If I give all that I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have no love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3)
The way of love is introduced by Paul as the most excellent way. The 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is probably the second best known chapter in the New Testament – the first being the Lord's Prayer. Couples like to have this chapter read at their weddings. Many relatives choose this passage for funerals. (In my mind I still hear the echo of this chapter read by Tony Blair at the funeral of Lady Diana.) Some churches recite it every Sunday of the year. Some married spouses tell it to one another every day.
This is one of the loftiest descriptions of love. In the verse preceding the one quoted at the top, we read: If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. John, who is known as the beloved disciple, or the disciple that was greatly loved by Jesus writes: God is love. (1 John 4:7b) That is in another place Jesus candidly tells us: Apart from me you can do nothing! (John 15:5)
I was surprised at the emphasis on nothingness without God who is love – I gain nothing, I am nothing, I can do nothing. One can protest and demonstrate that many things are being done by people who love very little. However, what the Bible is telling us that anything of everlasting value, anything that will stand in the Day of Judgment, has to be done in love.
The love chapter, like the Ten Commandments, is written in negative and positive. There are things that we should not do because doing them shows that we do not love like God loves. There are things that we must do and if we do not do them, then we show that we do not love.
In marital counseling I usually ask the couple to pick a couple of do's and don'ts from this chapter for our discussion. It could be something like "Love keeps no record of wrongs" and "Love never fails." Memory is a precious gift from God. In school some of us easily memorize and some struggle with it. Some memorize music and paintings well and some memorize languages and historical facts well. Some of us memorize trivia well and some of us memorize major concepts better than anything else. What this chapter asks us to do is to remember all the wonderful things and to throw away those things that are negative and wrong. I ask the young people to train themselves to forget those things that have scarred them and hurt them and to concentrate on the positives. Keeping a log of wrongs and visiting it with regularity it a sure way of weakening a marriage.
Positively, love never fails. The majority of the young people in their innermost being fear that their marriage may not make it. There are so many failed relationships surrounding them. They know the statistics. But true love, God's given love is a commitment not to fail. Love will guard our hearts and our minds, our ears and eyes, our minds and our mouths so that we will become the best for our loved one.
May you want to memorize this chapter and then live it in relationship to those in your household and in relationship to all the people that God brings into your life.
And now I will show you the most excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13)