Forming Faith Blog

Love versus Selfishness (May 17, 2020)

A group of volunteers cleaning up trash. Choosing loving others over selfishness.

This week, we have moved from the first chapter of 1 Corinthians to the thirteenth. Given that we have all of four weeks on the letter, it makes sense. A lot of the intervening chapters are a lot less influential than the ones covered (chapters 1, 12, 13, 15). The Narrative Lectionary has us skipping chapter 12 for now and placing it on Pentecost Sunday to emphasize the Spirit’s work in spiritual gifts.

Love, Love, Love

This leads us to the most famous part of 1 Corinthians, and probably the most famous words that the apostle Paul ever wrote. It is the love chapter, beautiful language often chosen to be read at weddings. This context is not inappropriate for a teaching on godly love, but it does give people the mistaken idea that Paul is talking about romantic love. Seen within the context of the whole letter, it’s clear that this is not what he is talking about at all.

Love in a Time of Conflict

Within the context of the letter, Paul is addressing divisions and conflict within the Corinthian church. This in part has to do with a presumed hierarchy of spiritual gifts, where some think that they are better than others because they have a cooler gift. At least the argument about gifts is the presenting problem. Conflict runs deeper in this community than that one issue.

The Problem of Selfishness

We all know that conflicts run deep in all communities, not just the Corinthian church. This is because the root cause is common among all people: selfishness. I think selfishness is the root cause of all sins. Think of the descriptors Paul lists in verses four through six and specifically their opposites. I am impatient because I want things on my timetable. I don’t want to think of the wellbeing of others, just myself. I want what others have. I want to be the best. I don’t care about other people’s feelings. I want things my way, and if I don’t get them, I will get upset. I’m happy when I do things my way and don’t care if others think it’s wrong. Me, me, me.

The Cure for Selfishness

Love is the hard work of putting your whole self into doing good for others: God and our neighbors. I think Jesus had something to say about that. Or, rather, a lot to say about it. Selfishness is our innate instinct. Some might even say original sin. And that’s not okay with God. The writer of 1 John asserts that God is love, which I interpret to mean that the primary aspect of God that God reveals to us is love. That is the basis of the good news. God loves you. God gives Godself to us and for us. God loves us so much as to become one of us, to teach us about love, to even die for love. God’s love is so powerful that not even death can stop it.

The Primacy of Love

That’s it. God loves us and expects us to respond by returning that love to God and sharing it with others. I believe that that’s it, the essence of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. The rest is just details and history. They are important details and history, but if we put the details and history in the way of love, then we’ve gotten them wrong. In case you’re wondering, that is our core belief in our faith formation resources here at Spirit & Truth Publishing.

Love Is a Gift

Thankfully for us, love is not just an expectation God has for us. Love is also a gift from God. Not only is it a gift that God loves each of us unconditionally, but God also gives us the ability to love in return. To appropriate an image Paul uses here, we are able to reflect God’s love, even if it’s in a mirror dimly. But it still takes effort on our part. A lot of effort. Our whole selves and lives, in fact. That is what everything else is for. Stewardship is using everything we have and are in service of God and others.

Selfishness versus Loving Yourself

A note as we struggle to love and serve others: Self-care is different than selfishness. Selfishness is about what I want, usually to the detriment of others. Self-care is doing what I need in body, mind, soul, spirit, etc. Ideally, everyone around you will show you love and help you get those needs met (even if it means leaving you alone). But if not, you need to carve out the time and energy to do that. That’s the idea of loving others as you love yourself.

Be Gentle with Yourself

Something a wise person once told me is to be gentle with yourself. Our own expectations and self-talk can harm us, so we need to make sure we are patient and kind to ourselves as well as others. That is always important advice for us, but definitely in this time of pandemic. Some of us might have high expectations of how to use our time stuck at home. Some of us are overwhelmed with new responsibilities or are overwhelmed with previous responsibilities made much more difficult. Take time for self-care, defending yourself from unhealthy expectations and self-talk.

Free Resource

That all is an extrapolation from 1 Corinthians 13, though a faithful one. It is not exactly what Paul was originally writing about. He was writing to a community in conflict about how not to be a community in conflict. That is an exercise that needs to be practiced. Our free activity this week, “Practicing Love” gives small groups (family units, online groups, or in-person groups) a tactile opportunity to imagine a real-life community conflict and how to resolve it with love. This is from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship (NL) resource, but it can be used within interactive worship (online or in-person) or at any other time. I pray that it will be helpful in your ministry this week.

In God’s love,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

New Blog Series

If you haven’t seen it yet, I have started another brief blog series directed specifically for laypeople, The Church at Home. Through this blog series, we are providing our Living the Word: Sharing God’s Story @ Home devotional bulletin inserts for free, along with a brief reflection each week. Please share the weekly link with your congregations.

New Product!

We have now launched our newest product, an intergenerational curriculum that follows the Revised Common Lectionary! You can find more information (and a sample lesson) about Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education (RCL) in a blog post, in the product description, or in a more detailed description.

Don’t forget that our 2020-2021 Narrative Lectionary products are available for order. Fall resources are online for immediate download and Winter will be online within a month. We also have a free planning tool!