Measuring Love

1 Cor 13 gives us God’s measurements of love. How are we measuring up?

Love is patient. (1 Cor 13:4) It waits. It is not in a hurry. It doesn’t flounce off when things don’t happen to our timescales or give up when things are slow. I think there’s a reason God made a pregnancy to last 40 weeks. Love needs to learn patience.

Love is kind. (1 Cor 13:4) It is considerate, thoughtful and tolerant. It’s outgoing, seeking someone else’s good and being merciful to them. It likes to give rather than to take.

Love does not envy. (1 Cor 13:4) It doesn’t want what someone else has, like the toddler snatching the toy away from the baby in selfishness. It’s not jealous or covetous.

Love does not boast. (1 Cor 13:4) It’s not self-centred, thinking the world revolves around us and wanting everyone to know our every achievement. It’s content to take second place and be quiet.

Love is not proud. (1 Cor 13:4) Pride prevents us from saying sorry and from doing the menial stuff. It always has a higher opinion of ourselves than of others; pride makes us like the Pharisee who looked down on the tax collector with disdain. Love doesn’t care if we have to wash people’s feet; it’s not bothered about position.

Love does not dishonour others. (1 Cor 13:5) It always seeks what’s best for someone else, even if that means inconvenience to ourselves.

Love is not self-seeking. (1 Cor 13:5) So many of our problems in relationships occur because we are selfish. When we truly consider others before ourselves, we learn how to love as God loves.

Love is not easily angered. (1 Cor 13:5) It’s not volatile, snappy, bad-tempered or like a rocket, flying off in all directions. Love takes the blows and absorbs them instead of acting like a trampoline and bouncing the blows back onto someone else.

Love keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Cor 13:5) It’s amazing how good our memories are when it comes to remembering wrongs done to us. Instead of this, we need to learn to forgive and let go of the wrongs. We need to improve our ‘forgettory’!

Love does not delight in evil. (1 Cor 13:6) It doesn’t laugh when someone else falls or fails. It doesn’t gloat and chuckle over mistakes. Secure in itself, love does not need to ‘revel when others grovel’, as the Message version puts this.

Love rejoices with the truth. (1 Cor 13:6) Truth becomes the definition by which we live, and God defines truth because He is truth (see John 14:6) Every time we see truth flourishing, we can rejoice.

Love always protects. (1 Cor 13:7) It guards and seeks to prevent harm coming to others. It holds an umbrella over another’s head when it rains and a parasol when it’s hot. It’s always thinking of the other person’s good.

Love always trusts. (1 Cor 13:7) Instead of jumping to conclusions, making assumptions about people’s motives as well as their actions (‘they didn’t speak to me so they must hate me’) and being quick to believe the worst, love works hard to trust and have faith.

Love always hopes. (1 Cor 13:7) Instead of being cynical and using low expectations as a defence against disappointment, love chooses to hope. It believes the best, not the worst, and insists that no one is hopeless.

Love always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:17) We started with patience and we end with perseverance. The two things work together; they are the unsung heroes of love. When romantic love has faded and affection has worn threadbare, patience and perseverance keep going. They help us to keep on loving, no matter what.

Ouch!

Yesterday, I managed to cut my finger. I still don’t know how I actually did this, but I suddenly became aware of pain, looked down and found blood oozing from a long cut that looked like I’d sliced the finger on something sharp.

The Bible describes itself as being sharper than a double-edged sword (Heb 4:12). The Message version brings the metaphor more up-to-date and talks about a surgeon’s scalpel. Part of the Bible’s job is to jolt us into awareness of the disparity between God’s way of doing things and ours and to prick us (cut us) so that we are changed.

This morning, I continued my daily reading plan and found myself, once again, at 1 Corinthians 13. This is such a familiar chapter that it’s easy to skim over the words defining and describing love. Today, I found myself arrested by this mirror, as sharply aware of my failings to live up to this definition as I was yesterday by the pain in my finger.

If we substitute our name for the word ‘love’ in the passage (1 Cor 13:4-7 in particular), we quickly see our shortcomings and understand the limitations of our love. And that’s when we’re thinking about those we really do love! God wants us to love our enemies with this kind of love, not just our friends and family! (Matt 5:43-48) God’s word has the power and capacity to cut us, to wound us, to hurt us… but it does this not to harm us but to transform us and make us more like Jesus. Just as a surgeon inflicts short-term pain on us in order to bring long-term relief from pain and healing to us, God’s word is there not to make us feel comfortable or nice, but to show us truth and reality and to bring our lives into conformity with God’s truth and reality. Don’t flinch from the cuts of the Word. They are there to shape us further into the image of God.

Messy Moulding

‘Messy play’ is an important part of growing up. With a toddler, it refers to playing with different media such as paint, glue, playdough, glitter, sand and water, all of which have the capacity to be messy. Messy play usually ends up with paint daubed everywhere and bits of playdough stuck to the carpet, however many protective layers have been used!

