From Corinthians 13:4, many Christians remember that “love is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrong, no delight in evil, rejoices in truth, always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres.” As I pondered the godly-worldly inversion of the world one late evening after a good discussion with a 16-year old, I realized the normal reading of this passage may have things reversed.
As Westerners, we tend to think of the passage as a constructive definition of how to be loving. In other words, if we stir into the mix the right ratios of kindness, patience, lack of envy and truth, etc, and the overall flavor of the soup will be love. The synergy of the components is love. Love is formed and melded from the mix of these things we do when we stir them all into the cauldron. This leaves us to find and source these things from somewhere else so that we may synthesize love.
Considering the Greek author, I believe there a more atomic interpretation of the passage is correct. Like Aristotle saw the world created of individual atoms, making each physical thing around us, perhaps Paul was simply saying all the pieces of what love is. Not what creates it, but simply an itemization or atomization of what pieces are inside of it. A Greek mind would understand the meaning of “is” as a simple, timeless, component identity, without connotations of sequence, formation, or synthesis.
The English language has limits. Consider the awkwardness of saying, “a car is engine, wheels, chassis.” We understand a car comes from these things, and is made up from these things because we are the creator of cars. That’s how people tend to read the verse: love is made from the itemized things. So when we hear a similar phrase about love, we think the same way – as the creator and author. However, we are not the creator or author of love. God defines love. God is love.
I would propose that love is formed and defined by whom it is created. It is a thing between people formed in some other way than aggregation of the itemized list of atomic characteristics. These atomic characteristics don’t flow together to become love. Rather, given the presence of love, these atomic characteristics flow out of the love. Attributes don’t make it. Attributes come from it.
Therefore, don’t pursue kindness and patience and expect love to come from it, or expect love to be identified by another as being present after your effort. Rather if you want to be patient and kind, choose instead to pursue and acquire love, and the things you want will come out of you. Pursue the Christlike example of love, and these will be natural character qualities that you start to exude.
If you want to be kind and patient with your children, and loving, love first. Find the cause of love and pursue that, and then the other attributes will grow in your heart. If you work to be patient and kind, expecting love to follow, you will be hung up at the difficulty of forcing these qualities without the underlying foundation.
This text was first written April 16, 2009. It may be archived on the Internet associated with that date.