“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV).

When we read these verses from First Corinthians, we think of how we are to reflect these characteristics of love in our own lives. We measure our behavior, our actions and reactions toward others. As we realize we fall short of this ideal, most of us then ask God to help us have more love.

Paul was telling the Corinthians this is what love looks like, and it’s a good pattern for us to follow. After all, love is the royal law mentioned in James 2:8. Love is a fruit of the Spirit and doesn’t come naturally to those with carnal natures – guess that about covers everyone.

But what if this chapter is more than a model of behavior for us? So many of Jesus’ words and Paul’s writings are seen as prescriptions for living—ideals of human behavior we all know can never be reached. Were their words intended to be legalistic yardsticks with corresponding punishments?

Rather than a prescription, 1 Corinthians 13 seems to me a description of God. John tells us God is love (1 John 4:8). God doesn’t have love or give love and he certainly doesn’t love as humans do, hot one day, cold the next, at times loyal then fickle in destructive cycles.

Substitute God for love in this chapter and what do you see? God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. God is not rude, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails.

This chapter is not a vehicle for judgment or condemnation of ourselves or others, but a beautiful picture of a God who didn’t just give us a royal law of love but is himself the royal law of love. We don’t merely serve a God who loves us and wants us to love each other, but a God who embodies and exudes those listed characteristics of love. All of Scripture points to Jesus, who is the exact representation of the Father. We may even say that here we are presented with his resume.

The love chapter tells us who God is and how Father, Son and Spirit interact. It shows how he treats us, provides for us and will deal with us in the future. And yes, as dearly loved children we want to be like him. Some day we will be. But for now, don’t beat yourself or anyone else over the head for falling short of this ideal. Rejoice in God who alone is ideal, perfect love.

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