It’s no surprise that I don’t much like messy play, especially when it comes to cleaning up afterwards. But it strikes me that that says more about my obsessive need for control than it does about the value of the play itself.

I don’t like mess, but life is messy. It’s colourful, vibrant and wonderful, but it’s indisputably messy. Last week I watched a group of children take hold of pots of playdough and roll them into different shapes. They used cutters to produce animals, food shapes and vehicles. They squeezed and squashed the playdough into what they wanted to create (‘Grandad’s car’), and the end shapes were indubitably more interesting than the original lumps of the material. That is a parable of life: God squeezes and moulds our lives into the shapes He wants our lives to be, like a potter working with clay (see Jer 18).

But then the unthinkable happened. Instead of being content with the pristine colours, making green cars and blue elephants, some of the children began moulding the colours together to create a mishmash of playdough, a rainbow-coloured gloop which could no longer be separated back into its constituent parts. I was horrified. If I’d thought the play was messy before, now I’d lost total control!

Life can seem like that to us. Not only does it feel like God’s squeezing us and moulding us and we’re being pressed into shapes we don’t like, it can feel like we’ve lost our identity entirely and we are being moulded together with other people into something that looks, to us, messy and ugly. I loved the definition of the separate colours, all in their separate pots. I didn’t like the multi-coloured mush at all. But this parable reminded me that God is building people together into His church in a way that is more concerned with the finished whole than the sensibilities of the constituent parts.

The analogy doesn’t work entirely, of course, for God never crushes our identity in the way those children worked tirelessly to blend the playdough colours together. But this scenario did remind me of the need to relinquish control in order allow the Master Potter free rein (and reign!) and the fact that a jumbled-up whole is not necessarily a bad thing. Messy play will never be the same again!

August Birthdays

We had two more birthdays to celebrate tonight (apologies for the photos, taken on my phone rather than on a camera; perhaps I should just admit to not being a photographer!)

Journey With The Light

Journeys can be great fun, but at times – usually because of bad weather, with poor visibility, high winds and driving rain – they can also be frightening and daunting. Journeys on mountain passes when visibility is not good are particularly dangerous because of the twists and turns and steep drops involved. Life is like a journey, and so often we like to do this journey on our own, but we need God with us if we are to negotiate the difficulties of journeys successfully.

In Acts 9:3-9, we see Saul on a journey to Damascus to take Christians as prisoners to Jerusalem. He was stopped in his tracks on that journey by a blinding light and a voice from heaven, and as a result of this, he was struck blind for three days. His life was completely transformed by this encounter with the Light. Ours can be too.

In the Old Testament, Moses reminded the Israelites that God gives us choices: life and prosperity or death and destruction. (Deut 30:15-18) So often, we run around aimlessly like headless chickens with no sense of direction, but God wants us to see and know the paths we should take; He offers us enlightenment because He is the Light of the world and His life is the light of all mankind. (John 1:4) Jesus said that the eye is the lamp of the body (Matt 6:22); because He is Light and Life, He enables us to see clearly. Life is a journey we should live with Jesus as the headlight, leading and guiding us through all storms.

Eternal Perspectives

The many people who worked in the nib-making industry in Birmingham in the past would probably have told you that they were making nibs. With each worker expected to produce 18,000 nibs a day, the sheer number of nibs produced in the city was phenomenal; it is estimated that 90% of the world in the 19th century used nibs that were produced in Birmingham. Nibs were sent to Australia, to America, to Japan; wherever and however people were writing, they were doing it with nibs made in Birmingham!

The job was unglamorous, tedious, boring and monotonous. Workers were not allowed to talk to each other or to sing because concentration was required to manufacture the nibs in such quantities that our minds, even in this day of computers and automated manufacturing, find hard to comprehend. But I would contend that these people were not actually defined as nib-makers. They were engaged in changing the world.

I doubt they thought of it that way: for most of them, especially the women, this was a job providing an income necessary for living (and in an environment that was considerably safer than many other industries in those days.) But the end result of all those nibs was an increase in literacy throughout the whole world which was unprecedented. The nibs provided the means for all children to learn in the new schools how to write and thus change the face of society. In our day and age, when pens are so readily available and so cheap, mass-produced and treated as largely disposable, it’s hard to realise the impact all those pen nibs must have had on the whole world.

So often, our lives seem just as mundane and ordinary as those nib-makers. We work at jobs because we need money to live. We may not see how our ordinary, everyday lives can change the world, but God’s work in this world is often subversive, subtle and radical without looking it! We need to learn to distinguish our actions from our goals. Our ‘job’ may seem insignificant and largely irrelevant, but the purpose behind what we do, when we aim to serve God and work for His glory, can have a lasting impact far beyond any production targets or measurable outcomes.