Uncommon Love: A few thoughts on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
(An excerpt from Cultivating Love: When Secrets Surface by Dr Ken McGill)
Recorded below are some thoughts on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. I suggest these to you right now because in light of what you both have experienced, love has been and will always be the answer, the goal, the destination, the focus and the solution. If something as painful as unfaithfulness or any boundary rupture has occurred, it is helpful to be reminded of this very important point. This passage of scripture may help you to begin to experience a spiritual “Ctl – Alt – Del” that helps one or both of you to begin to reset your focus as you consider the long path toward personal healing and whether or not your relationship could heal.
What follows is a reflection on the subject of Love, interpreted from one of the most inspirational passages on the subject, as written in I Corinthians 13:4–8. As you read on, it is my hope that you hear God’s Heart and experience God’s Empowerment to “press on,” and grow/mature through what could be a challenging season of affliction in your life and in your relationship.
I know there have been times in my life where I felt I was successful in my effort to understand and to cultivate the core characteristics of Love (Honor, Respect, Esteem, Cherishing, Favor, Acceptance, Prizing, and Devotion), and the Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control). As I positively practice these principles I experience the benefit of my labor personally and relationally with others. However, as a result of going through a particularly painful season in my life (the loss of our daughter), I have realized and have been challenged to have God cultivate a “mature” understanding and expression of Love in my life, which I never realized existed and which I am convinced is produced in the energetic, transformative and fertile soil of my suffering experience(s).
I don’t believe I would have ever seen this mature “fruit” born in my life had not God empowered me (and oftentimes, carried me) through these periods of indescribable suffering, that I would not normally choose to experience in my humanity. I mean, who wants to suffer (and be [a] patient) through a process where there seems to be no light, no fruit, nor a desirable outcome to be attained at the end, whenever that may be? And yet, I believe I would have never tasted the sweet fruit of mature Love if the depths of my heart had never been broken, exposing me to His power, which is made perfect (mature) in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
If you are reading this and you are in the midst of a season of suffering, I can only share my experience, strength and hope that if you do not interrupt this process “pre-maturely,” you stand to position yourself (James 4:9-10) to experience this powerful transformation, find purpose through your pain and co-create with God “puzzle pieces of your life” that will yield understanding and maturity like you have not experienced before. So, ask God to help you to understand, become wise and to be patient in this season of pain, devastation, grief, suffering, faith, hope and love (Colossians 1:10-11).
As it is written in I Corinthians 13: 4….Love is…
Patient… (13:4): This process of transformation starts when we are out of our comfort zone and probably in a dark, lonely and possibly frightening place, like a seed, that has fallen into the ground (John 12:24-26). In a situation like this, there is no quick solution that “springs up” to bring resolution. More than likely, fear, hurt, confusion, pain, and shock are experienced as you enter this initial stage of grief (James 4:9-10).
What is also true of your immediate situation is that you are in fact, like a patient, in need of immediate care. Think about it, there is a reason we call the person in the hospital that is ill, injured and in need of medical care and treatment, a patient. The Latin word patiens means “I am suffering” and like the patient, we most likely need to engage in a process of receiving care, attention, help and healing over a period of time in order to recover from this initial and traumatic change to our system.
Like the seed in the soil, the patient wonders “where is God?” and “How could I ever recover from this calamity that has traumatized my life? God would remind you to be patient, and like the seed/patient, begin to draw upon the “supernatural” resources of the Sun (The Son), the Air (Inspirational People), Water (the Word), and Minerals (Enriched Therapeutic Experiences) to begin your transformation to health.
Equally, in this passage, the word Patience is the Greek word Makrothymeo, and its meaning speaks to l-o-n-g-suffering (versus being given to hasty anger, punishment or “knee-jerk” reactions or solutions). Remember that the word picture for Makrothymeo (“Great Thermos”) is like handing a heated liquid (your emotions) to another in a manner in which they could receive the content(s). To do otherwise is to rage (throw the “liquid”) or misplace your passion, which speaks to impatience and interrupts your process of growing through grief and inhibits your transformation. Makrothymeo involves exercising understanding and patience toward people and also involves refusing to retaliate, especially under the pressure of trying circumstances. My encouragement to you is to be (a) patient and realistic with yourself and with others. Recuperate, not wound and factor in the time it will take to mature and heal in this season of your life. When you are able you could do more work. Until then, be patient with yourself and others.
