Wednesday, 11 January 2012

1 Corinthians 13 - A devotional

At my niece’s wedding I was asked to do a Bible reading of 1 Corinthians chapter 13, also known as the love chapter. It was a garden wedding and I was to wear high-heeled shoes. Being a bit apprehensive about it all, I practised in my garden reading the chapter aloud to the magpies, balancing on my fancy shoes whilst wearing my old clothes. The neighbours must have decided I had gone batty. Anyway, on the day, the reading went well.

As I read this chapter over and over again, I came to appreciate in a new way just how profound it is, especially for those of us who are Christians. Although it’s often used at weddings, it wasn’t written specifically for husbands and wives. The apostle Paul directs this chapter to those of us in Christian ministry in the body of Jesus Christ, the church.

In the preceding chapter, 1 Corinthians 12, Paul discusses the various ministry gifts and callings within the church. He concludes the chapter in verse 31 with words that are often linked typographically to chapter 13 - “and now I will show you the most excellent way” or “and now I will show you a way that is beyond comparison.” These words serve as an introduction to the following great chapter on love.

Verses 1 to 3 of chapter 13 serve as a warning. The familiar, melodic rhythms of these verses belie the seriousness of the message. With reference to the preceding chapter, we can be involved in Christ’s church in various ministries and displaying a multitude of admirable talents, but the message here is clear. We can be walking the walk and talking the talk but still not have a heart for God, let alone for the people that surround us. And if we don’t everything else is useless, in fact, worse than that. We will become that clanging cymbal, that thing that grates on people and repels them and none of us want to be like that.

Then God in his infinite wisdom continues the chapter with His “how to” list. In verses 4 to 8, we are given a list of attributes of love, which, if practised, will change your life, ministry and church. The world is full of courses and self-help books promising 7 secrets of this  or  14 steps to a better that  and such like, but our loving Father has given us, in this chapter, principles which can and do change relationships for the better. It is a practical list and I think that often it is not emphasized enough, being positioned in the chapter in amongst so much beautiful imagery.

“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (New International Version),  What challenges lie within these verses. At a ladies’ devotional, I typed out the list, including the inverse to the negatives –
Love is
does not envy – is pleased for and encouraging of others
does not boast – is modest
is not proud – is humble, considers others of worth
does not dishonor others  – is polite and respectful
is not self-seeking – glorifies God, defers, submits
is not easily angered – even tempered
keeps no record of wrongs – forgives and forgets
Does not delight in evil – concentrates on positives, repents of sin, shows compassion
Rejoices with the truth - rejoices in the good news of Jesus Christ

Our  ladies’ group  challenged ourselves to each post a list of these attributes somewhere where we could see them. We would choose one attribute each day and to try throughout the day to concentrate on behaving as specified eg. today I will be patient; today I will curb my temper; today I will lovingly put aside the memory of that hurt. Over a period of a couple of weeks we would work through the list. It’s an exercise which for me personally demonstrated how often I do the opposite.

Verses 8-12 remind us of what many of the elders in our community understand well – that love is the only thing that endures. Working in community health, I visit many homes and with very few exceptions, photographs of couples, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren take pride of place. There are few photos of cars or workplaces. Relationships are paramount. Paul reminds us that so much of what we strive to achieve passes away, but love endures. Our relationship with Christ grows and deepens throughout life as we journey with Him and come to know him more. We strive to grow from baby Christians into a fuller maturity, with the knowledge that we will one day see Him face to face. What a wonderful promise is held in these verses!

So we come to the final line of that great oratory, the one that is stitched into tapestry, fashioned into jewellery, printed on photo frames and so much more. Faith, hope and love abide, but love is the greatest. It is only God’s love, shining through us, that makes us beautiful. It’s genuine love for the word which attracts the unbeliever to the verses we quote.  It is God’s love and grace which sets apart the churches that form real Christian communities. Unbelievers hear not the clanging cymbal, but a beautiful, irresistible symphony.

May we each try to be a little more loving this week.


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