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May 11

Swiss Cheese Love

               

                When Paul was writing to the Corinthian church around A.D. 55 in his letter we know as 1 Corinthians, he wanted to address particular issues and problems that were affecting the immature congregation. There were significant body life issues they were dealing with; Corinth had a reputation for sexual immorality, religious diversity, and corruption. This culture affected the church negatively, which started causing divisions over various issues. One of these problems was the use and misuse of the spiritual gifts. Paul spent significant time teaching how the church should use spiritual gifts to edify each other. However, right in the middle of the teaching, he took a digression to address an even more foundational issue, the virtue of love.

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)

                Ancient Greco-Roman literature praised different virtues and Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13 seems very similar in this style, but that doesn’t mean it was just a culturally relevant theme. No, the virtue of love is a supreme virtue on its own right for Christians. Jesus set the standard, showing self-sacrificing love through his death on the cross. He also taught that to love God and others are the two greatest commandments. So it’s not hard to see why the foundational virtue of Christianity is love, specifically God’s love (John 3:16), but also our response to Him and towards others.

                Our response towards others is what Paul was addressing in chapter 13. These qualities of love apply to all human relationships, from casual encounters with strangers to handling conflict with family. The described actions flow out of a personal commitment to desire the best for someone else, not a feeling. Paul wrote this passage to the Corinthian church, but thankfully, God saved it for us today.  It gives specific characteristics that we can focus on to improve our overall quality of love towards others, without it, we might be found with gaping holes in how we show love towards others.

                   Thinking of holes in how we love, I’m reminded of my late grandmother when looking at this passage. Specifically, the “keeps no record of wrongs” phrase. She grew up on a farm in the Deep South and had a hard life as a sharecropper. I think that made her callus in lots of ways. Now when I say this, know that we all loved her, and we knew that she loved us, but one thing that the family “joked” about, not in front of her of course, was her “black book.” She kept a little black journal in which she recorded all kinds of information, and how she felt about it. Let’s just say that you didn’t want to be in the black book as an offender because it would take a long time to get out of that prison If you were lucky someone else took your spot sooner than later. It was evident who the offender was because she would let you and others know how she wasn’t treated right by so and so on a regular basis. The serious joke was that as soon as she died the first one in the house was to burn the journal. I share that example because of how we know she loved her family, but certain regular habits were not loving. We all have room to grow, and Paul’s goal is that we the church would mature in all qualities and not have Swiss cheese love.     

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