Wedding season is upon us; the season of love. That means your chance of hearing 1 Corinthians 13 read publicly increases exponentially. One sometimes wonders on these occasions if the hearers really understand what is being read.
A few years ago, while preaching in Acts 25, I noticed that only verse 19 references God directly in Acts 25. I wondered if there are any other chapters in the New Testament with fewer references to God by name, title, or pronoun. My quick search surprised me. First Corinthians 13 is the only “God-less” chapter in the New Testament. No name of God is mentioned, no title, not even a pronoun referring to God. I suppose that is partly why this passage is so commonly read at weddings, even of unbelievers. People read it in isolation from the rest of the letter and the rest of Scripture, and they impose their own idea of love on the passage.
Phil Ryken’s new book: Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Crossway, 2012) clearly teaches the meaning of 1 Corinthians 13 as applied to all of life. It will help the newly married, but it is written for everyone. The friend who gave it to me was blessed through it to remember her need to grow in love even as she diligently seeks doctrinal truth.
Ryken preached through 1 Corinthians 13 near the end of his time as pastor at Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia before assuming his position as Wheaton College’s president last year. This work flows from that preaching series. As such, it reads like a series of sermons modified for print.
Phil Ryken shows us just how full of God 1 Corinthians 13 is. Chapter-by-chapter, he expounds the qualities of love by drawing on the life and ministry of Jesus in the gospels. The deeper we plunge into this chapter on love, the more we are led to the cross to see how Jesus is the only one who ever has loved perfectly, and that he is the expression of God’s love. Because of Christ’s perfect love, we are made right with God and in union with him are made able to follow his example.
It is not a technical, exegetical work, but is rather pastoral and expository. It will not answer every question you have ever had about 1 Corinthians 13. But it will convict and challenge you. I found the chapter “Love is Not Irritable” to be most convicting as Ryken pressed the claims of true love into the smallest parts of my daily attitude. Honestly, it had me squirming in my seat as I considered the depth of my own sin, and then it lifted me up in Christ and gave me hope for new obedience.
If all of the couples who hear this passage read at their wedding this summer understand the true nature of love, they will stand on solid ground all of their days. So, if you’re looking for something to wrap in that towel set you purchased from the registry for the bride and groom, Loving the Way Jesus Loves is a good choice. Just be sure you read it before you give it – it is written for you, too.