to stop”! Love got lost in the scramble for importance. In short, they were all a mess. Sound familiar?
Sure, initially, they may have bought into the idea of love. But it wasn’t the love Jesus lived and died for. Instead, they wanted it on their terms: less demanding, just as we do today. We want the watered-down version that puts loving my new car in the same category as loving humans or puppies. (I know, puppies are much easier!)
Anyway, perhaps in our own time of so much strife, it would behoove us to revisit 1 Corinthians 13 in light of what Paul was trying to get across to those hard-heads, immature in faith and lacking the love that requires self-sacrifice – a love rooted in compassion.
So, here goes.
Love Never Fails – 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (NIV)
If I speak in the tongues of men or angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Like when I put myself and my wants and presumed needs first.
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. As in, “I know everything about everything that matters – to me. That’s why I have given myself all authority to laud it over you.”
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. As in, “Look at me, ain’t I special?!”
Love is patient – except when you annoy me.
Love is kind – except when I don’t get my way.
It does not envy – except when you bought that new, nicer, shinier car before me.
It does not boast – except when I excelled in some project at work, got a significant raise, and a corner office.
It is not proud – except when I installed the biggest pool in the neighborhood.
It does not dishonor others – except when they deserve it because they’re being poopyheads.
It is not self-seeking – except when I believe I deserve fame and fortune, power and authority, and fewer wrinkles.
It is not easily angered – except when my kids can’t seem to behave appropriately – by my rigid standards.
It keeps no record of wrongs – except for all the people who just can’t seem to keep their broken, messy attitudes out of my broken, chaotic life.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth – welllll, I don’t necessarily delight in evil. It’s just that I can sometimes stretch the definition of “truth”.
It always protects – those innocents who suffer and are downtrodden.
Always trusts – our God, who never fails us.
Always hopes – in a better way, a better life for all humankind.
Always perseveres – even when things seem impossible.
Love never fails – NEVER! END OF STORY
Diana Butler Bass says it beautifully, “Yes, we may be in hell. The world may be hellish. COVID is hell. Our political crisis is hell. The climate crisis is truly hell. But there is another story, another song, a different word. A word we can speak and a word we can act upon. Peace has been born. We wait for its fullness….we claim the power of the Christmas story to bless, to redeem, to transform the stark earth. While “death howls in strife,” we embrace and embody the poetry of God and beat back the walls of hell. Make ready the stable of your heart. Fear not. And get busy with the work of peace.
Peace to you and your loved ones this Christmas. It is certainly a Christmas like no other we have experienced, a Christmas that may seem to counter all we have believed about goodness and love. But only if we have lost sight of the One who changed everything for all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This Christmas Day, may we finally “see” Jesus as the Incarnation of God’s immovable, constant, abiding, majestic, unfailing LOVE for ALL: every single messy, broken one of us! A LOVE that is not returnable. You can refuse it if you want, but God will keep trying. It’s like that ugly tie you got – again – from Aunt Lucy. (You know she buys those in bulk at after-Christmas sales, right? Yep, you’re getting one again next year!)