1 Cor. 13
Valentine’s Day and 1 Corinthians 13 at the same time? It’s the perfect storm of love. Continuing with the theme of [culture + spiritual gifts] found in this part of the letter to the Christians in Corinth, we’ll be looking a little at our culture’s message of love. Yep, done that before, but this time we’re listening to some well-known songs about love to get a feel for what we’re hearing.
And we’ll compare those cultural messages to what we learn in 1 Cor 13, especially in three major parts:
1) Verses 1-3: Our value, self-worth, status, etc. aren’t decided by what we do, or which gifts we have, which spiritual powers we seem to wield. Remember last week’s “body” – diverse parts working as one, no better or worse than one another. Vital together, and only together.
And really not just “together,” Paul says, but also in love. The magnitude of the gifts, the power exerted, is worthless without love. It’s not about how good we look, or how spiritual we seem, or how superior our faith/gifts appear to be – but how we love. To me, that’s a shift from focusing on being loved by the rest of the body, to loving the rest of the body. A shift from having everyone adore and even envy me because of what I can do, to living to adore and exalt everyone else by what I can do.
Compare that to culture’s message that love is ultra-conditional, that we’re only as lovable as we deserve through our looks, abilities, experience, etc. Culture urges us to perform for the sake of others exalting/envying/desiring us. Haha, just listen to “Do you love me?” by The Contours.
2) Verses 4-7: Love is described in a totally specific way. English teacher would say that love is being “personified” here – Paul talks about “love” as if it were a human being, describing it as not easily angered, keeping no record of wrongs, always protecting, always trusting, etc. etc. It’s a hard list to live up to, but think about the person that it’s describing. Perfect love in human form. Jesus. The one we hope to be even a little bit like, the one whose body we’re to form together. These verses give an idea of the body we’re trying to live into by the power of the Spirit of God.
Compare that very specific, Christ-inspired list to our cultural message about how love looks. We get songs like “All you need is love” (Beatles), “One Love” (Bob Marley), “Up where we belong” (Cocker & Warnes), and while there’s a great, broad idea that we all need love all the time, they don’t get real close to a functional idea of the L-word. How we define love in those songs changes their meanings drastically. Is it some nebulous feeling? Is it univeralist spiritual gobbletygook? In the words of Haddaway, “What is love?”
3) Verses 8-13: Love is the part of our faith that is eternal. When we’re in the personal presence of God one day, all those spiritual gifts will be obsolete. Who will need healing or prophecy anymore? But what persists is love, ultra-personal and specific. One-and-only true love. Knowing fully and fully known.
Compare to the cultural struggle with whether or not love can last. Between man and woman, or between friends and family, society wonders “Can love make it?” “Will this thing last?” “Do we have what it takes to make it the long haul?” “Will he/she leave me?” “Will he/she get tired of me?” “Will I get tired of him/her?” “Will you still love me tomorrow?” (The Shirelles).
Maybe you have a very different take on all that, but let’s at least dig into the little hints of ideas and cultural influences that seep into our lives, to see where the truth really lies. Let’s at least be more aware of those tiny assumptions that we gloss over sometimes. And then wonder, what is love?