We all have those passages of the Bible that we really cling to, or that really stick with us through life, and 1 Corinthians 13 has not been that passage for me. Honestly, I always thought it was a little superfluous. It wasn’t necessarily necessary. It was for those passionate people that needed that extra encouragement that (say it in a dreamy voice) love is the way. You know. Those kind of people.
After conversations with friends who aren’t afraid to point out my flaws, and different questions that have come up in Sunday night Bible studies, and a few personal experiences here lately, the reality of 1 Corinthians 13 has hit me hard. Not only is love not superfluous, but it is absolutely practical, and necessary in the life of every Christian. Love is the foundation that our faith should be built upon because God is love.
I just recently finished reading Phil Ryken’s Loving The Way Jesus Loves, and next to the Bible, I’d say this is the most convicting book I have read thus far. If you are a reader, then stop reading this post and just go get his book and discover all of this for yourself. It’s totally worth it. If you aren’t a reader, then this post is for you. Hang in and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned.
1 Corinthians 13 sets the standard for how we are to love, and so often we just chant through this feel-good passage, and move on with our lives. But, if we truly want to learn how to love as Jesus loves, then we are going to have to look at this chapter more closely. I’m just going to point out the areas that have been the most convicting for me. All of them have been to some extent, but these are the ones that left me wide-eyed at my love deficiency.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
The chapter starts out by simply stating that love is the single most important thing that we could have in our life. Love is so important— so essential, that without it we are nothing. We can go as far to be martyrs for our faith and give away everything we have to the poor, but if we don’t have love, it’s all useless. Zilch. Nada. You can know the Bible forward and backward, go to church every time the doors are open, volunteer in orphanages, even die for your faith, but if you are not a loving person, none of it matters. We have to be rooted and grounded in love.
“Love is patient.” 1 Corinthians 13:4
“It is the ability to put up with the frustrations we face any time we have a relationship with someone who is just as flawed and every bit as fallen as we are.” –Phil Ryken
Patience is tough. Mostly because we’re so selfish. We want people to wait on us, but we don’t want to wait on anyone. Sinners are ironic like that a lot. We want the very thing that we’re so unwilling to give. So when Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, this tendency is exactly what He was addressing. Whenever I am having trouble being patient, I have started thinking of all the ways in which Christ has been patient with me, and wow. It’s very convicting.
Like when 4 year old sisters ask the same question over and over, and even though I give her an answer, she’s not satisfied with it, because that’s not what she wants, and so she just keeps asking. And it’s frustrating, and I become impatient that she just won’t accept my answer. But then, when I put it into terms of how patient Christ is with me, I become reminded of all the times that He has given me an answer—an answer that I don’t like. And instead of trusting that His plan is best, and surrendering my desires to Him, I keep asking and whining. It’s the same thing! Only God’s authority over my life is much greater than my authority over my sister’s life, so how much more should I listen to Him.
Love waits patiently. But so often we wait only as long as we think we should have to wait. We set our own time limits, and as long as they’re not up, we’re okay. We look like we’re doing the right thing. We look like we’re following Christ, but we’re still just doing our own thing. The real us comes out as soon as we’ve waited longer than we want, or longer than we think we should have to. We can only sustain patience on our own for so long. This is where we have to trust in God’s timing, and in His plan. He doesn’t work on our time-table, He works according to His will. We have to give up our desires and be willing to follow His plan, even when it seems to take so frustratingly long to completion. He is faithful. He’s got this.
“Love is not irritable.” 1 Corinthians
“Love is not grumpy or grouchy. Love does not get ticked off. Love does not go off on a rampage or tirade. Love does not launch into verbal abuse, or give people the silent treatment, or get into a bad temper, or do whatever else is tempting to do when we are angry or irritated.” –Phil Ryken
This one was the hardest one to take. And I’m still not sure that I completely get it. Actually, I know I don’t. Life with 11 people in one house yields ample opportunity for frustration and irritability. But so often when we’re irritated, we blame it on someone else. “Well if he wouldn’t be so dang annoying, I wouldn’t be so mad right now.” They’re irritating, so it’s their fault, right? Though it is true that some people are irritating, that’s not our problem. Our problem is the fact that we are irritable, and that irritability is a sign of a loveless heart.
If you think about it, we become irritated when we’re exasperated—when we’ve drained all of our resources. When there’s nothing left to give, but there are still needs that need to be met. Like when you’re tired and hungry because you’ve been working all day, and you get home to a big mess, and people needing you, bills to be paid, home improvement projects looming overhead, and it’s just too much to handle. Irritation begins to seep out because you’ve reached the end of your line, and you just can’t deal.
Not only is irritability a sign of a loveless heart, but also a lack of trust in Christ. When you reach the end of your line, where are you supposed to turn? To Christ. When you’re completely worn out, and don’t know where else to turn, instead of letting exasperation and irritation take over, look to Christ because He has everything that you need to give to those in need. Love moves us toward overwhelming people, because those are exactly the sort of people who are in desperate need of our love. When people come to us, asking for what we don’t have, it’s very easy to become annoyed. But instead of looking at what we are capable of, we should be looking at what Christ is capable of through us, and that is all things. (Phil. 4:13)
You’re not dependent on your ability to love, you are dependent on Christ’s ability to love through you. Christ loved us, even before we loved Him—even today when we’re so loveless, His love is steadfast and overflowing for us. It’s easy to brush off those impossible people, but we have to realize that it’s easy to love the lovely, but true love loves even the most unlovely. So instead of not loving those irritating people in your life, realize that those are the very people that need your love the most.
I think the coolest part of it all is the fact that we have a Savior that understands. We have a Savior that has faced every situation and overcome it all with love. He overcame irritability when He fed the 5,000 after a long day of ministering to the people. He didn’t send them away like his irritated disciples wanted, He gave them everything they needed and more. (Mark 6) He overcame impatience when He let Lazarus die in order to show His glory through his resurrection. It pained Him to wait. He wept for Lazarus, but He waited so that God would get the most glory. (John 11) He overcame arrogance and showed us how to be humble when He washed His disciples’ feet, even when He was the King of glory. He did not count it above Himself to come in the form of man, to redeem us from our sin. (Phil. 2) Through His willing sacrifice, He showed us how love forgives, bears all things, and never ever fails.
From love stems every other attribute that we as Christians should be showing to the world. From love stems kindness, patience, faithfulness, grace, mercy, joy, everything. It all starts with love. So if we can figure out how to love, then everything else should fall right into place. This is why Paul said that love is the greatest. So how are we to love like Jesus? Whenever you feel like you just can’t love anymore, or you’ve used up everything you have, or you’ve just waited on people as long as you can, and you’re beginning to give up, remember this: Your ability to love is dependent only on the One who is only love. As long as Christ is loving you, He empowers you to love others the exact same way. All you have to do is be the fountain through which His love flows. Seek first His kingdom—His love, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:33)