1 Corinthians 13 is one of my favourite chapters in the Scriptures.
It’s introduced with the last verse of the previous chapter, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (1 Cor 12:31). More excellent, that is, than the possession of spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, healing, and the words of knowledge (which are amazing gifts in themselves):
|“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 my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 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 our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect 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 understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
For me, this passage is not only beautiful, but it’s an opportunity to examine my conscience. All too often, I look to my abilities, status and possessions, be they material or spiritual, to determine my self worth, yet this tells me that love is what matters in the end. Even if I do good deeds, if they are not motivated by love, how good are they really? Even if I became knowledgeable about philosophy and theology, and clever in the use of my skills, that would have meant nothing if there was no love. Saint John of Cross said with the insight of a mystic, “at the end of life, we shall be judged by love” – it is the only thing that matters in this world, in the light of eternity, because it encompasses all good. “Love, and do what you like”, as Saint Augustine said.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15) – those were the words of Jesus. Am I really kind and patient? Not jealous or boastful, nor arrogant or rude? Am I always selfless, and not irritable or resentful? Well, no, I can’t say that I am. I try and try, and I have to say I fail over and over again, but what matters is that I try my best and trust in God’s mercy. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” – love is directed toward eternity, from whence it came.