A Closer Look at the "Love Chapter"
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
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Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud.
—1 Corinthians 13:4
I've read 1 Corinthians 13 more times than I can remember when performing weddings. For a while, this "Love Chapter" went out of style, as couples preferred more innovative weddings. But when they decided to do away with powder blue tuxes in favor of the more traditional black (Thanks be to God!), they also began to request 1 Corinthians 13 for their weddings.
But often couples choose this text without really thinking about what it says and does not say. They know it's about love, and that seems appropriate for the hyper-romantic ethos of a wedding. Yet, when I meet with couples to discuss their choice of 1 Corinthians 13, they are often startled when I affirm their choice but then add, "You know, there's no romance in this passage. If anything, it's anti-romantic."
What do I mean by this apparently heretical statement? I mean that 1 Corinthians 13 has little to do with the feelings of being in love, with the fairy tale "and they lived happily ever after" wishes that accompany a wedding. Romance says, "Oh, that couple looks so beautiful. I'm sure they'll have a wonderful marriage. Look, they're so much in love."
But 1 Corinthians 13 says, first of all, that love requires patience. Kindness could be related to romance, I suppose. But then the text adds: "Love is not jealous or boastful or proud" (13:4). By natural inclination, people are these things, but love is not. You don't hear the violins playing as the couple rides off into the sunset celebrating their lack of jealousy, boastfulness, or pride.
In fact, more than half of the descriptions of love in 1 Corinthians 13 are negations. They tell us what love is not. And, though it's not mentioned, they imply that the sort of love envisioned in this passage is not romantic. No, not romantic, but realistic. Not romantic, but sacrificial. Not romantic, but Christ-like.
Don't get me wrong. I think romance is just great. And I can tear up at a wedding just as much as the next person (which is sometimes a problem when I'm the pastor performing the wedding). But romance will only take us so far in any relationship. The kind of love celebrated in 1 Corinthians 13, however, can take us all the way, "for better or for worse, till death do us part." This is true, not only for a marriage, but also for a family, for friends, and for a church.
Mark Roberts is the Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary. He writes digital daily devotions at Life for Leaders. This article is adapted with permission from his original article "Where's the Romance?" at TheHighCalling.org. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures quoted are taken from the New Living Translation.
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