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.
1 Corinthians 13 says, ‘If I speak with tongues of humans and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a sounding bronze, or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy. Love does not brag, is not proud, does not behave itself inappropriately, does not seek its own way, is not irritable, does not keep a record of wrongs; does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are tongues, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part, and prophecy in part; but when that which is complete has come, that which is partial will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become an adult, I have 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 will know fully, even as I was also fully known. But now faith, hope, and love remain – these three. The greatest of these is love.‘ (NHEB)
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 one’s 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 healing, 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.