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How 1 Corinthians 13 Informs My Faith

9/30

Perhaps you agree with me that 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s passionate outburst on love as the essential of Christian faith, is probably the best-known passage from the Bible right now. I am deeply grateful I was required to memorize this passage in my youth and that it has informed my faith profoundly ever since.

While it is fixture as a reading at weddings, Paul wrote it with a different setting in mind; the troubles he knew were brewing in the church in Corinth.  As I recently marked the 34th anniversary of my being ordained to the office of pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I can say that I have witnessed my fair share of troubles in the church.  From the beginning until now, my church family has boiled with tension and trouble among factions similar to the camps Paul was concerned about in 1 Corinthians.  All of this has prompted, from me, this meditation upon Christian love, informed by Paul’s reflections.

I could speak from an infinite number of perspectives on the meaning of the love Paul describes – as a wife, as a churchgoer, as a citizen – but what I want to reflect upon right now is how this passage informs my faith and the church’s welcoming inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Paul was worried about members of the church in Corinth who were raving about certain spiritual gifts.  He mentions some of them in the first few verses; speaking in tongues and prophecy, for example. These church members seemed to expect these abilities of everyone in the congregation and looked down on those who didn’t.  Since speaking in tongues and seeing the future are not of particular concern to us today in the church, what is Paul’s comparable warning to us?

What I see, as it relates to LGBT welcome and inclusion, is that many in the church today value being straight and they devalue — as these Corinthians devalued those without the gifts they cherished — those who are not.   For me, Paul is clear: Straight or gay or transgender doesn’t matter, the essential for Christians and for humans, really, is love.

Paul goes on to paint a beautiful picture of the love he desires in us all.  From Paul’s description, you may have a quality of love that is most important or challenging for you — I hope you share that with us here.  The aspect of love mentioned by Paul that resonates most with me is that “It does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5).”

I will confess that I see those who work to prevent LGBT Christians from ordained service in the church or from entering into the covenant of marriage to be insisting on their own way and on their own interpretation of Scripture. I want them to heed Paul and see that Christian love does not insist on its own way.

At the same time, am I insisting on my own way when I advocate for the place I see for LGBT people in God’s eyes and the church?  I am not insisting that those who disagree with me must agree with me although, of course, that would be nice. I am asking, as far as I know myself, that we all cultivate the humility that Paul expresses at the end of this chapter: “For now we see in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).” Only in some future time — probably for Paul when Jesus comes, which he expected soon — will we know fully.

For now, all of us only know in part.  And in our partial knowing, the essential continues to be love, particularly, love as Paul describes it. I do the best I can with knowing God’s will and that leads me to embrace LGBT people as God’s beloved children and to invite others to do the same. But the heart of the matter, in the end, is to love, which, for me also means embracing all.

And part of “all” means that God requires me to love those who disagree with me. For me to bear all things and to endure all things, I must listen to those who passionately disagree with me.  And, so I do.  I remind myself that love is not “easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs” but instead “rejoices with truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:5-7) This is one way I give myself to loving those who disagree with me in accord with God’s word to me through Paul.  Love requires this embrace of me.

These are some ways 1 Corinthians 13 informs my faith. I hope you share how it informs yours.

Peace,

Reverend Janet Edwards


7 Responses
  • Chaplain Mary Murphy War Widow on September 30, 2011

    Please help us identify the needed faith-based community for our Military Veterans who were born in the Image of their Creator as Gay and Lesbian –
    blessings
    The War Widows
    Mary Murphy, former VA/Prison Chaplain/Marshal Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals
    mmurphy@veteranschamberofcommerce.or

  • Chaplain Mary Murphy War Widow on September 30, 2011

    Please help us identify the needed faith-based community for our Military Veterans who were born in the Image of their Creator as Gay and Lesbian –
    blessings
    The War Widows
    Mary Murphy, former VA/Prison Chaplain/Marshal Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals
    mmurphy@veteranschamberofcommerce.org

  • Donna on October 2, 2011

    Dear Janet,

    As I sat in worship this morning, the hymn that came to mind to me was Just As I Am (see below for the words). It was a favorite when I was young and remains a favorite. But this morning it occurred to me with a profound but simple thought: it is not God that prevents us – all of us – GLBT or not – from worshipping together; rather, we prevent others from worshipping and serving God. How we do ourselves and others and God an injustice by putting our own restrictions in place on what “Just as I am” means.

    How is right that anyone blocks the way of any soul to worship or serve God, when we all are invited to come just as we are, as spiritual beings before our God?

