1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. People who generally have no time for the Bible will make space for the reading of 1 Corinthians 13 in their wedding. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast” etc. It’s nice. It has a rhythm to it and it speaks very truly about love.
It’s even more lovely in the larger context in which it is meant to be read. Paul has spent the previous chapter speaking of gifts that God gives the Church by the Holy Spirit. The Church in Corinth (like portions of the Church today) seem to overemphasize some gifts or the others. The gifts that really get hairs raised, the spines tingled, those are the ones that the Corinthians seem to like. Prophecy. Tongues. Healing. Paul says that those (and every other gift) are indeed very good gifts given by the Holy Spirit, but there’s no hierarchy just because one seems more supernatural than the other.
Except there is a greatest gift. Paul says it’s love. Mundane, awe-inspiring, easy-to-find, hard-to-keep love. Love is the greatest gift. And not just any generic kind of love, but Spirit-given, Spirit-enabled, Christ-centered love. That kind of love is enduring and is a gift that will have no end (unlike some of the other gifts that the Corinthians are obsessed with).
There is no more intense school of love for me than the school I live in: my home. This is not to say that those who are celibate (by choice or by circumstance) cannot know or be sanctified by love. The love of friendship is powerful and important. But for me, I am most persistently brought to the task of loving when I at home.
So, in the Spirit of 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is the language my wife speaks, the underlying the current of who she is. My wife can silently express what her verbose husband cannot touch with a million words, simply by laying her tear-streaked cheek on the shoulder of a friend. Love is the treasure she passes out to me and to my children and to her friends, not as if it is a precious thing that has gained its value by being in short supply, but as if it is a thing easy to find, easy to manufacture, though few have seen a love like hers. Love is the song she was born to sing.
Love is striving to learn patience for four children who have a knack, a sense for the moment when they must all ask or demand or request or cry for something so that they can, jointly, wield the force of a mob out of control. Love is wanting to learn patience so that they will not believe that the desperate sighs and exasperation are the only thing we feel for them. Love is the kindness of a child who is not trying to be kind, but does not know any other way. Love is a son at rest in your arms as he wakes from his nap, trying to gather himself for the assault on the last part of the day. Love is your daughters who want to delight in being delighted over.
Love is a family with a husband and a father that is far too often irritable and selfish but still leaps to greet that flawed father as if he’s done no wrong. It cannot help but believe that the force of that love will one day wear down his rough edges, the angular mirrors tilted at himself, and make him a man who will one day not sigh so loud when he’s asked to do something so simple as play a game or take out the trash. And love is what allows that family to treat him as if that day has come even if, sadly, it has once again tarried.
Love is what makes ten years of marriage fly by in a flash of friendship and stretch out like a bottomless well of holiness. It is what made a family to begin with but also calls a husband and wife to leave that family for a few hours, a day, a week at a time to be reminded that love has many stories and some will last longer than others. Love is shouting, demanding to know what is really going on and surrender, acknowledgment that our hands are bloody with the damage we’ve done to our beloved.
I have read a thousand, a million words. I have learned to write and to speak better than many. But I will not be satisfied with a book deal or my ten thousandth sermon if I do not speak the simple truth of love to my family and know that they understand it. You can take away my fingers for typing and my voice for speaking, but if my family knows they are loved, then I have accomplished something worthwhile on the earth.
To be caught up in the drama of love, to love and be loved, is at the heart of what it means to be human. And the degree to which we fail to be good lovers is the degree to which we fail to bear God’s image. Can I accept the love that my family gives to me in generous delight and hear that there is still a greater love which knows me better and loves me truer? Can I respond to this Love with a love of my own, a teacup thrown at a tidal wave, and give myself in self-forgetting surrender to the power of a tide that has already swept me out to sea?
You can keep all the gifts you’ve ever given me. Love is what I crave. Love is what I’ve been given. And Love is the greatest of all of these things.
Love never fails.