One morning last week I decided to read a biblical passage about love. It seemed fitting, after all, since Valentine’s Day was at hand. I chose I Corinthians 13. The obvious choice!
I wanted my heart and mind oriented towards loving others during this season. I expected to come away thinking about love, or perhaps desiring to love in a deeper way.
Instead, I was brought face to face (again) with my inability to truly love, and with the depth of self-centeredness that fills my life.
I started by reading this chapter in The Message. I chose this version because of its blunt rendering of the text. I love how it gives descriptions and examples instead of just using words.
I know much of I Corinthians 13 by heart. It’s a combination of intentional memorization + growing up in church and hearing it A LOT! It’s easy for me to read through the words and not really absorb its meaning.
It’s virtually impossible to do that with The Message! Have you read this version of I Corinthians 13 before? Here’s a sampling for you. (verses 4-7)
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.
See what I mean? I could live in these verses for a long time. How is love kind? By caring more for others than self. How does love bear all things? By putting up with anything. How does love show hope? By looking for the best in others.
Reading and meditating on these descriptions allowed God’s living and active Word to penetrate into my life in new and necessary ways.
The Greatest of These
I was equally challenged with the final verse of this chapter. You can probably quote it.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (ESV)
There is a lot packaged up in this nice little sentence. If I take time to look up definitions of words and chew on the truth found here, I will arrive at the same place Eugene Peterson did when he wrote the final verse of I Corinthians 13.
But for right now, until that completeness, 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.
Because of the choice of words here, the truth strikes my heart in a different way. Questions flood in. If I had to choose to trust in God, hope in God’s promise or love, which is best? To Love?
My mind says, “no way!” How can love be better than trusting and placing my faith in God? Isn’t that the pre-requisite for everything about my relationship with God?
Then, I remember Jesus answering the question about the greatest commandment – loving God and loving people. (Matthew 22:36-40)
Loving IS better than trusting in God.
Why? Because God desires relationship. He desires intimacy. Love motivated his heart to create people and invite them into relationship with him. Love motivated him to send Jesus and repair the damage sin created in our relationship with God.
God’s ways are confounding. Yet so much better.
God’s Love in Me
I later read this chapter in the Amplified version which I also love. This text is usually wordier because it includes definitions or descriptions added in brackets to further expound the meaning of the text.
My greatest takeaway from this version also came from the final verse.
And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.
I love how it describes the love we are to have! It’s not something we manufacture. It’s not another item on a to do list. It’s a love that grows out of God’s love for me.
It reminded me of I John 4. God is love. We live in God. God lives in us. Therefore, it is God’s love that is in us and that grows out of us to impact others.
It’s not dependent on me! I don’t love in this way by trying to do so. I love this way by dwelling on God’s love for me. Testing its depths. Soaring on its heights. Meditating on its infiniteness.
And in so doing, my heart can’t help but respond in love. Love both to God and to others.
The Gift of Bible Versions
I am so glad God led me to read this chapter last week for Valentine’s Day. I was expecting a quick, encouraging read. But God had other plans, as he so often does!
I’m equally as appreciative to have so many versions of God’s Word to break open and look into. I haven’t always used numerous Bible versions as frequently as I do now. But I have found it so helpful to actually see the text for what is there and not just what I think is there.
I also find it far easier for God’s Word to probe and penetrate my heart and mind. It draws me nearer to God and helps me interact with God in a different way.
In the meantime, why don’t you choose a version of the Bible you don’t usually use and read I Corinthians 13. Maybe you’ll be challenged by something too in those 13 short verses!