1 Corinthians 13:4-7
“Love Makes Room for All”
Lenten Series: “Sins Jesus Carried to Calvary”
March 31, 2019
It wasn’t too long ago that Home and Garden Television attracted a good number of viewers with their popular series on “Tiny Houses.” Many of you probably are familiar with what I’m talking about. “Tiny Houses” involves a concept in home construction that saw people moving from large-scale home construction to minimalist footprints of something less than 600 square feet, which gives an entirely new spin to the old term “humble abode.”
I watched several of the episodes and while I admired the resolve of those persons who chose to whittle down their belongings into something that can be hauled around by a large pickup truck, I just don’t think that I could make do in such small surroundings. And it’s not because I am obsessed with living in a large property; I really don’t need that much space to feel “at home.” It’s just that I need just enough space not to feel suffocated and now that Judy and I have a growing family with children and grandchildren, I need space that’s also large enough to make all of them want to come and visit from time to time. And how much family can you really cram into a space that’s hardly sufficient for one person, much less two?
Come to think of it, that’s not a bad question for us to consider with respect to the relational houses we occupy as well. In other words, how many persons can you have room for in a heart that’s mostly designed for one person and one person alone, a “tiny heart,” if you please?
That’s the question that pops into my mind when I read this famous chapter in the Bible from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. We know it as “the love chapter” because of how it focuses on the supremacy of love, or what Paul calls in his letter “the more excellent way” (12:31b).
Who among us is not familiar with the poetic cadence of 1 Corinthians 13, which has graced everything from paperweights to picture frames? Even a tiny house could find space for something with 1 Corinthians 13 stamped on it.
And yet I don’t know of another passage of Scripture that has been more misunderstood than this text, not because we are incapable of comprehending such a lofty expression of love like this one, but more because we have not bothered to recognize it as something we are to show others, not just something we are to feel toward others. The love to which this signal Scripture calls us as Jesus’ followers is so much more than just mere attraction to people who catch our fancy or folk with whom we have something in common; it’s a way of behaving toward people we may not even like so that our souls become widened and broadened and deepened in a way that allows us to escape the tribalism and partisanship that is way too apparent today.
The place to begin experiencing this “soul expansion” comes in understanding the broader context of Paul’s famous chapter. The church at Corinth was a congregation that was as dysfunctional as any church you might imagine. I like to say that there’s not a problem that you can conceive a church struggling with today that the church in Corinth didn’t already know. It’s all there – from party loyalty to elitist attitudes to sexual immorality – every flaw or imperfection you could think of in a group of people had reared its ugly head among the believers at Corinth, which is why when Paul endeavors to lay before them this “most excellent way,” he uses phrases that his readers wouldn’t have any problem recognizing. It was like looking in a mirror inside of their tiny house. “Love does not envy. Love does not boast. Love is not proud. Love is not rude. It’s not self-seeking; it’s not easily angered.” Go back and read the chapters before this one and see these very attitudes showing up time and again, which is why the church in Corinth was on the verge of imploding. They were constricted in their spirit and needed some space for God’s Spirit to breathe new life into their fellowship. For that matter, don’t we all?
I’m particularly attuned to one of the sins in Paul’s list that love has no room for, the sin of jealousy. Depending on your translation, it can be rendered as either envy or jealousy (some even have it as coveting), but the impact is just the same. When people begin to resent one another to the point that they burn with spite, nothing good can come from it, either for the people for whom we feel such jealousy or for ourselves.
For example, look back to the first sin mentioned in the Bible after the fall of Adam and Eve. You have two brothers, Cain and Abel, who go before the LORD with a gift. Cain, the elder brother, a tiller of the land, brings “some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD” (Gen. 4:2). Meanwhile, Abel, the younger brother, brings “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (v.3). Do you see the difference in their generosity? Cain brings something; Abel brings the best that he has. So, guess which offering God accepts and which offering God rejects? That’s right; God accepts Abel’s choice offering. But when Cain realizes what God has done, sin begins, as the text says, to “crouch at his door,” which is nothing but pure jealousy. Cain murders Abel. Moreover, he tries to dismiss his jealous deed in the sight of God, and ultimately he is banished from Paradise to a life of frustration and restlessness,
Isn’t that what jealousy does to all of us? Does it not put us in a perpetual state of frustration and restlessness, where we find no fulfillment or peace in any part of our lives? Does it not in effect shrink our lives to the point that we no longer have room to enjoy anything or anyone?
I’m reminded of something that Anne Lamott wrote in her confessional book, Grace (Eventually). In that book she talks about how jealousy has always been something of a cross for her, something that has most often caused her to feel ugly and unlovable. She writes that through the years of her recovery from addiction, years that she says have been filled with intimate and devoted relationships, she has still struggled. She puts it this way:
I know that when someone gets a big slice of pie, it doesn’t mean there’s less for me. In fact, I know that there isn’t even a pie, that there’s plenty to go around, enough food and love and air.
But I don’t believe it, not for a second.
I secretly believe there’s a pie. And I will go to my grave brandishing a fork (p.110).
I don’t think she’s alone in those sentiments. So, how do we put down our fork so that we can take up something more life-giving?
The place to begin is by focusing our attention away from what we think others may have, and what we think they may have at our expense, and turn our attention to Calvary, to where Jesus picked up all of our sins and shouldered to them to the cross in an expression of love that could only stem from God. I say that because of how Jesus died for us and our salvation, not because we had done anything to merit it. He died, as Paul wrote to the Romans, “while we were yet sinners” as “a demonstration of God’s (unconditional) love” (Rom. 5:8).
We first look to Calvary where God’s love was lifted up for all sinners. And then we begin to make room in our too tiny lives for God’s love to flow in us and through us so that we begin to show patience and kindness to others and where we have the space in our souls to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.
Can you do that this morning in your life? Can you make space in your soul for the love of God in Jesus Christ to flow in you and through you?
One of the most important theological works in my own faith development is a book I was introduced to as a young person, by an English Bible scholar and translator of the last century, J.B. Phillips, titled Your God Is Too Small. There is a copy of this book in our church library. Phillips’s main point is that most of us go through life with a God who is too small for our everyday needs, a God whose grandeur never exceeded what we learned as little children. Phillips’s call is not that much different from the Apostle Paul’s in this chapter, which is for us to “put away childish things” (v.11) so that we might contemplate a God whose loving heart is big enough to encompass everything and everyone. In other words, if your God is too small, then so is your life.
There is a better way to live, a more excellent way if you please. It’s a way that takes you out of the center of your universe and puts Jesus in that place. Why not do that even this day? Only then will you have room in your life for more than you ever thought possible and know the blessings of a love that simply will not ever let you go.