1 Corinthians 13: It’s not just for weddings anymore!
Last summer, Karen and I renewed our wedding vows, and we resisted the temptation to use 1 Corinthians 13 as one of the Bible readings during the ceremony.
Not because it’s not appropriate, but because it may be too appropriate. This is the ‘love is patient, love is kind’ passage that’s read at so many weddings, it’s almost a cliché.
To wit, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn bet 20 bucks in the 2005 film Wedding Crashers on whether this passage or Colossians 3:12 would be read at a knot-tying they attended [uninvited, of course]. Owen won: it was 1 Corinthians 13.
If they’d crashed our vow renewal, Vince would have won: Karen and I used Colossians 3:12-17 – still pretty common for these sorts of occasions, but a little less obvious.
I still think it was the better choice for us, but in Hindsight, I think I’ve tended to sell 1CorXIII a little short in the past. It’s popular at weddings for a reason, for starters. And its nuptialic applicability in no way diminishes its relevance to the rest of our lives.
This little hunk of reality was first pointed out this past fall, when Rick Warren walked my Bible Study group (and a few million others) through it via DVD, in one of the early weeks of 40 Days of Community (Also see 40 Days Later.) Warren’s spotlighting of this passage prompted one member of the group to point out she’s obviously not very loving, because she’s terribly impatient.
My ears were burning.
But there were a few other things going on at the time, so I didn’t really sink my teeth into the passage until this week – thanks, appropriately, to our vow renewal ceremony. (It’s almost as if God was heaven-bent on deliberately confronting me with this passage, for some reason!)
You see, Karen’s parents (via their elder daughter Dorothy) bought us a very nice couple’s devotional book to celebrate our vow renewal, and we decided to get started on it at the beginning of January. (Thanks again, Amy, Aubrey and Dot – what a great gift!) And wouldn’t you know it, one of this week’s activities in the book takes an up-close look at 1 Corinthians: 13:4-8. Specifically, readers are instructed to read the passage out loud, but substitute our own names for the words ‘love’ and ‘it.’
Sounds easy, fun and even flattering, doesn’t it? Nope. Guess again.
I’ve always thought of myself as a very loving person, but the experience was extremely convicting. Halfway through Verse 5, I was in Makeitstopland. It was almost painful.
Here’s a little sample of what I said, and what I thought as I read it (in brackets).
Rob is patient (rarely), Rob is kind (when he feels like it). Rob does not envy (much), Rob does not boast (often), Rob is not proud (oh yes he is). Rob does not dishonor others (as much as some people do), Rob is not self-seeking (compared to that jerk in high school), Rob is not easily angered (Pffft! If only that were true), Rob keeps no record of wrongs (is it my fault I have a good memory?). Rob does not delight in evil (or, at least it doesn’t seem like it at the time) but rejoices with the truth (on his good days). Rob always protects (the people he chooses to), always trusts (those who’ve proven themselves worthy of trust), always hopes (things will go his way), always perseveres (except when he doesn’t). Rob never fails (to do what’s most advantageous for himself).
The moral of the story is:
- Quite often, Bible verses we think are ‘old hat’ often have a lot to teach us. So when a familiar passage comes up, I’m going to do my best to listen particularly closely from now on.
- We use the word ‘love’ so much and in so many ways that we assume we know what it is and what it looks like. The fact is that authentic love is easier said than done.
This passage spells out quite clearly what love really looks like, and it’s an incredibly high standard, isn’t it?
And we’re called to live this out … we’re to love our neighbors and our enemies – and on the 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 report card, I’m running a D average (at best) with my wife and kids! How on Earth am I supposed to bring these words to life in all my relationships, 24-7?!?
Is my question a non-starter because it includes the word ‘Earth’? Is it even possible in this temporal existence?
Well, we’re taught that it was entirely possible for Jesus, because he achieved it. And since Jesus can be described as humanity perfected, the potential for full-fledged authentic love must be inside us, too.
Wonderful. So how do we tap into it?
But while I’m working on figuring that out (I’ll keep you posted), effort in the right direction has to count for something.
Or to put it another way, maybe we’re called to make the following our life’s mission:
Love perfectly or die trying.
Peace be with you.