At most weddings I’ve attended, at some point the pastor or a friend reads a section of 1 Cor. 13, which is known colloquially as “The Love Chapter.” I’ve seen those verses on plaques or cross-stitch samplers hanging on the walls of people’s homes. We look at those words and think, “What a great example of married love.”
It is a great example of married love – but Paul wasn’t speaking of marriage at all when he wrote it. Paul spent chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians describing how the church works as a body and encouraging us to seek the gifts of the Spirit. All fantastic stuff, but he ends the chapter with “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”
So in chapter 13, we are looking at what Paul believes is an even better way to conduct our lives and our churches. The word translated “most excellent” in the NIV is the Greek word hyperbole, which has the connotation of going above and beyond.
The hyperbole or most excellent way to conduct ourselves is with love. In the first three verses Paul explains that anything we do, no matter how good the work is, even if it’s speaking in heavenly tongues, is worthless if it isn’t done in love. We can’t just create a checklist of do’s and don’ts and go down the list like a robot, marking them as done. Our attitude means everything. The works we do as followers of Christ are meaningful only when we do them from the heart.
For love, Paul used the Greek word agape, which most often refers to the active, unconditional love God has for us – and the same love we are to have for one another.
Jesus himself was adamant that the right attitude was essential to doing good works in his name. In Matt. 7:21-23, Jesus says that people will come to him proclaiming their good works, but if they weren’t done according to God’s will, he will drive those people away, calling them evildoers.
Verse 4 to the beginning of verse 8 in 1 Cor. 13 are those that most often make their way onto the cross-stitch samplers. For love, Paul used the Greek word agape, which most often refers to the active, unconditional love God has for us – and the same love we are to have for one another.
Here is a catalog of what love is (note that it isn’t what love does, but what it is): patient, kind, rejoices in the truth, endures, trusts, hopes, perseveres and never fails. Here’s what it isn’t: envious, boastful, proud, dishonoring, self-seeking, easily angered, a record keeper of wrongs and unrighteous.
Replace the word love or it in that passage with the pronoun I (or better yet, your actual name). How does that sound to you now?
Obviously, those are fantastic things to strive for in marriage. But are you also striving for it in your church? In your interactions with other believers? In your conduct among non-believers?
Here’s how you can do a gut check on how well you are living out the love of God: Replace the word love or it in that passage with the pronoun I (or better yet, your actual name). How does that sound to you now?
“I am patient, I am kind. I do not envy, I’m not boastful, I’m not proud or conceited, I don’t dishonor others, I’m not selfish, I’m not easily angered, I don’t keep a record of wrongs. I find no joy in unrighteousness but I rejoice in the truth. I endure, I always trust, I always hope, I always persevere, I never fail.”
Impossible? Of course it is, under our own power. But as believers in Christ, we now have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to make possible what we once couldn’t do. We still have to approach this intentionally, though, to keep striving for this kind of love. The more we work at it through the Spirit, the better we’ll get at it. Paul later implies that this is part of our maturing process as Christians – not maturing as a married couple, but in our everyday lives as followers of Christ.
Eventually all other good works will fade away but three things will always remain forever – faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love. This, Paul says, is the most excellent way to conduct our lives – at home, in church and in the world beyond. And, of course, in marriage as well. It goes above and beyond expectations. The key is to put love into action, not just frame it and hang it on the wall.