If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. 3 If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever. 4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. 9 We know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things. 12 Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. 13 Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 CEB
Love is hard, especially if we commit to it. I officiate a fair number of wedding ceremonies every year and often this passage is read. I personally would never choose it for a wedding ceremony – for two reasons. One, I think it should be saved for the renewal of the vows ceremony for the 50th anniversary. This is a tough passage. It sounds great when you read it, but have you ever thought about how hard it is to actually live like this? I am not sure why more newlyweds don’t run for the exits instead of repeating their vows upon hearing these verses. Love is hard, but essential.
Reason number two. Taken in context, this chapter has absolutely nothing to do with marriage. What it is talking about is how a community lives and works together. I find this extremely comforting. Of course, Paul is setting a high bar for love. He states that no matter what else we do, if we don’t have love our doing is for naught. My mother certainly worried about this in her last days. Had she loved us well? Was it enough? She wasn’t sure. We, her children, were absolutely positively certain that she had loved us well. This didn’t mean she was perfect at it or even had the capacity to express love in ways we would have preferred. But she loved the way she loved to the best of her ability; part of maturing into adulthood required her children to figure that out. And we all did.
Personal reflections aside, Paul offers comfort in our love-challenged moments, because he is teaching us that it takes a community to love well. You get it? It means that as individuals, we will each have strengths and weaknesses in the love department – but as a family, a tribe, a hut, a village, a community – living and working together we can cover the love needs of all. Now that is pretty darn sweet! But….it does require us working together as a community.