Make Love Your Aim

1 Cor. 13:1—13; 14:1

And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecy, it will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts.

Reflections on the Text

Many discussions on community life are concerned with specific things that can or are being done. But if love is the “aim” then more emphasis might well be placed on what the community is called to “become.” In fact, without a foundation of love, much of the “doing” is really in vein.

When the body is functioning well, Christ is able to use it to “spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Cor. 2:14). The parish then becomes the agent by which the seed of faith (and of new life) can be planted in others. There is often, however, some confusion concerning the kinds of seeds and the best way to plant them. St. Paul described the situation well when he spoke about people who “have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened” (Rom. 10:2). People can attend countless bazaars and programs, hear about culture, traditions, music, icons, food, and all kinds of other things that have been “handed down,” and yet still miss the real content of the faith. It seems that we have invested our time and energy in seeds that will produce plants unable to bear any fruit. We are told in the Gospel that the fate of such plants is to be “cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt. 3:10; Jn 15:1-8). Culture and local traditions do have their place and deserve to be preserved. Nevertheless, they must not be allowed to become the primary focus in our ministry to others.

An Orthodox writer, commenting upon parish life in regard to doing versus becoming, said: “A parish can be improved, but only people can be saved.”

"A parish can be improvedÂ… " A beautiful church with wonderful icons and an excellent choir may be just a well-preserved museum or concert hail. A parish may have hundreds of communicants and many varied programs, yet manifest a self-centered and misleading approach to the faith. Growth in itself is not always the answer, for too often success is judged simply by size and numbers rather than by quality.

"... Only people can be saved." The parish must not become an end in itself. It can only be more fully that which it already is: the Body of Christ, the embodiment of love by which its members are saved. The people must grow not only in numbers, but in their “life and faith and spiritual understanding.”

Making love our aim is the essential way to transform doing into becoming.

Relating the Bible to Our Lives

1. Love, like so many other words in our culture, has lost a great deal of its power. It has been trivialized and distorted. Yet the primary inspiration for Christians is their personal experience of God’s love. “God so loved the world. . .“ (Jn. 3:16). “We love because he first loved us...” (1 Jn. 4:19). Try to remember incidents or passages from the Scriptures that have confirmed or revealed God’s love to you.

2. Look at the second paragraph of the Bible text. Substitute your name or the name of your parish for the word “love,” wherever it occurs. Does the paragraph, with the substituted name describe you or your parish? If not, examine your life to see where you do not measure up to the descriptions in St. Paul’s text. What attitudes and actions need correction in your parish?

3. Love is connected very closely to belief. “If I approach a man with the paradigms of faith, I compose his actions accordingly . . . . But this is a two way street. For not only does each one of us approach the world with or without faith; it is also necessary that each one of us be approached with faith; we have to be believed in by somebody, by man and/or by God. Not only is faith a gift. . . it is a gift to be believed in. We are created and patterned by the faith of others” (William Lynch).

Taking this approach, we can paraphrase St. John’s words quoted above, and say: “We believe because he first believed in us.”

Try to remember someone who, at an important moment in your life, gave you the gift of being loved or being “believed in.” Are there members of your own community on whom you could bestow this same gift? (Think particularly of the teens or younger children in your parish, other children you know, and the children in your own family. Think also of the elderly or those facing crisis in their lives — it’s never to late to affirm the life of another.)