    1. Just as I am, without one plea,
    but that thy blood was shed for me,
    and that thou bidst me come to thee,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    2. Just as I am, and waiting not
    to rid my soul of one dark blot,
    to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    3. Just as I am, though tossed about
    with many a conflict, many a doubt,
    fightings and fears within, without,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    4. Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
    sight, riches, healing of the mind,
    yea, all I need in thee to find,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    5. Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
    wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
    because thy promise I believe,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    6. Just as I am, thy love unknown
    hath broken every barrier down;
    now, to be thine, yea thine alone,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Regards,

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on October 5, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    What a lovely thought!! Deepest thanks for sharing it with us all.

    You remind me that the love Paul sets forth in Corinthians is in the context, the loving arms so to speak, of Christ all the time. And that holds true for us all.

    You have given us a precious gift.

    Peace, Janet

  • Thomas FUltz on February 11, 2013

    I thank you for addressing my questions on the Covenant Network posting.

    Please be aware thaat the perspective I have on the restrictions of LGBT Christians from ordained service in the church or from entering into the covenant of marriage relates to one of the Great Ends of the Church – “the preservantion of the truth”. Whereas you sense folks like me to be insisting on their own way and on their own interpretation of Scripture; I humbly rely on the historic, orthodox intrepretation in these matters. While at the same time I take heed of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian congregation and see that Christian love does not insist on its own (personal) way. It is not my way, but the way of Scripture and the Constitution of the PC(USA) that I “insist” on and do that in love toward any and all of God’s created people. I do not want to affirm sinful actions as not being sin.

    As you state, I could say that you are insisting on my own way when advocating for the place you see for LGBT people in God’s eyes and the church.

    I agree we all must cultivate the humility that Paul expresses at the end of the chapter: “For now we see in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).” For indeed it is only in some future time will we know fully; and for now, all of us only know in part.

    I agree that in our partial knowing, the essential continues to be love as Paul describes it. I do the best I can with knowing God’s will and that leads me, as it does you, to embrace LGBT people as God’s beloved children and to invite others to do the same. Yes, the heart of the matter is to love, which, for me also means proclaiming Scripture as the Holy Spirit has revealed it to me and to most all Christians of all time. While embracing all persons, I must declare that God calls a people to live lives of holiness – we are called to have a repentant and humble heart that turns from sin and toward God and neighbor. Jesus’ ministry among us illustrates humility that leads to faithful living and for us as disciples, that humility leads to repentance when we miss God’s marks for us.

    For folks like you who disagree with the Constitution of the PC(USA), perhaps not insisting on your own way means departure from a denomination that insists on a diametrically opposite way and to join or form a group that sees Scripture and uses Confessions that support your perspective.

  • Janet Edwards on February 11, 2013

    Dear Thomas Fultz,

    You are very welcome. And thank you very much for joining in the conversation here.

    My impression is that preservation of the truth, for you, requires that LGBT Presbyterians be fenced from ordained office and from the pastoral care of the celebration of marriage in the church on account of sin. Have I understood you correctly?

    I am very interested in your response to two thoughts I have on that view.

    First, LGBT Presbyterians are both baptized and confirmed Christians who have been reborn in Christ through baptism and have proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior publicly. We in the church can disagree on the sexual practice of LGBT people but either way, truth allows us to ordain and marry LGBT people.

    As I see it, if it is not a sin, then we sin in our denial of God’s call to church service or to fidelity in marriage of our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ. If it is a sin, then who among Presbyterian elders is not a sinner, even unrepentant sinner, and what does God require of us toward that person other than forgiveness? Either way, ours is to leave judgment to God, in my view. I am interested in yours.

    Second, it seems to me that you are saying there is only one word in Scripture regarding LGBT people. Please correct me if I am assuming too much; my assumption is that you are basing this on one interpretation of the seven texts that many now understand to be about activity we can all agree is sin, not about LGBT sexual practice. Genesis 19 and Jude Vs 7 are about rape and inhospitality, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 about pagan idolatry, Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:3-13 about idolatry, exploitation and promiscuity. I do not agree with your premise that there is one unambiguous word on LGBT people in the Bible.

    And, Thomas, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) acknowledges that there is more than one interpretation of Scripture on God’s will for LGBT people. At the last General Assembly 48% of the commissioners voted in favor of opening the possibility of marriage within the church to same-sex couples and the year before 56%, I believe, of the presbyteries voted in favor of opening ordination to qualified LGBT candidates. What are we missing in the Constitution of the PCUSA for you to claim that all of these elders of the church are insisting on our own way and missing the truth?

    Thank you in advance for your reply, I know it will be thoughtful and helpful.

    Peace, Janet

  • Thomas Fultz, Elder on February 14, 2013

    In general your impressions of my perspective are correct. Yes, preservation of the truth, requires that Presbyterian persons practicing same-gender sexual activities be fenced from ordained office and from the pastoral care of the celebration of marriage in the church on account of sin. So you have understood me correctly.

    Since my response to the two other thoughts you have on that view is so long I will email it to you and not involve the blog readers, as they have heard these arguments too often.


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