It’s every man’s favourite time of year.
Hallmark and Lindt (among other chocolatiers) combine to make us a little sweeter to our significant other.
With a bit of prompting, we attempt to be the sweet partners that we likely always intend to be. We woo and court as if we are young and dating again.
Or perhaps you are still young and dating, and Valentine’s Day is your big date night. No fast food and movie tonight (no shade on that, though; there is something comforting about “regular” life together)—this is a time for fancy dinner and a show!
We think about love. Perhaps we reminisce about significant moments in our relationship, maybe even commit to living up to a higher standard.
Often, that higher standard is, appropriately, outlined in Scripture.
It’s difficult to think about love without eventually thinking about 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. It is the famous “love” chapter. Far from being the only place in the Bible that talks about love, it is still the most thorough discussion of love’s importance and what it looks like.
So lofty is the description of love in this letter that it often has a place in weddings. Even in ceremonies where the bride and groom have no interest in the Bible, this passage will be given voice as the ideal to live up to, as the new couple is encouraged at the start of their new life together.
Let’s break down love’s description.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 discusses the central role of love in all of life. Paul notes that no matter his eloquence, sacrifice, or good deeds—without love, it is all meaningless. It is Paul speaking of the importance of underlying motivation. Even good things, the very best things, if done absent of love, are less than worthless.
Then, in verses 4-8, Paul launches into the lofty description of love that is so well-known:
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. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV)
Beautiful words. Inspired and inspiring. Who doesn’t want to be loved like that and to love that way?
- Love is patient because, well, sometimes even those we love do and say things that test our limits.
- Love is kind because we all are mean from time to time.
- It does not boast. Hubris is patently unlovely.
- It is not proud, because it is focused outside itself.
- It does not dishonour others; it looks for ways to build them up.
- It is not self-seeking; love must be expressed to someone else.
- It is not easily angered (see love being patient).
- It keeps no record of wrongs. It does not ignore wrongs; it simply does not allow itself to be moulded and shaped by them.
- It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love is a celebration of the pure and lovely.
- It always protects: guards against the dangerous or detrimental.
- Always trusts: looks for the best in those who receive it.
- Always hopes: looks to the future with joy and anticipation of good things to come.
- Always perseveres: it does not tire or give up.
- Never fails: because love does all these other things, it does not fail.
How better could we love our wives or girlfriends?
Except…despite its beauty, 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t about romantic love.
Paul doesn’t write this passage using the standard Greek word for romantic love. The word he uses in the passage is agape, not eros (eros generally refers to physical love, too, not necessarily exclusively romantic love).
Paul was writing this to a church that was, at best, dysfunctional. This description of the necessity and activity of love was how people in the church are to treat each other!
The off-key singer in the pew next to you? Yeah, him. The person who always seems to disrupt the Bible study with objections? Her too. That one person who can never seem to be satisfied with the chosen music, the lessons taught to the children, and constantly focuses on that one part of the sermon they thought was wrong?
Yes, them too.
They get the patience and the kindness. They get all the hope. They are the objects of the self-control when anger wants to attack.
If this is the expectation for how we are to treat people in the pew or chair next to us, I’d like to suggest that it is the low bar for how we are to love our spouses, the women we share our lives with.
Don’t misunderstand; this love is still a worthy goal and one we should aspire to, but it is, to be perfectly blunt, what we are called to do for everyone in the body of Christ, not what we are called to show the “love of our life.”
So, what are we to show? What does love for our spouses look like? Paul helps us out with that, and it probably proves my suggestion that 1 Corinthians 13 is the low bar.
Writing to the group of Jesus-followers in Ephesus, Paul mixes imagery of Christ loving the Church with encouragement of how husbands are to love their wives.
In Ephesians 5:25-33, Paul says that husbands are to love their wives like Christ loves the Church and gave Himself up for her.
When Paul reminds the readers that Jesus “gave Himself up,” we naturally think of the Cross. And rightly so.
But there is likely a broader meaning in mind than just being willing to lay down your life for your wife. After all, most of us won’t literally ever need to do that. For Paul’s encouragement to have teeth, “gave Himself” must mean something else for the husbands in Ephesus and beyond.
Christ giving Himself for the Church, and husbands for their wives, is in both life and death.
It was not just His death that showed His love; Christ’s life equally showed us how much He loved us.
The same is true for husbands. It is our lives that show our wives how much we love them.
That’s the high bar of romantic love. Giving yourself up for your spouse. Your life for her good. Your time for her benefit. Your energy for her growth.
By all means, be patient, kind, don’t boast, don’t be proud—do all of those things in 1 Corinthians 13 for your wife (and your kids, and your neighbours, and the fellow people in the pew).
But, men, if you really want to love your wife, sacrifice for her. Give her your life for her good. Lay down yourself so that she may rise.
Love your wife with the same generous abandon that Jesus loves us.