And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13, ESV)
By American standards, Brett and Sheri should be living a relatively easy upper-middleclass life. He is a pediatrician; she a nurse practitioner. They have three wonderful boys, all currently under the age of six. They should be living in the suburbs of a nice, US city in a large house located in a neighborhood full of others in similar positions. They should have all of that ... but Brett and Sheri have taken a far different approach.
They serve in a hospital in West Africa, Mali to be exact. And, while they do have some amenities others around them do not posses, it really isn't anything like the "American standard" most of us have come to expect. He treats a steady stream of malnourished and often dying children. She works with women of the region who have or may have HIV in an attempt to reduce the risk of transfer to their unborn children. And they both see the worst outcomes ... far more often than the shining moments where a life is saved.
Yet, in the midst of this, they have learned in the most practical way, that "love bears all things". It bears the short cycle of life and death in Mali. It bears the worth of a woman with HIV who has come to the clinic as her only opportunity to bear a healthy child. It bears Sheri's hesitance when one of the women she has treated comes to her house and kisses her youngest right on the lips. It bears all this, because of the Source of this love - Christ!
When I was growing up, the twelfth chapter of Corinthians was often a source of debate and confusion. The "gifts" were something to be desired, but often were a complete mystery. Some of them were said to be dormant. Some were only given for specific times and only in a temporary fashion. And the list of how, when, what, and why went on and the debate followed. In the broader story contain in Paul's letter, I have come to see the very last phrase of what we see as chapter twelve to have been lost to a degree. Paul, in much the same way as Jesus, is using what he is teaching as a "set up" to drive home a bigger, more salient point. He is getting ready to show "a more excellent way" to the Corinthians (and to us).
Love, coming from the very heart of God, is the most durable substance known to man. It can bear up under any stress and will give root to everything else that is good. It won't rush to judgment, it won't behave in a rude manner, and it will always seek and point to the truth. In Colossians (3:14), Eugene Peterson even renders Paul's writing on love as the "ultimate all-purpose garment" to be worn at all times. That is far more precious and substantial than any one of the gifts named in the chapter before. It is, as I see it, to be the very bedrock of our existence. After all, God's love came to us in the person of Jesus and began the process of setting us right with Him.
So, as I listened to Brett and Shari, home on their brief visit, I heard the words in chapter thirteen loudly and clearly. Brett could smile as he told us of those children who had been helped and how the Gospel had been spread. Shari could speak with confidence of reaching out to women in their deepest need and giving them life-sustaining medication in addition to touching their souls. And I, as I walk the Crooked Path of my own life, can take encouragement in knowing my Father loves me and that, through that love, I too can bear all things. Love truly is the most excellent way.
- When was the last time you really stopped to think about how much God loves you and what He has done for you through Jesus Christ?
- What things or people in your life do you regularly find unbearable that, when viewed through the lens of God's love, should be seen as something of worth to Him who created them?
- How do you stack up against the characterizations of love in this passage? Are you rude, bitter, judgmental, or filled with despair? Can you trust God's love enough to begin to hope once again?