Many of us know the passage well. People quote it, read it at weddings, hang it on plaques on the wall—Paul’s famous words on love from 1 Corinthians 13.
Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. – 1 Corinthians 13:6-8 (CSB)
When we read this passage in their context, we find that it’s not primarily about marriage or romance, but about serving one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus. Paul wrote these words right in the heart of correcting the church on how to use spiritual gifts to serve and not to show off or exalt self. Still, the application is broad. Serving others is a universal call for we who follow Jesus. So, we can apply this to marriage and friendship and how we treat our neighbors.
If we were to boil down Paul’s teachings into a single statement, it would say this: Love happily seeks the best for others. And, oh, how that should be us!
Love, in this way, is other-focused. It is like when Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. There’s an assumption here: We typically are patient with ourselves and want others to be patient toward us. We tend to be kind to ourselves and want others to be kind toward us. We tend to be… and want others… the list goes on. The Bible assumes that in normal situations, we love and want the best for ourselves. But it also knows that it is harder for us to freely extend this attitude toward others.
But that is the command here—we’re to be patient with others, kind to others, not envious of others, etc. And nowhere do we see that we are to be these things only if they reciprocate. Love is not self-serving through what we gain from others. In Christ, we are already perfectly loved by the Father. We love because he loved us. That should be enough to motivate us to love even if no one loves us back the way we would want. Love is other-focused.
Love also looks for the best. We can say this in two ways: First, love seeks to bring the best to others. True love seeks ways to better the life of another both in the present and in eternity. It seeks to show the person Jesus and meet their present needs—physical, emotional, and relational. Second, love looks for the best in others. Living in a fallen world and being repeatedly hurt in a fallen world can cause us to be jaded. We jump to conclusions, question motives, and make assumptions without the facts. Love fights against these trends. Love refused to ignore evil and will deal with it when necessary, but love is also willing to believe and hope. Love looks for the best.
Finally, love continues. Paul was making this point in light of eternity: Eventually, when Jesus comes back and we see things clearly and no longer as through a blurry mirror, the need for various gifts will drop away. But love will remain. God is love, as John the Apostle wrote. God is also eternal. So, if love will continue forever, our present moments of love should be long-lasting. The “loving feeling,” as the song says, sometimes gets lost. But love itself, as a commitment and an act to seek another’s best, should continue. If someone loves us, we continue to love them. If someone is indifferent to us, we continue to love them. If someone hurts us as an enemy, we continue to love them. Jesus, after all, loved us when we were his enemies. He loves us when our hearts turn momentarily apathetic. And he loves us all the same when we love him well. That is his example for us. Love continues.
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