During my travels in Europe, I had the odd habit of wanting to eat food simply because of its name. In Vienna I had to have a "Vienna Sausage," in Frankfurt a "Frankfurter," in Hamburg a "Hamburger," and in Paris "French Fries." Once Becky and I, on a trip to Northern Germany, drove across the border into Flensburg, Denmark just to be able to say that we had enjoyed a "Danish Pastry." Oddly enough, after we took our first bite we looked at each other in disgust and said, "This isn't a Danish! It has no sugar at all!" In the States, of course, a Danish is full of sugar. In Denmark, however, the pastry we were served was as bland as bland could be. It lacked the one ingredient we felt was necessary for anything calling itself a "pastry."
In cooking, there is often one ingredient that is absolutely indispensable. You can bake a chocolate cake, but if it lacks sugar, the result will be a complete disaster. It may look great on the outside, but when you taste it, it will be bland and awful.
This was precisely the problem with the church at Corinth. Outwardly, the Corinthian church looked successful and spiritual. They appeared to have it all together. Paul could write of them, "You are enriched in every way. You don't lack any spiritual gift." These people seemed to have everything, but like a cake without sugar, they were a complete disaster because they had left out the one key ingredient for any church: love for one another. As a result, they were failing in the one thing that counts the most in the body of Christ.
In 2022, as God enables me, I am resolved to try and do better at this thing called love. My text will be 1 Cor. 13:4-7, which I plan to memorize in Greek, Latin, and other languages.
Here Paul lays out the major characteristics of Christian love, both what love is and what it is not. He begins with two positive affirmations, then adds eight negative ones, and finally concludes with an additional five positive attributes -- 15 essential "ingredients" to love, as it were. To love each other has both negative and positive consequences. To love each other means that we will not judge each other or speak evil against one another. We will not envy or provoke or lie to each other. To love each other also means to be kind and compassionate to one another, forbearing and forgiving each other, encouraging one another, comforting one another, and bearing one another's burdens.
When Paul says "love is patient" (the first ingredient of his cake), he meant that we are to be patient in respect to offenses we receive from others. As Sam Kistemaker says (1 Corinthians, p. 458), such love "demonstrates a willingness to take someone's unpleasant character traits in stride and to exhibit enduring patience." Wow. Read that again! So first of all I affirm that, to be a genuine Christian, I must exhibit patience toward all, but this is precisely what I do not do on far too many occasions. In 2022, I am asking the Spirit of God to work on me in this area of Christian living. I could go on and discuss the other 14 ingredients, but I think you get the picture.
As a lover of languages both ancient and modern, I have to smile every time I read the opening words of 1 Corinthians 13:
If I had the gift of being able to speak in other languages without learning them, and could speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, but didn't love others, I would only be making noise.
The noise we hear in evangelicalism today is deafening. Just read Twitter. (Better yet, don't read Twitter.) I think of Lewis's famous words in Mere Christianity. He is speaking of courtesy as an essential Christian virtue and part of God's "total plan for the human machine." He writes:
We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things both say they are fighting for Christianity.
This is truly profound. "Intolerable compromise!" one person says. "Down with the heretics!" Another says, "No, we can stay in without caving in!" The tendency, on the one hand, is to pursue truth at the expense of unity, and so you separate from everyone you disagree with. But there is also a tendency to pursue unity at the expense of truth, and so you end up with syncretism. Both sides undoubtedly mean well; both are convinced that theirs is the true gospel. Perhaps, in the end, they will need to agree to disagree. But one thing we cannot do as Christians: we cannot bite and devour one another, for that is to take the sugar out of the cake. It is to deny the very gospel we are claiming to defend. If we love each other, we will "exhibit enduring patience."
So we must learn to be patient. Neither side in an issue is perfect and always acts the right way or says the right things. God doesn't ignore these things, though we might.
And so my 2022 New Year's resolution is to study 1 Cor. 13:4-7 with fresh eyes, trying to take off those blinders of familiarity that I tend to wear when I study a well-known passage. I want to ask myself, "What is the Lord saying to me today? Where do I need to change so that I might be more loving and less arrogant?" I do this with the hope that the Spirit of God might use this text to enable the Master Jeweler to be at work in my life, shaping, cutting, fitting, grinding, buffing, and polishing until every facet of my life reflects his beauty and holiness. Thankfully, he works delicately and -- dare I say it -- patiently.