Revisiting the Love Chapter

One of the best known passages in all of Scripture is the "Love Chapter" of 1 Corinthians 13. It is very poetic and often read at weddings as a way of highlighting the beauty of love. But it is all too easy to come away from that reading with a more or less sentimental feeling about what it means to be loving. Even when we consider the surrounding chapters regarding body ministry, we can get the idea that Paul's focus on love means that we need to do these things from the heart and not just do them by willpower. No doubt, that may be a part of what he means.

The thing is, when the New Testament talks about love, it goes way beyond whatever emotional involvement with one another we might foster. Love is the will for the good of another, and even extending one's self for the good of another. So in order to recapture the meaning embedded here, we may need to re-read the Love Chapter with this in mind, replacing every occurrence of 'love' with something that reflects the intention implied. After all, the surrounding chapters are primarily concerned with how to minister to one another in the church body. Perhaps we would come up with something like this:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but without any intention for the good of the others around me, I am just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not make use of those things for the good of others, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to be burned, apart from intending the good of others — I gain nothing. Extending ourselves for the good of others involves patience, kindness, serving one another without envy or boastfulness or arrogance or rudeness. Intending good for others means letting go of getting our own way; and we serve without getting irritable or resentful. Extending for their good means bearing all things, believing in good things for them, hoping for all the best things for them, enduring whatever it takes to see their good.

Sort of captures the heart of Paul, I think, and his vision for our communities of faith. It changes how we see ourselves in the larger body. Love is the intention for the good of another. May we be drawn to that in many ways, and invite God to do in us what we cannot do, so that we may become this way by our very nature.

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