Try this experiment. Below, I’ve rewritten 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (CEB) in the first person. Read it out loud. Really, try it:
I am patient, I am kind, I’m not jealous, I don’t brag, I’m not arrogant, I’m not rude, I don’t seek my own advantage, I’m not irritable, I don’t keep a record of complaints, I’m not happy with injustice, but am happy with the truth. I put up with all things, trust in all things, hope for all things, endure all things.
I have a hard time saying those things aloud without wondering if I’m going to be struck by lightning. (Yes, right, apparently I need to learn more about grace, too.)
Paul does what he always does: he moves back and forth from the immediate problem in Corinth to the much bigger picture of God and his kingdom. Many of the negative and unloving behaviors and attitudes he describes were already plaguing the Corinthian congregation. But as we will see, he embeds these in a larger vision of God’s love for us, and of a forward-looking Christian life that prioritizes the progress of the gospel.
At that level, Paul’s words about love aren’t simply prescriptions for loving behavior. They raise the question of whether we “get it,” whether we personally understand our own lives in a way that makes sense of that kind of love. The description is neither sentimental mush nor an unreachable ideal; it is the logical ethical consequence that follows from having one’s imagination grasped by the fullness of the gospel.
And it all begins with understanding God’s love for us. More on that in part 3.