I'm not sure where this week went--I knew yesterday was Thursday, because I had prep work to do for our Thursday-before-Resurrection-Day dinner...but that it should have been a blogging day totally escaped me.
It's been that kind of week. ;-)
Anyway! As we're here in the midst of Holy Week, that means I'm wrapping up the 40 Days of Jesus reading challenge and will be back to normal blogging next week. This week's readings took us through how we're to behave in church, communion, spiritual gifts, the famous Love Chapter, speaking in tongues, and the resurrection. All such important things!
This year I've been reading from The Message and then pulling out my trusty NKJV just to compare. I used to be wary of The Message--I like literal translations--until I read the intro and realized that the translator's goal was not to create a new, exclusive version, but for it to be a companion to other, literal translations--that he merely wanted his version to breathe new life into passages that may have grown stale over the years, to show something in a new way.
In passages as familiar as these, that was a real blessing to me, and I found myself quoting bits and pieces of it to the Facebook group on several days. But I was especially grateful for the fresh perspective in chapter 13, which I have read so many times in so many places that sometimes my eyes glaze over when I see it on yet another wedding program, and I mutter something along the lines of, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." (When I catch myself doing this with any passage, I try really hard to find something new in it!)
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
First off, it's worth noting what word is used for love here. It's not eros--the romantic, sensual love. It's not philos--deep friendship that is used many times in the new testament. It's not ludos--the playful or even flirtatious affection between children or in a new relationship. It's not even pragma--the longstanding and lasting love associated with established married couples, which involves sacrifice and reason (same root as pragmatic). It's certainly not philautia--self-love. (There's a really good article on the types of love here.)
This love is, of course, agape--a radical kind of love to talk about at the time. And still radical today, despite our familiarity with the word. This is selfless, unconditional love. The kind of love God has for us, yes, but the kind we're also called to have for everyone else.
Now I'm pausing to ask myself--do I have a "me first" attitude? Do I care for myself more than others? Am I pushy? Do I trust God always?
If my answers aren't right, then I'm bankrupt.
And what happens when we relate it back to the spiritual gifts, which is where the conversation comes from? We can seek all those gifts--both the flashy and the quiet. We can speak in the tongues of men and angels. We can prophesy. We can heal. We can do miracles. But those are all subject to this one base command: love. Without reserve. Without judgment. Without you and what you get from it being factored in.
But we live in a society of me. Right? I read a really intriguing article recently about how society--and especially faith and the church--has changed as mirrors grew better. When Paul wrote this letter, mirrors were made of polished bronze and could give only a hazy reflection--the result being that people didn't really know what they looked like. What they knew was what everyone else looked like, and so their focus tended to remain on others--what they could see clearly--and on community. Self-identity in the early church was built around community-identity, which is why being excommunicated was the worst thing imaginable. But as mirrors became clearer, as people saw themselves clearly for the first time in history, there was a directly parallel change to where their emphasis turned--on themselves.
Imagine what Paul would say now, when we not only look in a mirror and see ourselves clearly, we have phones where we can spend half our day taking selfies. Our emphasis has turned fully on ourselves, and with it, agape love has suffered a severe decline in the society as a whole. Community doesn't matter, in that if we get kicked out of one church, we can just go find another. The Church doesn't have one body (in Protestantism anyway) it has thousands. And how do we pick the one we belong to? The one that suits us. Where we feel we belong.
It always goes back to us. Me.
But that's all wrong. I also love how The Message translates verse 13, the last verse of this chapter. It says:
We have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
Why? Because that's who God is. And it's who He calls us to be--all of us, whether we're a pastor or a teacher or an evangelist; whether we have wise counsel or can heal or distinguish between spirits. No matter our gift, no matter our function in the church body, this is--or should be--the undergirding.
We should be putting others before ourselves, and loving them with an all-out, selfless, indefatigable love. Because in that love, we find union with each other, and with God. And through that, we build a Church. We claim a resurrection body. And our faith has found completion.
I hope everyone has a blessed Resurrection Day, and that God whispers love into your hearts as you reflect on the ultimate expression of it.