Why do we romanticise love in 1 Corinthians 13? It has become traditional to have this chapter as the main reading at weddings – I know I did.
Today’s verse of the day, on Bible Gateway, is, ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.’ (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NKJV)
I clicked on the rest of the chapter, which says, ‘Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.‘ (1 Corinthians 13:4-13 NKJV)
The Greek word used in this passage for the word love is agape – unconditional love. It’s the highest of all the versions of love. In our English language we only have one word for love, but in other languages, such as Greek, they use various words to describe the different forms of love. So, traditionally, we have romanticised this chapter to explain what type of love the author is describing. But, this is not the case. Of course agape is a good way to love ones spouse, but there will likely be other forms of love evident in a loving, faithful, committed, romantic relationship – such as erotic love, for example.
So, we can extend the love described in this chapter to the other people we know too. It’s this same love that we’re encouraged to love our neighbours, enemies and God. Agape is tough to do, we struggle to truly love with agape in our most intimate relationships, so how much harder is it to do so when it comes to our enemies!?!
When I think of my ‘enemies’ I find it really difficult to face the choice laid before me to extend agape to them. It’s a choice I often find myself disobeying. But, I’m determined to work on myself and learn to choose agape more often and for more people. Agape is unconditional, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the ‘bad stuff’ that people do. Extending agape is just as difficult as extending forgiveness, but just as worthwhile. It doesn’t let the other person off the hook, it just releases us from the burden of bitterness so that we can focus on haling, recovery and our relationship with Abba-Jesus-Spirit.
It’s a lifelong journey of learning, practising, getting it wrong, and trying again. Full transformation and full ability of complete agape, I believe, are only completed at the time of Jesus’ second coming.
Blessings as you develop the gift of extending agape to others.