If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. First Corinthians 13:1
First Corinthians 13 is, perhaps, one of the most recognizable passages of the New Testament. If we took a poll, I expect a vast majority of married couples had this passage read at their wedding ceremony. Who can blame them? You could do a lot worse than using “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude” as a guide for all of your relationships, not just marriage.
But when Paul was writing First Corinthians he was not thinking about weddings or even romantic love; actually, he was pretty angry. The church in Corinth was acting in anything but a loving way. They were bickering and dysfunctional and competitive. Some of them had some special skills, like speaking in tongues, but they were being real jerks about it. They had turned being church together into a kind of competitive sport. They were being petty and prideful and ridiculous. They didn’t know who they were, and Paul was trying to remind them.
He told them who they were not by telling them about history or economics or even politics, but by telling them about love. Paul is not talking about emotion or sentiment. Paul writes of Love as origin. Love as source. Love as God, and God as Love. This Love has really nothing to do with feeling nice. It’s actually not about feelings at all, it’s about truth. It’s about the truth of who we are through the eyes of a God who knows us fully.
We are known by God because we are loved by God. Think about that. Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” Each morning we gaze in the mirror, but we only see a dim reflection of ourselves. We look at our neighbors, but we only perceive an image of who they really are. But Paul reminds us that we have the promise that in the fullness of time we will see face to face with God. Because, Paul writes, “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
It’s so easy to forget that. I came across the following quote by Dr. Matt Skinner from Luther seminary, reflecting on how difficult it is to be church during these times:
For me, one of the hardest lessons of the pandemic to stomach has been the clear and recurring realization that there’s so little love in American society. The selfishness. The lack of regard for people at risk. The callous policies. The contempt people show for their community. Clearly, we need to learn how to do Christian ministry in a landscape in which a lot of people simply don’t give a damn if their neighbors live or die. In a world in which multitudes actually don’t long for a deeper sense of community. In a context in which love is a sign of weakness at best and an opportunity for exploiting a sucker at worst.
I must confess feeling the same way at times. Usually, this happens when I’ve been watching too much cable news that day. But there are other times when I have seen clearly that (to quote a Christmas movie) Love, actually, is all around.
Whether joining our staff and volunteers in our Food Ministry, working with our Council to prepare for future ministries, watching the joy our Confirmation and Sunday School teachers share with their students, or receiving the messages of appreciation for our Livestream worship from those who aren’t ready to return in person, I am confident that we have not forgotten that we were made by love for love.
Paul reminds his struggling, bickering church that they are called to be the face of love for each other. He does this by reminding them how much God loves them. For when we know that we are loved by God, even when God knows all about us, we are free to live in this love. We are free to transmit the love of Christ in a hurting world. We are free to see ourselves and others as God sees us. Not because we have faith as to move mountains, not because of our unassailable hope, but because we are loved. So faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.