The most excellent way (part 1)

500It seems a little unbelievable: as it happens, this is the 500th blog post on Squinting through Fog.  I didn’t plan it in advance, but it seems somehow appropriate that that this post would kick off a series on love, the defining virtue of the Christian life.

Recently, squinting into the afternoon sun (see how I managed to get “squinting” in there?), I had the privilege of officiating a wedding for two wonderful young people.  Much of the homily was based on these well-known words from 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth.  Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.  (1 Cor 13:4-7, CEB)

Paul, of course, isn’t talking about marriage or even romantic love.  Against the background of spiritual pride that was causing confusion and disunity in the church, Paul wanted to teach the Corinthians “the most excellent way,” the way taught and modeled by Jesus himself: love.  As discussed in previous posts, without love, even the most spectacular of spiritual gifts was meaningless.

But that’s not to say that Paul’s words have no place in a wedding sermon.  Whatever our cultural values and expectations, it’s not really romance that holds a marriage together.  And in particular, Christian marriages need to be grounded in love of the kind that Paul describes.  Yes, this love should characterize the entire church — but given the lines we draw between our public and private lives, I believe it’s equally challenging to truly embody agape love in the home.

Let’s begin with this.  Paul insists in verses 1 to 3 that no matter how impressive our religious and spiritual credentials might seem, without love, we’re nothing.  Yet we keep trying to make ourselves “something,” in ways that are frequently unloving.  What self-centered motives keep us from pursuing the most excellent way, in our congregations and families?