If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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 where 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 completeness comes, what is in part 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 the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see 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.
-1 Corinthians 13
But what if things don’t go our way? What then?
Think about it: at first the call to love appears simple. But usually by the time we get to the end of the catalogue of what love implies it becomes pretty obvious that whatever we intend and promise to be toward others never really gets very high off the ground. The kind of radical love God requires of us is far beyond us. The way gets too steep and the air too thin at those high altitudes.
So what’s the solution to the love problem? How do we get from how we really are to how we ought to be? How do we ever reach the higher levels of what love requires?
First, we come to recognize in all humility that we can’t really pull it off—we’re just not all that good. It’s not in us to be so loving, so kind, so generous. We want to be, but we’re not. That’s an enormous realization, and it requires brutal honesty. The person who reads the love chapter and says, “Yep, that’s me alright!” has completely missed the point.
Second, we come to realize that in our insufficiency is God’s sufficiency. In our weakness, God’s strength is manifest. What we can’t do, God can. So we join with St. Augustine, when he said that all the great commands of God are impossible for us to keep in our own strength, and pray: “Lord, give what you command.” In other words, “I can’t do it, you can, so empower me to do what you want me to do.” This is the key to the life of faith, the life in the Spirit. Chapters 12 and 14 are about the Holy Spirit and his power to transform all of life. In other words, Paul is telling us, don’t even think about producing a Spirit-empowered life without the Spirit. It can’t be done. But with the Spirit of Christ at the center of everything, anything is possible.
Finally, the truest and most noticeable mark of the Spirit’s presence in someone is not their spiritual vocabulary, the way they look, their piety, their prayer posture, or their Sunday behavior, but their love—their daily interactions and caring ways.
If resentment, anger, dishonesty, or hatred has replaced love and joy in your life, do a heart-check and see if you can determine the root cause of your problem. If someone hurt you, keep a heart of love ready to forgive them the minute they ask for your forgiveness. If you’ve hurt someone, reach out to them and ask them to forgive you. Not in some fake doing-the-Christian-thing way, but in total, genuine humility, setting aside your pride and rancor. As Christians, we are called to a higher path.
Make love your aim—today, tomorrow, and always.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
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