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Love Is Courteous
January 31 and February 1, 1998


1 Corinthians 13 is certainly one of the most beautiful and cherished poems, not only in the Bible, but in literature as well. When I taught English in Nagoya, Japan, I gave credit to senior high students for memorizing and reciting 1 Corinthians 13 in English. As a poem, it moves us; as Scripture, it is difficult to grasp its meaning. We Americans especially have difficulty with it because of what our culture has done to love. Our popular songs agree with Paul in that without love we are nothing, with love we have everything. All married couples need to do is stay in love with each other, and everything will be fine, we say. But, what our culture means by love and what Paul means by love in 1 Corinthians 13 is quite different.

The word translated love in 1 Corinthians 13 is not eros-- not romantic, physical love, not feelings-- but agape, the kind of love God has for us. Our culture has mixed up eros with agape. Research indicates that, in part at least, what we call "falling in love" or "love at first sight," the butterflies in the stomach love, can be attributed to the presence in the body of a drug called "phenyle-thylamine" which is a form of natural amphetamine. If Cole Porter had known about this, he could have worded the song, "I get a phenyle-thylamine out of you!" The problem is that the body builds up a tolerance for this chemical in about two to four years. That's when love needs to kick in. In the traditional wedding ceremony, the time-honored question the pastor asks is not "Do you love her or him?" but, "Will you love her or him?" Will is a promise to the future attainment of love. Love is a result of the commitment to marriage rather than its cause. How many divorces have occurred because he or she says, "I just don't love her/him anymore." Nonsense! He or she never did know what love is. They are mixing up feelings-- phenyle-thlyamine-- with love.

I'll tell you what love is, the love that holds relationships together, the love that holds families together, marriages together, friendships together. The Scripture lesson is printed in three paragraphs. The first paragraph is about the importance of love, the last paragraph how love is eternal. The middle paragraph defines and describes love. To begin with, love is courteous. "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude." Many marriages and families would experience great improvement if they were as courteous to one another as they are in public. Would they consider talking to a stranger like they talk to their family? Would they think of being as rude to a guest in their home as they are to the people who live in their home?

I'm not just talking about kids sassing their parents. I'm talking about how spouses treat one another, how parents treat children. What is the fifth commandment? "Honor your father and your mother." Be respectful and courteous to your parent or parents. But, how does a child learn respect? By being respected, by being treated with courtesy, patience, kindness. What goes around comes around. Irritable, resentful parents produce irritable, resentful, angry kids. "Please, thank you, may I help you," go a long way to create a loving environment. The only model children have to learn how to treat their mother is the way their father treats their mother. The only model children have to learn how to treat their father is the way their mother treats their father.

When there is a problem, when there is anger and hurt feelings, don't cover it up with courtesy, however. Work out the friction immediately. Paul knew that we will get angry, but Paul said, Ephesians 4:26, "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil." In other words, don't let the anger simmer and fester. Get the issue resolved. If you brood on it, the devil takes it and turns it into bitterness, where you don't let it go, but let it influence and color every word and act.

Paul puts it this way, 13:6, "Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing." Peterson translates it, "Doesn't keep score of the sins of others." In other words, get the issue resolved. Make apologies. Make restitution, whatever. Then, let it go. When the sun goes down, let it go. Don't keep score. Don't keep bringing it up. Don't keep throwing it in the other person's face. "I'll never forget what you said or what you did in April, 1985!" Or, "You always say... you always do that." In marriage counseling, we call it "hitting below the belt." To bring up past misdeeds is to fight unfairly, hitting below the belt. Love is courteous. When you fight, fight fairly, fight courteously, with respect!

The middle paragraph of 1 Corinthians 13 ends with the endurance of love. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." Peterson translates it, "Puts up with anything. Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end." Why living together doesn't last is because there is no commitment, no covenant. When the romance dies, when the phenyle-thylamine wears out, there is nothing left to hold them together. In marriage, the couple commits themselves to bear, believe, hope and endure, to keep going to the end, even when they don't feel like it. In a few months, Ellie and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary! One couple celebrated their 40th anniversary with a quiet dinner for two. The wife picked up her champagne glass and toasted, "In spite of everything!" a toast right out of 1 Corinthians 13! Love at first sight may be a chemical reaction, but after forty years, love becomes a miracle. Through forty years, marriage develops, grows, matures into beautiful love. Love is not giving up, but discovering the joy of two people committed to each other, depending on the grace of God to nurture, grow and blossom in love with each other. It may take two to tango, but it takes three to love-- two people and God!

Love, a commitment to endurance, is true of families as well. Yes, you lose your temper; yes, you become jealous or angry with your brother or sister; yes, you become impatient with parents. But, the only brother or sister you will ever have are the ones you have. The only parents you will ever have are the ones you have. The only children you will ever have are the ones you have. Love means to bear all things, believe, hope and endure, to put up with, trust God, always look for the best and never look back.

Love is courteous. Love does not keep score. Love never gives up.

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris