The Love Chapter
1 Corinthians 13, aka, ‘the Love Chapter.’ Read at weddings and cross-stitched by grandmas across the world, the words no doubt are familiar to most of you: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast….”
Relegated to nuptials and needlework, the Love Chapter elicits more “awws” than it does “ouches” (unless grandma just pricked her finger). But when Paul sat down to write this letter, he wasn’t giving the people of Corinth something to read at their weddings or to hang on their walls. What Paul had in mind was much bigger and broader than that.
Paul’s audience was a deeply divided and dysfunctional church—a church characterized by all kinds of sins including idolatry, infighting and incest—and Paul, for his part, intended to show them a “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). In light of everything that precedes it, then, the Love Chapter is not sentimental kitsch but serious business. Paul is not waxing eloquent on the virtues of love.
He is delivering to the people and placing within their hands a handbook for humanity, a dictum for daily living. Indeed, the so-called Love Chapter is one of the clearest and most concise articulations in the Bible of what it means to be human—of what it means to be a man.
I recognize that’s a rather bold claim so let me show you how we get there. In another famous ‘love chapter’ in the Bible, we read two times that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Combine those passages (“God is love”) with 1 Cor. 13 (“Love is….”) and what you get reads something like this:
God is patient and kind; God does not envy or boast; God is not arrogant or rude. God does not insist on his own way; God is not irritable or resentful; God does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God never fails.
This isn’t true of God alone—it is supposed to be true of you and me as well. The reason why this is so is because you and I are made in the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:26-28). We were made to be like Him. You (yes, you!) are uniquely designed and equipped to reflect God’s heart and God’s character to the rest of the world around you.
To be like God, to love like God—this is what it means to be human. Frankly, anything less than this is dehumanizing.
This is why 1 Cor. 13 should make you wince (“ouch!”) before it makes you feel all warm and cuddly inside (“aww!”). In his book Loving the Way Jesus Loves, Phil Ryken suggests we ought to insert our own name into the passage every time we see the word ‘love’ (or ‘God’ for that matter). Do that and you’ll probably feel like how I feel: exposed, broken, like a failure and not very loving at all. If 1 Cor. 13 is what a clean bill of health looks like, by comparison, I am horribly sick!
Here’s the good news: Jesus did not come for the healthy but the sick, not for the righteous but sinners (Mark 2:17). If you read 1 Cor. 13 and feel more condemned than congratulatory, cheer up: Jesus came for you! Your failure to love incurred a debt, which Jesus came to pay in full. But that is not all. Jesus came to heal you too. He came to renew you in His image—to make you fully human once again.
As I like to tell students at the University of Vermont, “Jesus loves us enough to meet us where we are at, and Jesus loves us enough not to leave us there.” Let that inform how you approach 1 Cor. 13. Read rightly, the Love Chapter shows me 1) my need for a Savior; 2) what the love of God is like—i.e., how He loves sinners like you and me; and 3) what I can become when I entrust myself to the saving hands of the Good Physician. As we explore this chapter together, let it do the same saving work on you.
John Meinen is the campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship at University of Vermont. John, graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Upon graduation, he backpacked throughout South/Southeast Asia, spent a year of service with AmeriCorps VISTA in the San Francisco Bay Area, studied microfinance in Bangladesh, and encountered Christ in the slums of Nairobi and the war zones of northern Uganda. Back in the States, John led backpacking trips for Outward Bound, participated in a year-long fellowship program in the DC area, earned a Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). John is married to his wonderful wife named Megan and they have a daughter Willa. John and his wife Megan have a passion for reaching university students with the love and hope of the Gospel.