Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Ezekiel 20:35, Galatians 5:5-26
Love, as framed in 1 Corinthians 13, was framed for me as a child of six. It was a perfect square made of 15 smaller squares, each cross-stitched in pastel blues and pinks and yellows. I stared at it for hours of my childhood because it sat above the baby grand piano at which I endured years of piano lessons.
Every week I would stare at those squares in the dim light of my piano teacher’s studio and count with the metronome until I could leave. It’s no wonder she told my parents I was a hopeless case and to put me in soccer or horseback riding when, after four years of lessons, I was still incapable of playing the most rudimentary scales. I wasn’t listening to a word she said. But I still remember the cross-stitched squares perfectly today.
I don’t know about you, but love is hard for me. Love as a noun is okay. It’s very ethereal and nebulous and conjures up good feelings, emotions. “Love is love,” is what the cool kids are all saying. Okay, well… yes, but milk is milk and books are books and, of course, a thing is what it is. But what does that mean? Love as a noun is something, yes, but love is so much more than the smell of a newborn, or the flutters of a new relationship, or the feeling you have toward street tacos or 230-calories-per-serving ice cream or getting the thing you want. Love is so much more and so much harder than those things. It often feels more like a tone-deaf person practicing scales than it does anything sweet or nice or pastel.
If I’m honest, real love (the kind Paul writes about in this chapter) sounds like a symphony I’m never going to be able to play. It sounds beautiful and hopeless at the same time. I am never going to be capable of being perfectly patient, perfectly kind, perfectly without envy or boasting. I can barely bear some things, but how could I possibly bear all things? If what Paul is talking about is the definition of love, I’ve been practicing for a long time, and I need to find another hobby.
The comfort of this chapter, for the ones who are as hopeless about love as I am, is further down: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (v. 12, emphasis mine).
The harmony of these two sections clue us in to the true meaning of this text: just as my knowledge is partial, my love is partial. But just as I am fully known, I am fully loved. By whom? By the only One whose love is perfect. By the only One whose love is perfectly patient, perfectly kind, perfectly able to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. There is only One who has endured all things, and this is Christ.
Practice will not make my love perfect or even easy in this Christian life, no matter how hard we run our scales. Discipline is good and sanctification is sure; kindness will come more easily, patience more freely, but still imperfectly. But Paul assures us our dim sight won’t last forever and the scales will someday fall. Even still, “these three remain: faith, hope, and love” (v. 13). One day we will see fully and be seen fully by the greatest of all these—Love Himself, Jesus.
Lore Ferguson Wilbert is a writer, thinker, and learner. She blogs at Sayable, and tweets and instagrams at @lorewilbert. She has a husband named Nate, a puppy named Harper Nelle, and too many books to read in one lifetime.