…Kind (13:4): (Chrestotes) Far too often when we are hurt, we may give ourselves permission to be toxic with our hurt, hurling our violent thoughts at others (or at ourselves) in an attempt to achieve immediate versus cultivated relief. Love calls for us to reduce, to cease, to refuse and to remove the opportunities to interrupt our grief and hinder our growth. Kindness means to be(come) useful, profitable, tender, serviceable, good, pleasant, gracious and kind, and is the opposite of curtness and being “short in temper” with yourself and with others. The cultivation of this healing ingredient creates softness in its expression, which facilitates the flowing of God’s grace and compassion throughout our whole being.
…Does Not Envy (13:4): Zeal and Jealousy both come from the same word (Zelos). In addition to meaning that love does not display wrath and indignation, this word also means that love does not carry resentments, grudges nor does it desire for the other person to get “what (s)he deserves.”
…Does Not Boast, Is Not Proud, Is Not Rude, Is Not Self-Seeking (13:5): The common feature in all of these words is the elevating of oneself (taking a “one-up” position) over another person. The context (and tragedy) of these words infers that when one person is “one up” (due to granting ourselves permission to be exalted into the “shame-less” position of Self-Righteousness), the other “person” is relegated to the “one-down/lower” position of being “shame-full” (because shame’s goal is always to vilify and “de-humanize” another). This stance prevents us from experiencing and processing our true feelings (grief/losses), and certainly interrupts the suffering, healing and maturation process we need to go through because we get stuck (and get lost) in anger, resentment (“re-feeling the pain”) and fantasies of retaliation. Practically, love would have us to examine and honor the complexity of our humanity and the humanity of your partner.
…Is Not Easily Angered, Keeps No Record of Wrongs, Does Not Delight in Evil (13:6): There is nothing wrong with Anger. Anger is an emotion that signals you feel threatened, or that a wrong has been committed and that a constructive, corrective process needs to occur in light of the threat or the wrong(s) committed.
The context of these 3 phrases cautions us about an improper response with our emotion, which could lead to a greater rift or schism if we misuse our energy to catalog the wrong(s), the injustice(s) and the evil committed by the other person, against us. If we misuse our energy, the intent and the outcome will not be to resolve nor reconcile whatever the problem is, but to use the evidence (record of wrongs) to “throw it back in their face,” which is actually just as violent a response as the original behavior that initially wounded, hurt or injured you (yes, you could hear the old adage “two wrongs do not make one right”).
Remember, this is all about changing, healing and growing in this season of your life. To misplace your passion (Deuteronomy 29:18) means you risk interrupting your growth process, while also sabotaging your purpose. Instead of defaulting to what could be the “dysfunctional familiar” response, I encourage you to…
1. Investigate, Own, and Speak responsibly about your Hurt and Pain (Ephesians 4:26–27; Ephesians 4: 2, 14),
2. Remember that repair, reconciliation and renewal is not an overnight job, but is a process of change, and finally…
3. Implement Admonishment (Colossians 1:28, 29). Biblical admonishment (Noutheteo – “To place in the Mind”) involves warning the other of their error, alerting them of the consequences and then showing them the way to correct the/their problem.
If approached this way, it compels us to use our energy creatively to think about what solutions will help to heal our hurt versus using our energy to dream up more revenge fantasies to get even with the perceived or actual persecutor in our life.
…Rejoices with Truth (13:6): (Alethes) – You may recall in Greek mythology, that when people died they were ferried to the underworld on a boat across the river Styx. What is not commonly known though is that there was another river in Hell called Lethos (from which we derive our English word, Lethal). People drank the “lethal” waters in order to escape or interrupt the pain they experienced in their current predicament. This may sound familiar to some, depending upon some of the groups in which you may fellowship.
Jesus used this word in John 8:32 and in doing so, He put an “A” before “LETHES” meaning that it negates the Lethes. The passage? “You will know the truth (alethes) and the truth (alethes) will set you free.” Truth is an edifying fruit produced from the soil of our life (experience) when we make the choice to not be “lethal.”
Said another way, if the soil of our heart or experience is lethal, toxic, dysfunctional or maladaptive, then there will be no fruit. In that scenario, what is produced at best is a counterfeit or artificial “fruit” that is passed off as truth that will edify no one.
