I hate sin. It is ugly. It disrupts life. It messes with precious relationships. It confuses the mind. Sin is pervasive and gross. Sin affects us to our core. Sin wreaks havoc on much, but perhaps the greatest area of impact is on the commandments for us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. I think that’s perhaps one reason Paul rebuked the Corinthians about their selfishness and division with verses all about love.
We all know those famous verses in 1 Corinthians: “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 in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (13:6-7). Despite how familiar those verses might be, they truly are the way of love. The Corinthians had trouble loving one another. This revealed itself in various ways, but came through clearly in their pursuit of spiritual gifts. Some had elevated their gifts (or perhaps certain gifts) over others. Paul reminded them, “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord…” (1 Cor. 12:4). He then spent considerable time explaining that the church has many parts but is one body (1 Cor. 12:12-30). And after all of that, Paul made it extremely clear that one could use the gifts they were elevating and do so completely in vain—without true love for others and only for selfish gain and glory (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
The correction to the Corinthians’ selfishness is the same helpful correction to our selfishness and to the many sinful desires and struggles that cling so closely—love. If love is patient and kind, we will fight to learn to put on gentleness and kindness. Love does not insist on its own way—pride does, so we ask God to give us humility. Love is not irritable or resentful, therefore every relationship, if it is beyond surface-level acquaintance, must be doused in the patience and forbearance that can only come from the power of Christ. Love bears with one another and is not selfish; love believes the truth and the best until proven otherwise. Love hopes for the absolute best in all situations and in the gospel that reconciles. Love endures with hardship and trouble. Love doesn’t give up.
Now if you are like me after reading and reflecting on these commands to love, you are likely pleading with God for help. We don’t love the way we ought. We fall short—woefully short. But God has given us His Spirit and his enabling, empowering grace. We don’t love others because we are good people, we don’t even love God because of anything in and of ourselves (1 John 4:19). This is great news for us. It means we can ask God—the same God whose power changed our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh and whose power enables us to love him—to use the same power to enable us to love our neighbor as ourselves. We will fail, but there’s repentance and forgiveness available. Let’s call out to God for help to put off that nasty selfish sin, and love.
A Version of this article first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine