When I do marriage and relationship seminars, I can count on the fact that the room will be filled with frustrated people. They’ve had the same arguments over and over again. They want change, but don’t know how to go about it. And they’re hoping to pick up a new insight or idea that might help.
So early on, soon after we begin, I ask them why they’ve come. What are they hoping to get out of the seminar? What’s their purpose for being there? To improve their relationships? To have happier marriages?
To reduce the noise level in their homes?
Those are all worthy goals, and I hope that what I teach them will help. But I press further. “What if you try these things and they don’t work?” I ask. “What then? Will you give up?”
My point is this. It’s one thing to change your behavior because you are hoping to reach some pragmatic goal like arguing less, or getting your partner to understand your point of view.
But it’s another to change your behavior because you want to be the kind of person that God wants you to be, whether it “works” or not.
As we saw in the previous post, love is grounded in and celebrates the gospel. Paul isn’t teaching the Corinthians a relationship seminar, he’s helping them to be more faithful people. Their relationship problems stem, in part, from being insufficiently transformed by the gospel they have believed.
I’m not saying that becoming a Christian should solve all your problems. Praying a Jesus prayer doesn’t suddenly erase a whole history of broken relationships and their emotional residue. I’m not saying, as is often said, that if you just “have enough faith” all your difficulties in life will just dissolve in a beautiful warm glow. Anyone who believes that hasn’t studied the life of Jesus or Paul, let alone all the saints who have suffered for the gospel over the centuries
But what we need is the vision to see beyond the troubles that annoy and disturb us in the moment, the Dang!-here-we-go-again conflicts that sink us into frustration and futility.
That’s what Paul wants for the Corinthians. He’s not simply teaching them a list of self-help relationship rules. He’s trying to give them a vision of a love that transcends all their petty squabbles.
“Why are you here?” I ask seminar participants. “What do you really want? Maybe you’re here to improve your relationships, to be more satisfied in your marriages. And I hope what I teach you today will help.
“But some changes take time. It takes patience and commitment. So if you’re going to change your behavior, do it because you’re convinced that this is what God wants you to do. If you’re going to learn to be a better listener, for example, do it because you believe that God wants you to learn humility and compassion, not just because it will help you solve problems.”
The present moment is important, and today’s frustrations can grab all of our attention and energy. But today is also a good day to rethink our goals, to ponder what we really want. Who do we want to be? Who does God want us to be?
And what must we do to fit ourselves for an eternity in which, of all our spiritual concerns, love is the only thing that remains?