I recently had the privilege of marrying our elder daughter. As I reflected on what to say, I thought of Dana Gioia’s poem, Marriage of Many Years. And I realized that is what I wish my daughter and son-in-law: a marriage that will last many years.
We are all familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul’s poem on love. In first Corinthians 12 and 14 Paul describes the church as the body of Christ, where every member has a specific gift to serve the congregation. We can say that chapter 13 is the hinge that binds chapters 12 and 14 together. Without love the church as the body of Christ cannot function. Although this chapter was not written primarily for weddings, its message is valid for all aspects of the Christian life. My message to my daughter and son-in-law was that if they live this chapter their marriage will last.
Let’s look closer at 1 Corinthians 13: Verses 1 to 3 illustrate the necessity of love. Paul observes that even if he would speak the tongues of angels, but do not have love, he would only be “a resounding gong or clanging cymbal” – a hollow sound. In the next sentence Paul gradually raises the bar. He states in verse 2:
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 do not have love, I am nothing.
The gift of prophecy is a laudable gift. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul encourages his readers to desire the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. Similarly, the gift of faith is one of the most important attributes of the Christian life.
Paul reaches the climax of his argument in verse 3:
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to the flames, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
In verses 4 to 8 Paul describes the character of love. Better as any other passage in Scripture he explains to us what true Christian love is. With a series of fifteen verbs Paul describes the love that is the heart of the Christian faith.
The first two clauses, “love is patient, love is kind,” is a description of God, who through Christ has shown his patience and kindness toward human beings. Jesus expects his followers to reflect the same patience and kindness. These two positive expressions are followed by seven verbs that indicate how love does not behave:
Love does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
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.
Finally, there is a staccato of four verbs, each connected with the object “all things.”
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
These “always” phrases lead to the next section, verses 8-13, in which Paul emphasizes the permanence of love.
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 prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part 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 the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a 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.
Love is the “way beyond comparison,” it characterizes the existence of the believer both now and forever – it never fails.
Paul concludes this passage with the triad “faith,” “hope,” and “love.” We find this triad throughout Paul’s letters as these words embrace the whole of Christian existence: as believers we live out the life of the Spirit in the present age, awaiting the day when Christ will return. We have faith in God, we trust him to forgive and accept us through Christ. We trust in his goodness and mercy and we have hope for the future. As we live our lives in faith and hope we have love for one another.
In our own strength we cannot live up to the love described in this chapter. We can only love in this way when the Holy Spirit loves through us. The Paul of 1 Corinthians 13 is the Paul of Galatians 2: 20: the Paul who said, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” The Paul of 1 Corinthians 13, is the Paul of 2 Corinthians 5: 17: the Paul who said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
When Christ lives in us, we are able to be patient and kind. We are not envious of each other, we are able not to be rude or self-seeking, nor are we easily angered or keeping record of wrongs. We are able to protect, trust, hope, and persevere.
When Christ lives in us, our marriages can last as long as we live.
Let’s pray together: “Lord Jesus I know that in my own power I cannot love in the way Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. I know that God is love and it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that I can love. Fill me anew with your precious Holy Spirit.”