“Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 1:8)
1 Corinthians 13 is a chapter that is most often heard read at a wedding. The implication is that this is a text about the kind of love you see in a newlywed couple. There is affection and romance and a lot of good feelings between parties. This is a case of the context (a wedding) shaping the understanding of the text
Of course, the Apostle Paul probably didn’t see this as a wedding text for 21st century Americans – there was something else going on. He was writing to a community of people who were experiencing tensions between each other. They were wrestling with how to sustain a community of people who could justify claiming to be followers of Jesus. Arguments about “I’m right,” vs. “No, I am,” were the stuff of daily infighting. Earlier in this same letter Paul had even said that the way they were treating each other meant that when they communed it was an insult to the body of Christ and not fitting for followers of Jesus. Something had to give.
Here Paul shows the alternative. There is more to being right than just being right. In fact, much of what people were fighting about was of short-term value anyway. It might be “right,” but in some other place or time people might have done it differently and it would still be “right.” The thing that was of lasting value was not just the right idea, or right decision, or being in charge. The thing that was of lasting value was love. Were people able to treat each other with love and would they make decisions that were not just objectively correct but also grounded in love? A brilliant idea shared without love is just a “clanging cymbal.”
In today’s world there are a lot of clanging cymbals. It seems our political landscape is littered with loud, disrespectful and even mean-spirited conversations. It is hard for us to even talk about it without getting caught up in that spirit and discovering that we have been sucked in to being “clanging cymbals” ourselves.
But Paul says that in all of this, followers of Jesus are called to something deeper and more lasting. The key is not to outsmart each other or to outmaneuver those who think differently than we do. The mark of being a Christian is to be someone who always engages others with love. Whether in the church as we live out our faith life together, in our daily lives at home or in the workplace, or in conversations with others in all sorts of settings there is one thing people should be able to say about us: “There is something different here. I don’t always agree with them, but I always feel loved by them.” In the world we live in, that sign can make a lasting difference. For as Paul has told us, “Love never ends.”