In our society, many things are promoted as the thing or things that will mark our life as good, valuable, or successful. Status-markers include money, material goods, physical looks, athletic prowess, work, social connections, power, and the like. These are advanced as worthy of our desiring, striving, and even sacrificing. The possession of one or several marks a person as good, valuable, or successful in life.
Even in the church, many things are held up as marks of good, valuable, or successful church-goers. Sometimes these come from what society values – money, material goods, looks, work, social connections, power, and more. Sometimes other, more “churchly” things are promoted. These might include the amount of hours we volunteer, the number of activities we attend, the size of our pledge, the years we have gone to church, a particular denomination, and the like. The possession of one or several marks a person as good, valuable, or successful in the church.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 of the one thing that truly matters: love. Today, we tend to link this passage closely with weddings. This connection is not bad as far as it goes. However, we must not limit its relevance to weddings, nor even to marriages. Especially we must not mistake its significance as largely sentimental – love as an emotion firmly affirmed but vaguely defined and only felt when easily practiced.
The context of 1 Corinthians 13 indicates Paul meant something more by love. The Corinthian Christians sought marks of spiritual status. By and large, these were good things: special abilities in earthly and heavenly languages; in teaching; in trusting God; in giving; and even in witness to Jesus. Yet, they lost sight of true spiritual maturity. Paul eloquently reminded them of what constitutes true spiritual maturity: love.
There are many unworthy status-markers in the world and the church. These should be rejected outright. Rather, we should desire and pursue those things that are truly worthy, especially God’s gifts and graces. Yet even the worthy are worthless except as they root in, stem from, and flower with love. The practice of love – as Paul wrote, as Jesus lived – is the one true gift and grace that remains, that endures. In the end, the mark of faithfulness to Jesus will be that we truly loved as Jesus loved.