How 1 Corinthians 13 Informs My Faith
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.
Reverend Janet Edwards