1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If someone were to ask me, “What is the greatest theological truth?” I would have to say simply, “Jesus loves you.” Paul takes time out in his letter to the church at Corinth to explain just what is really important to them as a body of believers. It is not who has the most spiritual gifts, who drives the nicest car to church, or who owns the most oxen or sheep. It is love. God is love. As followers of Christ, we are called to love one another regardless of the circumstances. Sometimes this is difficult and may seem completely impossible. Paul tries his best to describe love so that we may find it easier to love our neighbors as we love God. How can one truly describe something that must be experienced firsthand? Paul attempts to describe the indescribable. His description challenges us to seek God’s guidance to teach us how to love—love that is patient, love that does not insist on its own way. God blesses us when God allows us to see perfect love.
Occasionally, we are allowed to see individuals give selflessly of themselves to serve the greater good of God’s kingdom. Each year our church youth go on a mission trip within our state. They serve a few hours a day repairing homes for the less fortunate, working in soup kitchens, or spending time with the elderly in nursing homes. When they return each day, you can see the joy and love of Christ in their faces. They feel blessed by those they have served and feel that they have made a difference in someone’s life.
Paul begins his discourse by explaining that all the spiritual gifts in the world mean nothing if those receiving them do not love one another. It is important to notice when Paul writes, “If I have all faith . . . but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). A great faith in Jesus Christ is pointless if the individual does not fully love. Every church seems to have someone who has the greatest faith in the world but does not seem to like too many people, let alone love them. The church in Corinth must have been filled with many individuals like that, people who were difficult to work with or wanted to do everything themselves. No individual can do God’s work alone, without a community of support. Fellowship is a vital part of the body of Christ, whether in a small church or an ecumenical gathering. Love bonds believers together to do the work of Jesus Christ in the world.
There is no greater feeling in the world than to be loved. Children experience love from their parents and learn as they grow up what it means to nurture and love another. When God blesses a man and a woman to find each other and fall “in love,” no expression can truly describe the joy they have found. Perhaps that is why this passage from Paul’s letter is read so often at weddings. It is an attempt to put into words what a couple is experiencing in their relationship. True love is sometimes difficult to find in our world. Divorce rates are high, and the number of singles in our country is on the rise. This passage illustrates to us the power of love to transform and rejuvenate relationships, especially our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Finally, Paul’s letter is an attempt to explain eternal truth in an incomplete existence. “Love never ends” (v. 8). It looks as if Paul is telling us that we cannot fully experience all the aspects of life in our earthly lives. We experience a portion of God’s love through other people we encounter along the way. We take a part of that love and share it with others. Paul tells us “we see in a mirror, dimly” (v. 12). I did not fully understand this until several years ago when the small town in which I live found itself in the path of Hurricane Isabel. We lost electrical power for more than a week. Flashlights and candles became my only sources of light at night. If you have ever tried to look into a mirror using indirect light from a flashlight, you have an idea of what Paul is writing. You can make out your reflection, but it is not possible to see the entire picture clearly. Our vision is blurred by the darkness that surrounds us. Sometimes the darkness of sin that surrounds us blurs our relationship with Christ. We need the light of Christ to guide us to lead lives of holiness. Living in the light of Christ reveals to others the power of transformation. God transforms us into new beings capable of sharing Christ’s love with the world.