Last year, my dad passed away in South Africa after a short illness. One of his favourite passages in the Bible was 1 Corinthians 13. This ‘chapter of love’ is very popular with people in love and at weddings. However, for my dad these words were not sentimental or romantic. They were a lifestyle.
An exemplary life
I’ve seen this lifestyle up close: in the way he treated his family and those he disagreed with (including myself!); in the way he retired early as a pastor to care for my brother after he was paralysed and then returned to run various churches until he was 80; in the way he sought the best for others, even if it meant sacrifice for himself. My dad’s lifestyle of love had such an impact on us as siblings that after his funeral we committed to follow such a lifestyle among ourselves and in our relationships with others.
Loving the poor
This type of lifestyle of love is of particular importance to those of us helping people who live in poverty. In fact, verse 3 could be a shock to us: ‘If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.’ The Greek text that is translated ‘give all I possess to the poor’ literally means to feed others by giving them morsels of food. Paul says that someone might give everything he/she has in small portions to feed as many people as possible. However, unless motivated by true love toward God and others, such action would be all false, hollow and hypocritical. Wow! Could there be a danger that helping people in poverty is born out of our own guilt and selfish reasons instead of a real concern to see people’s lives restored to reach their full potential?
Paul explains what a true lifestyle of love looks like in verses 4-8:
‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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.’
‘An active lifestyle of love is of particular importance to those of us helping people who live in poverty.’
1 Corinthians 13:3 has echoes of programmatic and project-focused relief and development instead of living a lifestyle of love for those in need. This is important to relief and development organisations. Could relief and development organisations and workers fall into this trap?
In conclusion, though good might be done to others without really having love as my inward motive, it does not help to restore relationships. This is when helping poor people becomes charity instead of transforming relationships – this includes my own relationship with the people I am helping.
The sort of love that transforms relationships is driven by the love of God who loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son to die so that we might have life (John 3:16). It is then, when a lifestyle of love becomes love in action, and one that follows Jesus where the need is greatest, that people are released from poverty and helped to live transformed lives.
We celebrate Valentine’s Day on 14th February. It’s normally a day of romantic love. But how about we reframe it as a day that reminds us to take a step beyond buying cards or chocolate for the one (or indeed, the people) we love? Based on 1 Corinthians 13, it could remind us to live a lifestyle of love. Happy Valentine’s Day!