A while back I sat through a friend’s wedding – another friend’s wedding. The second in as many weeks. This is not an easy feat for an over-40 solo woman whose marital status has outlived the rise and fall of four church single adult groups (due to the pairing up of all the singles into couples).
As I say, such was my circumstance that weekend. Sitting in the third row watching with tears of joy (and a not little melancholy) as another single friend gave herself away to her new mate. Reading the program, I was not surprised that she had chosen to have the infamous 1 Corinthians 13 read during her ceremony. Why does every bride choose that Scripture? I asked myself. I suppose it’s safer than the 1 Timothy section on submission; but still …
I put my brain on cruise control as the words rolled off the reader’s tongue. “Love is patient. Love is kind. …” Yada, yada, yada. Heard it before. Memorized it. Nothing new there. I may have even stifled a yawn.
Six days later I found myself in my music room, scrubbing away at my new cello (I was teaching myself to play--a task I've more recently classified as hopeless!) accompanied by my patient mother on the electric keyboard. We’d found that playing old favorites out of the hymnal (only those in appropriate keys) was about all the challenge I could handle on that instrument, so we were playing hymn 664, “Sweeter as the Years Go By.”
My scrubbing arm grew tired, so I dropped out as mom continued on to another song, on another page. Since my arm was too tired to lift itself and turn the page I allowed my eye to traverse 665. Six sixty-five, it turned out, was a reading. The title caught my eye and grabbed my attention. “The Character of a Christian.” Hmm. I’ve written a few things about character—namely a book titled Staying True in a World of Lies.
As I wrote that book several years ago and revised it last year, I searched the Scriptures for appropriate passages that addressed the subject of character or integrity. And I found many – mostly in the wise old book of Proverbs. So, as I considered 665, I found myself more than a little anxious to see what Scripture the editors had chosen to fit that intriguing title.
Just then I saw the reference at the bottom of the page. It read simply, “From 1 Corinthians 13.” Ugh. Lemme alone. Go away. Don’t they know the Apostle Paul most certainly penned those words just to be read at wedding ceremonies in the 21st century? What does love have to do with character?
But then, I read the list. It was written in a different translation than any I’d encountered before – and it was most certainly abridged – but it contained all the key ingredients of the chapter. Perhaps it was the late hour. Perhaps the newness of a different translation. Whatever it was, I suddenly realized that alongside our integrity, our truth, our unity of thought, word and deed that I wrote about in Staying True, there is another principle that is just as crucial in all our interactions with the secular world – whether at work, in the marketplace of ideas, in our churches, or (yes) in our homes and while we're busy about our caregiving duties.
And that principle is one that cannot fail without devastating consequences. Without it I am, according to the hymnal’s editors, a “rattling pan.”
That principle is love. Not the mushy stuff of wedding day kisses and for-the-camera smiles. But love. Like God’s love. Pure, unselfish, patient, and holy.
Here, in The Message paraphrase, is a repackaging of the key principles found in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7:
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
In those moments, as mom’s melodious notes played on, I knew--I don't want to be a rusty gate or a rattling pan--especially not in God's eyes and ears. So, my continuing lesson was to be love. Not necessarily a marriage kind of love (although I certainly wouldn’t rule that out), but more likely a lovingness that pervades everything else I do and say – and everything I think.
“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). This loving action – or interaction – with each other inside the faith, as well as those not yet in the faith – is the mark of a true believer. But it isn't easy and certainly doesn't come naturally--not by any stretch of the imagination.
I'm taking this new-old challenge to heart this week--and I pray in it you'll hear God's voice prompting you, as well. May my life, no matter how frustrating, challenging, angering, or debilitating--be best summed up in the word love.
Blessings and prayers,
© 2011, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: firstname.lastname@example.org