Love Never Ends
On more than one occasion over the years I have “explained” to couples and congregations that Paul’s “hymn to love,” I Corinthians 13, is not really about romantic love or the love between two people at all.
It is, I pointed out, about the absence of love in a church. Paul wrote to a congregation, not a couple.
In First Church Corinth some people rated particular spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues or prophetic powers or even mountain-moving faith, to be of surpassing importance. And they counted those who possessed such gifts, usually themselves, to be more important than those who did not.
To which Paul said, “Great, but if you ain’t got love, you got nothing. If you don’t love each other, what’s the point?” That would be my paraphrase.
I was right. I Corinthians 13 isn’t about romantic love. It wasn’t written for a couple in love on their wedding day, but for people in a church every day. But you can be right, as I was, and still be wrong, as I was.
People who saw in this passage an ode to their love for their beloved or a celebration of love whenever and where ever weren’t wrong. Scripture’s context is important. But God’s Word spills out and over to mean more than teachers and preachers know.
So on this Valentine’s Day, hear again Paul’s hymn to love, which is for couples and individuals, for congregations and communities, and for all of us, and you in particular, today.
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 my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
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 too will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect 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 an adult, 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 understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Dear ones, as I grow older the words, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” seem only more beautiful, true and urgent. Thank you for the love you bear, the love you share.