Love is a many splendored thing
Decades ago now there was a song with the line “love is a many splendored thing.” It was – as most of the songs of that era – an attempt to express the meaning of love and to encourage people to see love as one of the more positive emotions. What love could add to a person’s life was incredible – or so the song would lead one to believe. You may also remember the little comic “Love is...” which gave us many examples that were simple and yet touching; ways in which we could let another person know that they were loved.
Certainly, the word and the concept of love has been around for as long as anyone can ever remember. But the interpretation of what that word means and what the concept of love entails is varied and sometimes quite disturbing. While for most of us the word love or the concept of love may conjure up images of sunshine, warmth, affection and care, to others that word carries a darker meaning. And as with most things in this world, it is our personal experiences that shape our understanding and affect our response to such ideas as love.
To know what the ideal image of something is is one thing but to put into practice that ideal image is quite another. And while we have been given wonderful examples of love in action – examples that we can seek to follow as a guide to our own actions – we often find ourselves challenged to express what we understand love to be through our daily thoughts, words and actions.
We struggle to be loving as we deal with people who prefer to tear others down physically, mentally and emotionally. We struggle to be loving as we deal with people who would exploit any weakness in order to gain an upper hand in a relationship be it in business, a social group, a family setting or in our own church fellowship. The reality is that love – the true expression of love for the Christian faith – is something that is the most challenging idea to grasp and to faithfully practice. It demands that we engage with one another in body, mind and spirit in such a way as to be ever mindful of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual frailties of one another and be prepared to respond to one another with words and actions that will reveal a true care and respect for the other.
Oftentimes we who have chosen to be active in a church community have been viewed by the society around us as holier than those outside the church; and oftentimes we have probably deserved that viewpoint. Often, we have been no better than the Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus warned us about. We have created rules to test faith; we have created rules to test behaviour; and we have instituted a series of punishments which have led people to believe that God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness are only available to those who can attain a certain ethical and moral position. Now I am not suggesting that we abandon any standards that we may have for our life as the people of God, but I am suggesting that we have also been guilty of setting rules that have blocked or seriously impaired people from finding a path to the love God has for everyone.
We do have a standard within the Christian faith that is to be the touchstone by which we live our lives here in community, with our families and with any one with whom we may have contact. That standard was revealed by God through the life of Jesus who encouraged people to look beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. He encouraged people to exercise good judgment by looking to what was the greater good not just for oneself but for others. Many times, he ran afoul of those who claimed to be knowledgeable about the will of God for humanity; he revealed that while the heart of God sought to have the human heart respond in certain ways that would be most beneficial to this life, he knew that the human heart was prone to respond in ways that could cause harm. In Jesus God revealed to us that while such harm will and does occur, we are to seek to reduce or eliminate that harm as far as it is within our ability; we are not to let the circumstances of a person’s life define their life forever but rather encourage them to discover God’s gifts of forgiveness, mercy, healing and release from whatever may have afflicted them. Such a response changes our relationships with one another and calls for us to become more involved with one another. And it was that response from Jesus that changed the lives of so many. Our faith in God, our commitment to have a relationship with God and with one another calls us to follow the example of Jesus and seek to respond to one another in ways that reveal that we are prepared to act with the same heart and mind as Jesus himself. We will not do this perfectly, but we are to never stop trying. We are encouraged to be forgiving of ourselves but also forgiving of others.
Paul experienced the mercy and forgiveness of God after he had persecuted the very people whom now he sought to teach and guide. He came to a new understanding of what it meant to love, and he shared that understanding with the people of the church in Corinth in the words we have heard today.
First of all Paul realized that he could be the most gifted person in terms of spiritual knowledge; he could be the most gifted person in terms of the knowledge of all things in the world and he could even be the most gifted person in terms of using his wealth to affect change in the world but without love it all meant nothing because without love he would be living his life for his own glory and honour and all would be done without any consideration for how his life would affect that of those around him.
He then lists what he truly sees as the qualities of love for those who choose to be followers of God in Christ. Our love is to be patient and kind; our love is to not be envious of one another; our love is never to boast or be conceited or be rude. Our love is to be unselfish – in other words we are to consider how our words or actions will affect others; our love is not to take offense at the words or actions of others nor is it to keep a score of how others have wronged us = we rarely keep a record of how we have wronged others. We are to take no pleasure in the sins of others for we can be as prone to finding ourselves in similar situations.
Paul then states something about love from the Christian perspective that we all seek to believe but have difficulty with and that is this: “There is nothing that love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance.” (1Corinthians 13:7, The Revised English Bible)
The real test of our love is the ability to face everything in life and not give up; to be open to receiving one another with open arms and open mind; ready to be there for one another.
To embrace love in this way demands a commitment from us in mind, body and spirit. It demands that we truly honour our faith and honour our relationship to God as we seek to honour our relationships both within and without this community of faith.
During his lifetime Paul never stopped striving to love as he believed God was calling him to love. He knew that nothing in all the world could ever stop the love of God for him and because of that he knew that he could never stop seeking to love others.
Love is certainly a many splendored thing. Let us seek to live this understanding of love given to us by Paul as he experienced it, by Jesus as he lived it, that we too may love one another as God has and continues to love us!