First reading to last, I Corinthians 13 offers profound insight into this premier virtue. I used this text for my first sermon, years ago.Love became the goal of my personal and professional life. Yet, love often seems to be a mystery of romantic and sexual selfishness. Sadly, many Christians put other priorities ahead of the“Great Commandment.” The following is my attempt to sharpen the contrast between what God wants, what even we humans prefer to experience, yet what we so easily substitute is our habits and behavior. May the “love chapter” begin a new chapter in your relationships, home, and church.
Paul calls it essential; Jesus names it greatest (Matthew 22:36-40).
Together, they reveal that loving God and other people empowers,
that loving (not being loved) builds self-esteem, and that loving is
far more than feeling. Real love requires will, reason, passion,
and physical being. We should love others as we want to be loved.
Seeking to be loved (self-centered) and loving (other-centered) are
opposites, mutually exclusive, as shown here.
I. My words, my acts, my “ministry,” my very self are empty and meaningless without love (verses 1-3)
A. Love must empower my words; otherwise, even god-like speech is just noise (v.1)
B. Love must drive devotion; not even deep insights or strong faith, alone, make me important (v.2)
C. Love must lead all virtue; even great acts of generosity and courage are useless without love (v.3)
II. Real love, focused on you, on those I love, not on myself, what I want, or my needs (verses 4-8a), is:
A. Patient, not Demanding: Despite my own wants, needs, pain; I work to understand those I love
B. Kind, not Abusive: Harsh words or actions devastate those I love and my own love shrivels inside
C. Content and Generous, not Envious: Without jealousy, I’m glad for your blessings, content in mine
D. Thankful, not Boastful: I praise God, not myself, for success, without condescending to those I love
E. Reliant on God, not Proud: I humbly depend on God and others who love me, without shame
F. Considerate and Courteous, not Rude: Not offending those I love, I choose to speak kindly
G. Serving, not Self-seeking: Even in loneliness, I will try to give and help, rather than take or hurt
H. Secure, not Easily Angered: Self-doubt, fear, and guilt cause anger; I will vent it to God, not you
I. Forgiving, not Record-Keeping: Pain lingers, but I will forgive by not bringing those hurts up again
J. Delighted by Truth, not Pleased by Evil: I take no joy in assuming the worse (I can’t read minds!)
K. Protects, without Attacking: I’ll put a shield around not a wall between us, to keep you safe, always
L. Trusts, without Doubting: I will count on the love of those who love me and work not to doubt them
M. Hopes, without Despairing: I look for and strive for the success of our relationship, not its failure
N. Perseveres, without Complaining: I will accept your faults and never give up on you (or us!)
O. True Love Never Wears Out: Physical desire, infatuation, even compatibility fade, so I will model my love after God’s love, which endures, grows, and never runs out
III. My most enduring religious (spiritual) quality is love (verses 8b-10); I’ll try to invest myself wisely
IV. My love is maturing; I strive not to be childish or immature but to grow up with less “ME” (v.11)
V. In time, I will love as God loves, who knows us completely and still loves each of us fully (v.12)
VI. My investment in loving will last: all doubts will be gone and all hopes will be fulfilled (v.13)
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I have been thinking about God’s commands. I used to think that “thou shalt not” was not as good as “thou shalt.” Telling me what to do seemed better than what not to do. I have changed my mind, but I will save my reasoning for a later post. However, Paul does tell us what love is as well as what love is not. We need both to have any chance of understanding love. I’m not so arrogant as to think I’ve improved the original, but I hope it may help you to see it in a new way.
As I edited this piece, which I wrote originally several years ago, I caught myself failing to do what I had written. Love isn’t easy. Our fears and disappointments easily interfere. I pray the Lord will help me, now, to live up to what I have written.
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(latest edit, November 30, 2103)