1 Corinthians 13 has become the “trademark” collection of Bible verses to describe the kind of love we all desire and want to attain. It is read at weddings, funerals, baby dedications, and every kind of significant life event to remind us of what real love looks like. Few of us have ever listened to these verses without feeling slightly ashamed; after all, if we did think we had achieved any of these standards, we’d immediately be acting proud, which ironically is one of the things the passage says love doesn’t do!
Love is patient, love is kind
It does not envy,
It does not boast,
It is not proud.
It does not dishonor others
It is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered,
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a; NIV
So there seems to be a catch-22 here: we are called to a high standard of love and yet largely unable to attain it. In fact, the verses prior to this passage state that even when doing every other kind of spiritual act, we are nothing without love (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). We know, of course, that God perfectly embodies and fulfills every listed quality of love. We even have testimonies to prove it. But after a long day at work, we easily lose patience with our spouses and yield to anger with our children. We are still upset about the time the neighbor took our shovel and broke it, without bothering to buy a replacement. And we are slow to trust someone who has crossed our boundaries yet one more time.
Why would God hold us to this kind of a standard if it is impossible to fulfill?
At a certain point in life, after the wedding bells have rung, the diapers have been changed and a few shovels have been broken, we realize that we cannot ever meet this standard in our own strength. I believe that what is not said in the love passage just as important as what is said. God knew that we could not love others (or even Himself) without His intervention and partnership in our lives. He first provided His Son as a means of erasing our sins (love keeps no record of wrongs), and then gave us His indwelling Presence in the form of the Holy Spirit so that we would be able to always trust Him, always hope in Him, and always persevere through difficult times.
Our life in God is meant to be lived in partnership. We no longer have to go it alone. He knew we couldn’t meet the high standards He set in His Word. And He intended to make a way for us to live a life of love together with Him.
Romans 5:5 says that God’s “love has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5, NASB). When we first believed in God, He gave us the Holy Spirit as a deposit or sign of His indwelling presence, and through that same Spirit He poured His perfect love into our hearts. Love, we find, is a fruit of the Spirit.
As we learn to stop trying so hard ourselves and begin asking Him to help us to draw on the love He put in our hearts to give to people, we will find that it is easier to fulfill the scriptures.
Looking back a few verses in Romans 5, it is interesting that several of the words mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13 are here also: hope, perseverance, and the kind of character that protects and trusts. These qualities are birthed in the unlovable situations we call trials and tribulations:
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that
tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven
character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through
the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5, NASB
God drives us toward Himself on two fronts: first, through scripture, as we realize that we cannot give or receive real love without Him. And second, through tribulations, which force us to rely totally on the love He poured into us at salvation.
As we depend on God to help us with our unlovable situations, we find, miraculously, that we are able to love others. We can be patient and kind because we trust Him to meet our needs as we meet the needs of others. We can endure many things we thought were beyond our strength (they were!). Our hope in His help does not disappoint us, because He is always faithful. And God’s love never fails.
c. Deborah Perkins / HisInscriptions.com