Outside of the passage from the book of Genesis (ch. 2), it is no surprise that Paul’s great chapter on love in I Corinthians 13 is frequently read at weddings. After all, isn’t love the ideal reason for marriage in today’s society? For the common person, it is not for social or political reasons. Not for an arranged marriage. It is love. Those other reasons seems like entering into a contract of misery.
When I attended a co-workers wedding recently, I once again heard Paul’s words. But unlike all the other times, this time I really heard the words. They sounded different this time. What I could almost repeat verbatim entered my ears for what seemed like the first time.
Instead of the word “love,” they used the older, traditional word of “charity.” When we think of charity, we often think of the giving of our time and/or money to those in need. Do we ever consider that what we are giving is love? Do we give out of love?
If you have read any of my other posts, you may have realized that I frequently write on the virtues. There are seven traditional virtues. The four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, and courage. And then, there are the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Paul closes out the thirteenth chapter with these words:
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. –I Corinthians 13:13
The greatest of these is love. Love, the highest virtue. And for those who would strive to be more virtuous in their daily lives, they must do it with love. What is any of the other virtues without this one? You could attempt to keep the 10 commandments and hold to the law without love. But then you would miss the point. But when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of them all was, He responded with, “First love God, then love your neighbor.” (My abbreviated translation from Matthew 22:36-40). If you truly love God and your neighbor, you would be able to keep the law. Not because you were commanded or forced to do so, but because you wanted to do so, out of love.
Most of my day I spend thinking about how I can become a better person. I strive to be more virtuous, and then I record my efforts so that someday my son may have a little help as he negotiates his own path. For some reason, I rarely think about becoming a more loving person. I go back to thinking of today’s definition of charity and forget that it really is loving my neighbor. It is easy to love friends and family, but do I have the same outpouring towards those who desperately need it? In the end, we are all on the same team. We are humans trying to survive in a world that is often harsh and indifferent to our desires.
For those who could hear a nourishing passage, here is the full thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians:
- If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.
- If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I can have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
- If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I am nothing.
- Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
- It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
- Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
- It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
- Love never fails. But when there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
- For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
- but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
- When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
- Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
- And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.