“Write out 1 Corinthians 13 and insert your own name every time it says ‘love’.”
The instructions are scrawled across the top of a sheet of notebook paper in my journal. I don’t remember who gave them to me, but the point was obviously to impress upon me (and those in the Bible study or sermon with me) the stringent requirements of Christ-like love.
It’s disheartening isn’t it? Do you wonder what is the point of even trying?
For starters, I know that I haven’t always been patient or kind; I’ve certainly been selfish, and will be again. I’ve been rude before and looked out for my own interest. I’ve given up, refused to shoulder someone’s burden and I’ve felt hopeless. My guilt over failures to be perfectly loving is assuaged somewhat when I realize that every single human being out there is routinely unloving. We’ve all been on the receiving end, too, which then starts the vicious cycle of being easily angered or recording wrongs.
Face it, love is simply, humanly, impossible.
Now, before you assume that I’ve lowered the bar and I’m willing to walk away sighing, “Nobody’s perfect,” recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:48, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
We also know, from Philippians 4:13, that we can do all things through Christ. So, somehow, someway, this loving thing—in all of its nuances is possible.
I am sure that whoever gave me those instructions to replace the word, “love” with my own name, had the best of intentions. However, I think they were categorically wrong. My name, your name, doesn’t belong there. God’s does.
1 John 4:8 says, “ … God is love.”
Try rewriting the Love Chapter now:
“God is patient and kind. God is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Your Father does not demand His own way. He is not irritable, and keeps no record of being wronged. God does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Jesus never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
Now, not only do we have a more accurate rendering of this chapter, but we also have a clear view of how God’s grace really works, how on earth He could sacrifice His Son, why in the world He cared about humanity instead of just wiping out the whole, wretched lot of us. Now we know why He can say that all of our sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west. We see how Jesus stayed on the cross. We understand how Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, won every verbal spar with the religious rulers of His day.
It is His nature.
Love is not your nature. It is not my nature. That is why 1 Corinthians 13 is not a to do list for us. It is a list of God’s characteristics and His behavior toward us. Here is what we are supposed to do with love:
“Pursue love … “ 1 Corinthians 14:1
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:14
“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:14
God does not command, nor expect us to conjure up loving behavior and attitudes. Rather, we are to pursue love—in other words, replacing the word love with God—pursue God. We are to clothe ourselves with Christ and with love. As we close in on love; when we are clothed in it and experience the warm, gentleness of God’s love soothing our own souls, we become miraculously able to display love as well.
We are indeed called to be perfect and to love, but not as our human selves—as our Heavenly Father. The closer we are to Him, like a natural child spending time with his parents, we assume His character.
How are you doing in your own efforts to love others? What might happen if you refocus your energy on pursuing God (love) rather than good behavior?