1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Paul has been writing this letter to a church that has struggled to love. They simply have not acted in love toward one another in his absence. Divisions, infighting, legal battles, immorality, superiority, drunkenness at communion, arguing in church services- all of this and more was happening in the Corinthian church. The Corinthians wanted to be “super spiritual” and they thought that because they accepted Christ they had received a hidden form of knowledge and power that made them better than everyone else. The truth is, they did receive wisdom and power, but that wisdom and power is the crucified Christ. That wisdom and power is made manifest in sacrificial love. The crucified life is not a “super spirituality” or mystery that only a few achieve. It is the life of everyone who is in Christ. It is the life of love. If I don’t have love I am nothing and, If I don’t have love I gain nothing, Paul said.
Paul’s answer to their misguided spirituality is not to tell them what to do, or even how to love. His answer is to tell them what they are, what they have. He does this by personifying Love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
Love is presented as a power. Paul is not presenting a list for us to do. He is telling us what Love has done to us. Therefore, life is not about figuring out how to love. Life is about experiencing Love. That is what actually changes us. Just giving this church a “how to love” manual would never work, and it wouldn’t work for you either. We change only as our hearts are captured by pure, unconditional Love. “We love him because he first loved us.”
You’ll notice that I have been capitalizing the word Love. This is of course because Paul must be thinking of love as the person of Christ. God is love. Christ is love. The Greeks might see love as a disembodied idea, or force. But we see Love as a person. Someone that came to seek and save us. This is no mere concept. This is our reality- we are loved by the person of Christ.
Some have pointed out that Paul’s descriptors of love in verses 4-7 are the opposites of all the ways the Corinthians were behaving. They were not patient and kind. They did envy and boast. They did insist on their own way, etc. This is of course true. Pastor Tim Keller also points out that the descriptions of love in these verses reflect Christ on the cross, the greatest display of love in history.
- Love is patient or love suffers long – “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”
- it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful – “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
- Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
This kind of love is what can actually change us. We often try to produce character change through fear and pride. Fear of being punished when we are bad, and gaining pride by being good. “If you steal, you’ll get caught.” Or, “If you don’t steal, you will be a good person.” But all of this is selfish. This is life change from an outside “law,” not from an inner love. This is life change brought about only by restraining sin, not by a heart changed by love and the release of the Spirit of love.
“To live is Christ” is that Love. Love has pursued me and found me. Love has purchased me with his own blood. Love has made me his temple. Love has given to me freely of his cruciform wisdom and power. I am loved. You are loved. The more this most amazing of realities sinks into your heart, the more you will then be released from a life of fear and pride. Love will humble you beyond your pride, and empower you beyond your fear. Now you are ready to love as he loved.
Do you believe you are loved by God? Is the cross only your example of love or is it your power for love? Do you think of Love as the person of Christ that indwells you, or only as something you are supposed to do? Is your behavior motivated by fear and pride or from love? How does your union with Christ prove his unconditional love for you?
*Several of today’s thoughts come from Tim Keller’s Gospel Christianity.