During our retreat I was praying with Jesus’ summary of the law (Matthew 22:35-40) – love the Lord your God with all your heart/soul/mind and love your neighbour as yourself. Yes, I thought that’s all very well, but what I really need is some kind of practical guide on HOW to love. I know love is a feeling. but it’s also an outworking of that in our everyday lives, whether we’re actually feeling it or not. Then it occurred to me (or the Spirit gave me a huge prod in the right direction…) that the Bible provided exactly that practical guide in 1 Corinthians 13. I know it’s often referred to as Paul’s great hymn of love but, if you read through the passage (verses 4-8a), it is also a very practical reminder of how to love in everyday life. It’s very easy to view it as a great passage on love, and ignore its’ tremendous real-world value.
Patience, kindness, not envying or boasting, not being rude or self-seeking, not keeping a record of wrongs…. I decided that I would learn the passage by heart, which was surprisingly easy to do. Basically, it goes in sections: 2 love is [patient, kind]; 2 love does not [envy, boast]; 4 love is not [proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered]; 2 sentences [keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth] 4 love always, protects, hopes, trusts, perseveres], finishing with love never fails. I have a tendency to forget love is not easily angered, although I’m sure that says nothing personal about me! But knowing there are 4 ‘love is not’ at that point concentrates my mind – if I can only think of three, I know which one I’ve forgotten. Of course, it does depend on which translation you use. The above is my memory of the NIV, but other translations will use different words, which may take a different way to memorise. But it is worth the effort. Memorise, say it to yourself frequently, let it become part of you. You may find part of it rises to the surface when needed, which I have found to be the case. Although I do seem to be a bit stuck on ‘love is patient’ at the moment! Maybe there is something personal in my forgetting of love is not easily angered – I suppose I do tend to be easily angered with my laptop, but I figure I’m not supposed to love that!
Having memorised the passage, it then occurred to me that God is love, in which case this passage is presumably also a description of God. So I went through the passage again, but every time it said ‘love’ (or ‘it’), I replace it by the word God. One particular phrase hit me between the eyeballs, as it were, and said volumes about my (false) picture of God. I’m not going to tell you which one, as it’s not particularly relevant and I want to suggest you try this for yourself, so I don’t want to influence how you may react. Just take some time, read the passage through replacing the word ‘love/it’ with ‘God’ or ’Jesus’, or whatever your preferred name is. Remember – if God is love, as I John (4:9) tells us, then this is how God actually is.