1 Corinthians 13 is known as the “Love Chapter.” In it, Paul talks not just about love, but about a lot of things on which we put spiritual importance. His point is that love has a fundamental importance even beyond these things. He also addresses common misconceptions about love and things that stand in its way.
Love and the Spirit
What is the purpose of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit? Power? Guidance? Paul tells us that speaking in other tongues is nothing more than a useless display if we don’t also have love. At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that he was going to send the Holy Spirit and that he expected their relationships to be an example to the world. It wasn’t a coincidence. The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives should completely transform the way we treat each other—to the point that other people will know that we’re Christians just by seeing Holy-Spirit-empowered love.
Love and Faith
“Trust” is a synonym for “faith,” and love cannot exist without faith; but many of us think we can have it the other way around: faith without love. That’s because what we call “faith” is actually an empty claim to believe something. Our so-called “faith” is missing the crucial element of trust—trust in God, trust in his loyalty to us, trust that his plan for us is a good one, etc. Once we add the element of trust to our faith—once our “faith” becomes love, and not just belief—then our faith can finally become what it’s supposed to be.
Love vs. Envy
Jealousy and love seem to be intertwined. Sometimes it’s an appropriate reaction to interference, and sometimes it is an interference. Envy, however, is something different: it’s not the jealousy of love, it’s the jealousy of greed. You want what someone else has: stuff, position, talents, relationships, etc. The fact that the other person has something desirable becomes a source of resentment, anger, and even anxiety. When there is love, however, there is joy that the other person has gained something good and pride that the person has earned something of value. Whose good are you seeking? Your own? That’s not love, that’s the source of envy. The other person’s? That’s love.
Love vs. Pride
Again, we examine a fundamental orientation that is incompatible with real love. Pride is the assumption that other people are of less value than one’s self. It could result in arrogance, boastfulness, or just simply ignoring other people. None of those reflect an attitude of love. In fact, these things make love almost impossible since they drive away others.
Love vs. Dishonoring Others
“It was just a joke! C’mon, lighten up!” Sometimes our ‘jokes’ do real damage. If we make other people look ridiculous, tear them down, or cause them suffering, we have dishonored them. Love is nearly impossible in such circumstances, even if we try to laugh it away as “just playing.” Love, on the other hand, always seeks to honor others. It looks for opportunities to build them up, to affirm their achievements, and to relieve their suffering.
Love vs. Selfishness
There’s no way around it: real love requires sacrifice. If you’re looking for love because you want a way to make yourself feel good, then you’ll automatically be dissatisfied with what you find. You’ll also make it impossible to love truly. As a follow-up to the cell lesson on “Love vs. Envy,” this cell lesson addresses our fundamental orientation to the person we claim to love. Selfishness treats others as objects to be used in order to satisfy our needs. Love treats them selflessly, as people whose needs we can be used to satisfy.
Love vs. Anger
You can’t get angry about something about which you just don’t care. Since love involves deep care and concern, it sets itself up for deep anger. The Bible does not tell us that loving people not become angry, but it does tell us that love “is not easily angered.” This cell lesson explores how anger arises within a loving relationship and how it is handled rightly.
Love vs. Holding Grudges
Since love involves trust, and trust is inherently risky, love will result in us being hurt from time to time. Also, the previous cell lesson talks about how easy it is for anger to arise within a loving relationship. Once hurt and anger have occurred, what do we do with them? It’s human nature to hold grudges. We want the other person to hurt as badly as we have. We want him or her to feel just how severe the offense was. We write off him or her in order to protect ourselves from further hurt. It’s only human…but it’s not love.
Love vs. Malice
It’s been more than ten years since 9/11/2001. In that time, it’s become commonplace to hear people wishing failure upon Muslims. When something tragic happens to them, some people cheer. It’s not just Muslims, either: Mormons, Catholics, Hispanics, rich people, poor people, Kardashians…there are always people cheering when tragedy strikes. God is love, however, so even his justice is delivered with tears. God’s people should be the same: never taking delight in someone else’s misfortune even when we think there’s justice in it. Instead, we should be known for having love that “never delights in evil (misfortune)” and “always hopes”
Love and Trusting Others
Love without trust isn’t love at all: it’s a contract in which each person is looking to get something out of the other without any risk or sacrifice. True love makes us vulnerable. It’s possible for the other person to let us down, to hurt us, to fail us. Love isn’t stupid, though: trust is something that’s built. Over time, a person can demonstrate (or not) that he or she is reliable and worthy of trust, and the level of vulnerability that we’re willing to show will grow in proportion to our experience with the other person’s trustworthiness. This cell lesson explores the nature of trust, how it’s built, and the role it has in a loving relationship.
Love and Perseverance
People sometimes say that “love is a decision,” as if there’s nothing more to it than that. While love is more complicated, these people are on to something: love isn’t based upon how you feel, because how you feel will change even when real love doesn’t. Perseverance is an important part of love. But perseverance is more than just long-term commitment: perseverance indicates that there’s some sort of obstacle that’s being overcome. What kind of obstacle would that be? Disappointment? Tragedy? Loss of attraction? Hurtful offenses like unfaithfulness or selfishness? Even if it’s the sort of thing that changes the nature of the relationship going forward, “love always perseveres.”