Good ol' I Corinthians 13. Short and sweet and sharp as a dagger. Love is patient, love is kind, love doesn't envy, think highly of itself, think badly of others, seek its own welfare, misbehave, and here's the best part: every good work or spiritual skill is pretty much worthless without it.
Let's be honest. It's a nice chapter and everything, but it's also a bit . . . overwhelming?
I mean, who does all that? Who is patient and kind all the time, never envies or thinks highly of herself, thinks the best of everyone and always behaves and never gets a tad self-important? Is this chapter supposed to be an encouragement or just a slap in the face? A reminder that it's hopeless—we'll never achieve love?
Here's the thing. You could view it that way—an overwhelmingly tall order in 13 bite-sized verses. But if you read the chapter in context, you'll find it actually is an encouragement. Because love is accessible to all of us. It is—believe it or not—a low-hanging fruit. We don't need any special spiritual gifts to practice it; we don't need training to know what it looks like. It's right there for all of us, from the brand-spankin'-new Christian to the seasoned believer, to reach for and practice every day.
In I Corinthians 12, Paul talks about spiritual gifts. There's a wide spectrum: faith and wisdom are on one side, prophesying, healing, tongues, and discerning spirits on the other. Paul makes it clear that every gift has its place in the body of Christ. They're all honourable and purposeful, no matter how small they may seem, which would be a relief to me, but I don't feel particularly gifted in any of the areas he mentioned.
That's why he finishes chapter 12 with the words: "And yet I will show you the more excellent way." That, my friends, is our seamless segue into I Corinthians 13. Love.
You might not have a dazzling spiritual gift of prophesying or speaking in tongues. You might not feel especially wise or iron-strong in your faith. In fact, you might read I Corinthians 12 and feel like you're not gifted at all. But don't worry, because there is an excellent way that you can strive for, no matter who you are. You can be gifted in love. There are no pre-requisites, no special requirements. You have all the credentials you need to start your training right now. Today. And guess what?
As gifts go, this is the most important, most excellent one.