Faith, Hope, but Especially Love: 1 Corinthians 13, Paraphrased

(From Love: The Foundation, Chapter 8)

The Bible is not a dead book. The breath of God is alive and well within it. That indwelling—the Spirit of love—converses with the voice of every age. Of the Christian, it asks, are you what a humble, merciful person looks like in such a time and place? Of the nation, is this how a patient, generous, redemptive police force, school system, or society manifests itself? In each era, the dialogue and the answers it yields are different and the same, all at once.

What might that conversation sound like if Paul could pen 1 Corinthians 13 for this American moment? To my mind, it would sound something like this:

You have heard it said that if I speak in the tongues of men—whether speaking Spanish, English, or some other language—or even if I speak as the angels, if I have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. You have heard that if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, if I have not love, I am nothing.

It is true. It makes no difference how smart I am, how big my house is, what job title I have, or how much I earn; if I have not love, I deserve nothing. I could be tops on whatever meritocratic scale society sets up to judge winners and losers, but without love, all my supposed merit is worthless.

Love is patient and kind. It does not go around bragging that it is real and others are not real. It does not assume it is exceptional and others are less so because that would be arrogant and rude.

Love is not jealous. It does not boast that this cafe counter, this bus seat, this space, land, or nation belongs to it and it alone. Nor is love irritable or resentful, believing it is losing something whenever someone else gains a seat at the counter, on the bus, or at table. For this land is not ours but God’s. Not even our bodies are our own. They were bought with a price, and if we are Christians, they are the Holy Spirit’s personal property and meant to be temples of love (1 Corinthians 6: 19).

Such love does not insist on its own way because wise-love is meant to meet others where they are, not where the presumption that often masquerades as love thinks they should be. In trying to meet others where they are, wise-love is a dreamer. It does not say, “Forget the attempt because heaven on earth is impossible.” It is willing to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things, even if the end of that effort means only one more small step towards God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Any honest attempt at such love knows how far short of fullness it is falling. It understands that even now, even having passed through the door of faith, we see through a mirror dimly. It realizes that in every moment we are at risk of acting more like the fractious child described in 1 Corinthians 3 and less like the wise-loving adult at the end of 1 Corinthians 2. For our knowledge of what it means to love in this way and our prophecy in the name of such love are imperfect. But when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. Now we know in part, then we will understand in full, even as we have been fully understood.

So, faith, hope, and love abide. The faith of Abraham, the hope of Christ, and the love of the Spirit, these three abide. But the greatest of these—the beginning, middle, and end of the journey—resides in love.

© 2022

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