It’s one thing to preach on 1 Corinthians 13 at a wedding. The bride and groom are beautiful, radiant, and filled with optimism.
They may know that others have struggled in their marriages — perhaps even people in their own families. But as they stand gazing into each other’s eyes, it may be unimaginable that they would ever treat each other as enemies. In the mood of the moment, Paul’s words simply sound romantic and wonderful.
A bit lofty, perhaps. But not unreachable.
Unfortunately, those same words may sound quite different a few years down the line.
- “Patient”? I’ve been patient. But he’s not willing to change. How long do I have to put up with this?
- “Rude”? Hey, I’m not the one being rude. You have no idea what an unbelievable control freak she is.
- “Keeps no record of wrongs”? What do you expect me to do — just forget about everything that’s happened in the last few years? No way I’m letting my guard down like that.
As I’ve said before, Paul isn’t really talking about marriage here, at least not directly. His immediate practical concern is the way rivalry and unloving attitudes are dividing the church. No doubt some of the Corinthians were as wary of Paul’s words as the hypothetical distraught spouses above.
But Paul the pastor/theologian would not be satisfied with merely correcting their behavior; he sought to correct their vision, their spiritual sight. Jesus’ command to love applies to every believer, and every relationship between believers. Without the appropriate vision, we may only hear the obligation to love the unlovable, to be charitable to someone we’d rather hate.
And in turn, without faith and hope, we can’t have the appropriate vision.
I’ve seen people flinch at the reading of the NIV’s phrase, “always trusts.” Trust my spouse? the reaction implies. Obviously, you don’t know my spouse.
But Paul isn’t telling us to put our faith and trust in any or every human being, but in a faithful and trustworthy God. He’s not telling us to cling to some simple and naïve hope that we’ll just wake up one morning and find that our spouses have changed. He wants us to believe in the whole gospel message. Our heavenly resurrection hope is that God will one day make all things new. But the new creation has already come (2 Cor 5:17), and we are part of it. Newness is not just a future promise but a real and present possibility.
And it begins with love.
To love truly in a world beset by sin? That’s risky. And it can hurt. But that is precisely the pain that Jesus endured on our behalf.
This isn’t a matter of making love a moral rule that you’d best follow or be condemned. It’s a matter of recognizing that we were the unlovely ones who received the love we didn’t deserve. We still don’t deserve it, yet it is ours to cherish. Because of this, we must also accept that all human loves are necessarily imperfect — the love we receive, the love we give.
But we know that this is not the end of the story. We persist in love because God does — and God will not let go of his sin-wounded creation until he has restored it to glory.
Our love must find its source, its rest, in that love.
Even — or perhaps especially — when it hurts.