Paul’s wonderful hymn of love in 1 Cor. 13 is one of the high points of the Bible, and it’s one that we often read in isolation – especially at weddings!
In itself, it’s well worth spending time praying through. In fact, you might find it helpful to try an exercise I’ve often done with people early in their journey into the life of faith. If you’ve got a few minutes, try this before moving on – and don’t read ahead, but do each step before reading the next one!
- Read 13:4-7 slowly and carefully. What does this show you about love? It’s not the ‘carried away by emotions’ idea of love, but a love that comes from actions and attitudes of heart and life. What would this kind of love look like? How does it change your understanding of what it means to love?
- St John tells us that ‘God is love’. We see the character of God most clearly in Jesus. So read those verses again, preferably aloud – but this time, wherever the text says ‘Love’, read the name ‘Jesus’ instead. How does this feel, and does it change how you see Jesus?
- Now for the tough one. We’re called to become more like Jesus in our character. So read those words again, preferably aloud, but at least under your breath. And this time, instead of the word ‘Love’ say your own name. I know, it’s hard – unless you’re either perfect or blind to your own faults. But please try, and reflect on how it feels. and if there’s one of those statements that’s particularly hard to read aloud with your name in it, ask God for help to make it feel more true. Then make a note somewhere, and do this exercise again in a few months’ time – all three steps! When you get to your name, does it feel a bit more true this time than it did before? If so, it’s probably a good sign that you’re growing with God! If not, then check that you’re not being too hard on yourself, and ask God’s help to grow again. It’s a lifetime project, not a week’s work.
As I said, this passage is powerful enough to stand alone. But in the setting of the whole letter it’s even more. It’s the climax of the whole thing. Paul goes on to write about behaviour in church worship, in a way which is meant to help us to think of each other more than ourselves. He ends with a wonderful chapter on our hope of resurrection and eternal life.
But this chapter, this call to love more fully and deeply, is the high point to which he’s been building through what he’s said. It’s the foundation for what he’s going to say next. Love remains. Love, deep self giving love, is at the heart of eternal life. Let’s ask God for strength to love more deeply and widely.