The other day I was driving down the canyon to Salt Lake City, enjoying the view of the snow covered mountains and a few minutes to myself. As I drove, I was listening to an audio book and heard the narrator read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
If you’re like me, these verses are very familiar. In their original context, the apostle Paul isn’t giving an abstract definition of love. Instead he’s addressing spiritual gifts. Scholars don’t agree on the genre of this passage, but many agree that Paul’s goal is to encourage the Corinthians to demonstrate love for one another. Some of the very things that love does not do are issues in the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 14:1 Paul urges his audience to “follow the way of love.”
Why address all of that? Because I want to acknowledge the original context. It matters. We are called to demonstrate our love for God and for one another in the way that we live our lives, in words and actions.
Another common principle of Biblical theology or interpretation, though, is that Scripture interprets Scripture. And as I was driving what God brought to mind wasn’t the original context, but this latter approach.
Back to 1 Corinthians 13, as I listened I immediately felt a sense of conviction. I am frequently impatient and unkind. I can be self-seeking and easily angered. I don’t think I need to keep going. You get the idea.
But then it was as if the Holy Spirit said “Wait. That’s not the point right now. Yes, you may fall short, but I am love”:
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.1 John 4:16
The exercise in self-condemnation stopped and I rewound the audio book, listening again and mentally substituting “God” where it said “love”:
4 God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. 5 He does not dishonor others, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. 6 God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 God never fails.
This is who God is. He is patient and kind. He isn’t envious, boastful, or proud. He doesn’t dishonor others and isn’t focused on Himself. He won’t give up on me or on you. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God isn’t keeping a list of my failures. Jesus paid for my sins. My sins have been removed “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).
Jesus’ life demonstrated this kind of love. God hasn’t only modeled this love throughout the Biblical narratives. Jesus lived it out in the flesh. He put others first, serving all of us.
Yes, how we live matters. My impatience isn’t OK. But this love isn’t something that I manufacture simply by trying harder. It is part of the fruit of the Spirit that grows in me over time as I am transformed by the Spirit. I have to cooperate with this work, but I don’t personally create the fruit.
So, yes. I’m reflecting on how I love others this week. I am seeking the Spirit’s transformative work in my life. But just as importantly, God is working on my understanding of what He is like. He is reminding me—just when I need it—that He isn’t waiting to condemn me for my failures. He is patiently waiting as that fruit grows, loving me as I am today. Broken and flawed. But also holy, chosen, and dearly loved. My prayer today is that He will do the same for you.
If you’d like to receive an email update for future videos, blog posts, and Scriptures for prayer you can subscribe below or in the sidebar on the right.