When Haddon Robinson took over as interim president of a seminary in 2007, he found the school in conflict. He began speaking in chapel on 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter.
“I chose to speak a series of messages in chapel on 1 Corinthians 13, because it spoke of love and relationships, and it was positive in the sense that I wasn’t going to major on what we didn’t do or what we didn’t like but on what we should do.”
“The Christian life often boils down to just that: being patient and kind with people—even impossible people. What a different campus we could be if we would do just that,” he preached.
At one point, he placed his name in the text in the place of love, and praying that God would allow him to become that kind of man:
Haddon Robinson is patient and he is kind. Haddon doesn’t envy, doesn’t boast. He’s not proud. Haddon Robinson isn’t rude. He’s not self-seeking. He’s not easily angered, and he keeps no record of the wrongs done against him. He doesn’t delight in evil, but he rejoices wherever truth is found. He always tries to protect, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Easy to understand. But one can hold advanced degrees in theology and still need to be reminded what love looks like, especially in the middle of a conflict.
According to Paul, spiritual maturity isn’t marked by our gifts or knowledge. It’s marked by love. Our gifts are temporary, partial, and passing; love continues into eternity.
The love Paul talks about is muscular. It involves tolerating the weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of others, sets aside pride and self interest, and refused to be rude or angered, presumably when one can find reason to be angered. It refuses to respond in anger when wronged. It refuses to keep a record of offenses.
I’m most convicted by this part of Paul’s description: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Paul isn’t arguing for naïveté. He’s describing the kind of love that assumes the best of others, doesn’t give into cynicism, and doesn’t give up no matter what people do. “Like Christ on the cross, love endures scorn, failure, ingratitude,” writes Gaston Deluz. “At the end shines out the light of Easter. For love never ends.”
Anyone who thinks that this kind of love is weak has never tried to practice it. It’s the easiest thing in the world to give into annoyance, anger, and sarcasm, and to cloak it under the guise of being right. When we take that approach, Paul argues, we’ve failed. The love of 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t soft; it reflects the strengths of God’s costly love offered to us.
I’ve come close to canceling my social media accounts lately because of the acrimony out there, not among unbelievers but among Christians. Nothing wrong with canceling social media, but the real problem isn’t just with others. The problem is the agitation and anger in my own heart in response to hurts and slights.
Robinson explained why he preached through this passage at a time of conflict. “I saw myself as a middle-relief pitcher. I wanted to do what I could to prepare the campus for the person to follow me.”
We may not be in interim roles like Robinson, but we too need to prepare our churches for what’s coming. In an age of acrimony, we need to rediscover the muscular love of 1 Corinthians 13. The world doesn’t need more shrill and mocking voices. It needs what Paul describes in this passage, all the more as the world and the church splinter apart.