On the other hand, we have reason to rejoice when we see the visible evidence (truth) “poking through the earth” because we see that the seeds from our personal and relational struggle have transformed into the concrete expression(s) of character that is honest, sincere, credible, reliable, trustworthy, valid and certifiably legitimate behavior (which are all words that describe Alethes). If we wish to produce the fruit of mature love, then we drink continuously (Psalm 1:2-3) from the enriched streams that we know will provide us with the nutrients to facilitate our change, healing, growth and fruitfulness (Romans 7: 4-6; John 15:1-5; Jeremiah 17:7-8; John 7:37-38).
…Always Protects (13:7): (Stego) – This word has woven into it several important truths. First, it informs us that love puts up with, stands with, endures and protects (envision the new seedling/sapling that is growing, that needs support rods attached to it to keep it sturdy).
Equally, this word depicts a literal covering (a roof), which protects the inhabitants within the house. If there is a roof, then the rest of the house, the structure and the process of building it is inferred. In order to protect, cover, be less toxic, and promote healing and growth (maturing) within my family, I had to get well and be well. Doing so meant doing my grief work so my family could do their work and experience their healing (remember the words of the Flight Attendant: “Place the oxygen mask [that which promotes life] over your face first, before…” – See Ephesians 2:21, 22; Eph. 4:29–32; Eph. 4:15-16). This act of “loving My Neighbor” is possible if I first learn to love myself, which means doing the necessary and personal transformative work to become a “safe” and healthy person, in order to facilitate my healing and transformation. Protection occurs when we do our best to create a process that builds up ourselves and the other person as well.
…Always Trusts, Always Hopes (13:7): (Pistis; Elpis) – Faith, trust, belief, being firmly persuaded in the truth that something good is going to occur as a result of this situation is what is captured here. Inferred in these words are the hopeful expectation, desire and anticipation of good (fruit), regardless of how painful, awful and terrible the current predicament seems. It is this kind of hope that finds its expression in endurance under trial (Romans 5:1-5; Romans 4:18-21).
In your situation, when calamity strikes, it is difficult to see the daylight and a future. Yet God would remind you that there are more pieces to your life puzzle to co-create and assemble, together, with Him (and with other stakeholders) in your life (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28). Just as the transformation of a seed in healthy soil always produces fruit, your transformation in this life circumstance commenced in what seemed like a grave, but if the process is allowed to unfold, will mature in your edification and potentially of the edification of your neighbor (John 15:4-5). I encourage you…Remain in Him.
…Always Endures (13:7): (Hupomeno; Hupo [Under] + Menos [Remain]) – And with the mention of this word, we come full-circle. Hupomenos or Endurance is a “sister” word to Makrothymeo (Patience). In some cases, both are interchangeably used, while Hupomenos is translated “remain,” in John 15:1-5. Makrothymeo involves exercising understanding and patience toward persons; Hupomenos involves being patient toward things or circumstances. Makrothymeo suggests a refusal to retaliate; Hupomenos is a refusal to be defeated, beaten, conquered or worn out. Both are essential in the production of fruitfulness in this season of your life and both are achievable outcomes as this process matures.
Like Patience, Endurance (Hupomenos) facilitates and empowers growth as we go through trial(s) and it “perfects” character (Telios – Not the absence of error but “completely organizes” the puzzle pieces of life, so life makes sense when we step back and are able to see the big picture – James 1:2-5).
…Never Fails (13:8): (Oudepote [Not ever; Never] + Piptos [Falls Down or Collapses]). So why do we have to go through this? Why remain or attempt to work through trying circumstances? Please note: No one is asking for you to be a Victim nor to subject yourself to hurt, harm and victimization. That is not what this is about. Actually, taking the Victim stance is incompatible with the personal responsibility you exercise as you co-create with God (John 15:5) and take it upon yourself to facilitate your change, healing, and growth.
Suffering may define the process that you are currently experiencing however it is never the final destination. Equally, there is no quick fix or clever formula to expedite your personal transformation. I can only offer that the “3-legged stool” (Faith, Hope and Love – I Corinthians 13:13) has never failed me in supporting the heavy and weighty circumstances of life (Romans 8: 31-39), and I don’t think it will fail us in the future. If possible, try to grow and practice uncommon love like this (James 3:17-18; John 15:7 – 17).
As time permits, please read the post/entry “If you had one hour to live…” Above all, be patient with yourself and your process of trying to recover from your challenging life circumstance – Dr McGill.
TeleHealth/Video counseling sessions are available for those who prefer to meet online – Dr. McGill