If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)
There's a phenomenon going around, where kids are encouraged by their pastors and their youth leaders to take the famous middle section of this chapter and substitute their name for the word "love." So, the kid ends up reading this:
Madison is patient and kind; Madison does not envy or boast; Madison is not arrogant or rude. Madison does not insist on her own way; Madison is not irritable or resentful; Madison does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Madison bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Now, provided that the child doesn't arrogantly agree with the paragraph, the desired effect is accomplished: the youth realizes that he or she does not even come close to being this sort of person. However, because of the name substitution and reading oneself into the text, the goal of the kid (or adult even) is to become such a person. That sounds completely reasonable, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want to be this sort of person? I'd like to be patient and kind! What's wrong with striving to be that sort of person?
Because we are not good people. However we strive to achieve these goals, we will always fall short because of our sinful nature. The one who tries to accomplish these goals will strenuously attempt the impossible until he or she is desperately in a worse state than before. Even if we think we are finally meeting these goals, our hearts are not turned to God. We are meeting the goals for our own selfish ends. I was patient today! Aren't I great? The truth is we are envious. We are boastful. We are arrogant and rude.
What's worse is when someone is encouraged to substitute their boyfriend's or girlfriend's name for "love." What is this supposed to accomplish? The youth who is deciding whether to marry Harold, will put Harold's name in the paragraph and discover one of two things. 1) Harold falls way short of this list of attributes. I shouldn't marry him. 2) Harold has these attributes! Or he's very close, so I should marry him! Of course, Harold is a sinner and does fall short of these attributes, just like Madison, but Madison is now thinking that Harold is better than he is, and will marry him under false pretenses and dishonesty. But neither of these scenarios focuses on forgiveness of sins, putting faith in Christ, or repentance. Everything instead points to working harder to achieve your selfish goals.
If we need to substitute a name for "love," there's only one name under heaven or in earth that will suffice: that of Jesus Christ, God himself. He is patient. With us. Because we continually sin and fall short, never getting better without his Spirit living in us. We fall and he patiently picks us up again. He is filled with lovingkindness for the people who reject him and who bruised and beat him and crucified him. He created us and we in turn hated him, never putting him first, and yet he saves us anyway. He allowed us to utterly ruin him, in order to prevent our own inevitable ruin. That is the kindest thing anyone as ever done.
God never envies, because everything, including us, is his. Does God boast? Boasting comes from us thinking we are better than we really are. God is the greatest thing in the universe, so any attention he draws to himself is not boasting, because it is the truth. God is not arrogant, nor is he rude. He cannot insist on his own way, simply because his way is the only possible way. He is not irritable: this falls in with his patience. He doesn't resent anyone, because he is impervious to our attacks. We transgress his laws and yet he stays his hand in punishment. He will get revenge on his enemies, but it is a revenge without passion, without malice. He merely cannot exist in the same space with evil.
God is an enemy of wrong and a lover of truth. He is very truth itself. God bears, believes, hopes, and endures everything that is true. He is all-powerful, omnipotent, and can support the weight of the universe by his will. He is our all in all. God is love.
What should our reaction be to this supreme love? First, we should know that we are never in the slightest way capable of putting our names in for "love." We should be hyper-aware of our own sinfulness and wretchedness. But when we seek these attributes, we must never seek them in ourselves, or in another person, but only in Jesus Christ. He is where we need to put our trust.
Awareness of our condition and Christ's righteousness should force us to our knees in repentance. We cannot be all those things, but Christ is all those things, and has always been all those things. We repent of ourselves and put our complete faith in Jesus Christ, and we find that we are becoming more patient and kind and enduring and hoping, but only because God's Spirit has put us in Christ and we are living his righteousness, even just a tiny bit. The fraction of improvement is a monumental achievement over our original state. Let us keep turning our focus on Jesus and away from ourselves. He is not only our righteousness but he is our sanctification as well.