Love has been in the air lately. And on TV, the radio, and billboards. Valentine's Day came and went, but love has remained on my mind. When Christians talk about love, we tend to gravitate toward 1 Corinthians 13. It is, after all, THE love chapter. But as I sat in church one morning, I started wondering what would happen if we quit trying to make the chapter fit our notions of romantic love and started applying it to our relationships inside the church. What if we actually loved one another the way that Jesus says we should? What if we allowed 1 Corinthians 13 to define the way we treat one another in the church? I bet things would be a lot different.
Paul's chapter on love comes right in the middle of a discussion on the proper use of spiritual gifts in the church. Obviously, the people in Corinth were having a little bit of trouble maintaining order in worship services. Apparently some people thought their gifts were more important than other people's gifts, and in their attempts to "serve" the Lord through using their gifts, they ran over one another and destroyed the witness of the church.
Scary stuff. It sounds like a lot of churches that I've been in. But Paul says that it doesn't matter what kinds of gifts and talents we have. If we don't have love, we're nothing but a "noisy gong or a clanging symbol." It doesn't matter how much schooling we have or how deep our faith runs, if we don't have love, we are worthless.
As all of these things have sat on my heart over the past few days, I've realized how miserably I've failed to love. All too often, I'm not patient or kind, and I can be quite arrogant. I like to get my own way, and I'm easily annoyed. Sometimes I have a sense of entitlement because I think that the gifts God has blessed me with are superior to the gifts of others. I struggle with resentment and bitterness, and I'm far from a portrait of love in action. In fact, I'd probably fit right in with the Corinthians who were pushing and shoving their way into the limelight.
Gifts come and go. They wax and wane, fading into the distance. They aren't eternal. But love is. It never ends, and the ability to love is the greatest of all gifts. It is the summation of all biblical commandments. Loving God and loving neighbor is really what the love chapter is all about. If the church is ever really to be the church, we have to start laying ourselves aside and loving one another with our whole hearts. That is what we, including myself, were created to do.
All of these thoughts have led me to a confession, worded most beautifully in the Book of Common Prayer:
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, By what I have done, And by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry, and I humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, Have mercy on me, and forgive me; That I may delight in your will, And walk in your ways, To the glory of your Name. Amen.