Mush or concrete? Loving the church
Assistant minister Brian Barker considers one of the most popular Bible passages for weddings and how it should challenge us to love our church.
Picture a love-struck couple standing at the front of a church on their wedding day. A close friend stands to read the Bible passage they’ve chose and you hear these words:
“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.” 1 Corinthians 13:4–7
This is surely one of the mushiest wedding passages ever written…
Except, it isn’t!
In the context of 1 Corinthians 12–14, chapter 13 has almost nothing to do with weddings. Instead, it is almost entirely about church. Paul isn’t writing about two lovebirds on their wedding day. No, he’s writing about you and me and how we ought to love each other as we stumble through life together as a church.
Think about the various frustrations that occur in church life and have another read of the passage above.
Applied to church, this soppy wedding passage begins to sound less soppy, doesn’t it! It’s about as mushy as reinforced concrete. Love like this, in a church setting, is hard. Let’s pick out a few characteristics of love and see how they might play out at church.
Love is patient:
Frustrations are a natural part of church life this side of heaven. The kitchen will be a mess, there will be food on the floor, there will be noise from another ministry, someone will be using the thing I want to use, someone will have thrown out the thing that I love or need. Love in this setting involves being patient when things are frustrating, and even being kind to the people who frustrate us.
This is how Jesus loves us. He is patient with us even when we mess up. He is kind to us even though we don’t deserve it.
Love doesn’t insist on its own way:
Church has many opportunities for me to insist on things happening the way I like. You may think this is only true for me as a pastor, but it’s true for you too. So often in church life we can whinge or complain when things are not happening the way we like them—when we don’t sing the songs I like, when we don’t do morning tea the way I prefer, when we no longer run the event that I enjoyed, when we change the furniture against my wishes, when the service doesn’t suit my tastes…
True love in a church context will mean we don’t insist on getting our own way, but instead look out for the interests of others.
Love isn’t irritable:
Love in church will involve me working hard to not be irritated by other people and write them off as people I don’t need to engage with.
It is so easy for me to be irritated with someone because of what they post on Facebook, or what their political views are, or what their preferences are, or how they changed a ministry that I love, or how they think or act differently to me.
True love in this setting will mean that I keep engaging with this person, even getting to know them beyond the superficial things that annoy me. True love will mean that I see this person as someone that Jesus loves and died for.
Love isn’t resentful:
Love in a church setting should involve forgiveness. Have I forgiven that person who offended me two years ago? Do I still hold a grudge against that person who changed something at church? Do I still hold a grudge against that person who resisted changing something?
Love will mean that I take the first steps towards forgiveness and reconciliation. This is how God has shown love to us: he doesn’t hold a grudge against us.
You can probably think of a hundred other ways that the love that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13 should work in church. How can you show this love to others?