How many of you have ever heard 1 Corinthians 13 read at a wedding? I can imagine many of you sitting at home with your coffee mug in one hand and raising the other. It is a well-known wedding Scripture for a good reason: it speaks to the heart of what love is. But did you ever stop to notice that it actually says more about what love isn’t?
It is in the ”isn’ts” that this passage has its greatest power, especially in a world so filled with hate. Somewhere, somehow, we as a society turned a dark corner where hate-filled rhetoric is not only accepted, it is the norm. Just look at the flags, bumperstickers, social media posts, and click-bait ”news” bits where self-important commentators inflame the audience with derogatory and damaging statements that go unchecked. Unchecked, until the online comments begin. Then hate parries hate, and things escalate until you stop and think to yourself, ”Where is the love? Where is the goodness? Where is civility? Where are your manners?”
Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth had nothing to do with weddings. He was facing a contentious congregation that was devolving into patterns of us-versus-them, and hate was unleashed. So he wrote these timeless words:
1 Corinthians 13 (Common English Bible)
13 If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. 3 If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.
4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.
So that is what love isn’t. It isn’t arrogant, so love would never think its own opinion was more intelligent or valuable than another person’s idea. Indeed, love would quietly accept diverse thoughts, and would silently agree to disagree.
Love isn’t jealous and doesn’t covet the things other people have or seek its own advantage, so love celebrates everyone else’s achievements and success, and doesn’t put someone down in order to lift itself up. When there is no jealousy, there is no competition for attention.
Love isn’t rude, so love wouldn’t post anything that is offensive, even if it agreed with the meme/post/article. Love wouldn’t hide behind flags that use profanity (or euphemisms for profanity), even if it doesn’t like the person to whom the profanity is directed.
Love isn’t irritable, so when love sees those flags, she bites her tongue and keeps on driving.
Love never enters an argument with a list of past grievances, because love FORGIVES.
One of the things love doesn’t love is injustice, and so love works hard to be sure everyone is treated fairly. And love loves truth, especially the One who is the Way, the Life, and the Truth.
8 Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. 9 We know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things. 12 Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known.
We have a chance every day to choose love. That’s it. That’s the choice. You either love or you hate. May we choose a love so vibrant and strong that it brings glory to our Father and honor to our family. Remember, they will know that we are Christians by our LOVE.
13 Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.