A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Scripture Not Just for Weddings Only: A Lectionary Reflection on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If there is one place you can count on hearing this epistle lesson, it is during a wedding ceremony. First Corinthians 13 is by far one of the most, if not the most commonly read passage during a couple's marriage ceremony. In one sense, this is understandable. The theme of the chapter is love. However, Paul does not have the love between two people in mind. He is writing to a very divided church whose members are in competition over everything from whose baptism is more valid (1:10-17) to the previous chapter 12, in which Paul has to remind them that the diversity of the Body of Christ and the spiritual gifts that are exercised are needed for the church to function in unity.

Paul knows, however, that the Corinthians cannot be the one Body of Christ without love, "which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Colossians 3:14). Peter Marty writes,
Divisions caused by choices about worship patterns are nothing new. The apostle Paul grappled with a similar situation in 1 Corinthians 13. The church in Corinth was being demoralized by arguments over spiritual gifts. The profusion of gifts among believers led them to draw what Paul S. Minear called "invidious distinctions among themselves, claim[ing] for one gift pre-eminence over others. Thus was produced a bedlam of sound and a competitive spirit that were destroying the fabric of fellowship. All this was rationalized and justified by an appeal to the Holy Spirit." In other words, well-intended praise had turned into anarchy.
The way of love will outlast the gifts of the Spirit, and the Corinthians would be wise to centrally focus on the former while not neglecting the latter. It is a way that is even greater than faith and hope... and faith and hope are important and necessary. The character of God's love is revealed in Jesus Christ who in love went to the cross. Jesus has become the embodiment of God's love for us and the model of our love for one another in the community of faith. Christian marriage should model that same example of Christ, so there is an appropriate place for reading 1 Corinthians 13 during the wedding ceremony. The problem is that 1 Corinthians 13 read without its context can be wrongly understood to be promoting a romantic love founded on emotion, in which true love is judged by feelings instead of the kind of love that willingly sacrifices for the one who is so loved.

That is "the more excellent way" (12:30),

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