In this series on the characteristics of love as provided by the Apostle Paul, the focus is on 1 Corinthians 13:4-6. The apostle Paul is very careful to provide an understandable concept of love inspired by the nature and virtues of God.
His original motivation was to communicate with the people of the church in Corinth who had allowed their external social conditioning to corrupt their concept of love. It is believed that the people of this area were rather immoral. Love was often something related to pleasure rather than anything resembling what we might identify as a stable loving relationship. They were very selfish people who were only interested in what they could gain for themselves. The concept of loving their neighbor gave way to the concept of sue your neighbor to get what they have. To be fair; there was a moment in time when the Roman Empire concurred the Greek city of Corinth and the immorality of its people was somewhat reduced, but significant levels of immorality did seem to survive the transition.
Corinth, before the time of Paul, was a Greek province that worshiped the gods and goddesses from what we know today as Greek mythology. By the time Paul entered the scene; the Romans, who also worshiped many gods, had destroyed and rebuilt Corinth and subsequently inserted its theology. It is believed that some of the people of Corinth organically developed hybrid Greek/Roman religions, while those who migrated from other Roman provinces to Corinth were more likely to worship only the Roman gods. Add to the mix resident Jews and you have a place nearly as spiritually confused as the world today.
It is also accepted that Corinth was a place where there was no significant socio-religious conflict. Apparently people felt free to worship whoever and however they saw fit – although the official religion would have been the Roman version of Mithraism (Roman mythology). With a perceived freedom to accept just about anything (with some political limitations), even the converts of the Christian church in Corinth were swayed by external influences.
The people of Corinth were of the type that idolized those who appeared important or wise based on eloquence of speech or other indicators. Therefore, they envied the attention given to those of perceive prominence and desired it for themselves.
There were several significant influential leaders in the Christian movement in Corinth for them to follow and envy. Those leaders included Paul who was not present at the time of the epistles, local leaders like Apollos and Cephas, and let’s not forget the Lord Jesus Christ.
We read in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 that Paul had to plead with the church to unite in Christ and not become divided by some misguided prideful perception that their particular pastor/leader was superior to another. It seems that they worshiped their leader rather than simply submitting only to Christ. I believe this can be attributed to the social influence I previously mentioned, which is an indication of outside influences corrupting the purpose of Christ’s church.
Paul responds to division in the church and identifies that it is the confusion between their flesh and their relationship with the truth of the Bible that drives it.
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Paul recognizes that even though these people have received the truth, they still have a desire for those things of the world. Paul wants them to move on from mother’s milk (the very basics) to the fullness of the truth (meat), but they are restricted because of their willingness to allow outside influences to inhibit their growth in truth. They simply cannot set-aside the confusion of the world and let the truth lead them. They look like grownups, but act impulsively and are easily led away from truth – like children.
This was not a problem that was cleared up easily. It persisted because they continued to allow outside influences to affect them. Paul wrote to them in his second epistle to Corinth that Christians are to avoid the influences of evil nonbelievers.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (2 Cor. 6:14-15)
His message is that there can be no common ground established between the truth of God (light) and that which is apart from truth (darkness). If connected with the external religious traditions of Corinth in that time, Christians would become confused about what is true and what is developed as a hybrid understanding of secularism and truth – which is in itself confusion. Paul is explaining that there can be no partnership, fellowship, or accord between that which is of God and that which is not of God; there can be no gray area.
Corruption in Love
Still confused and allowing outside influences to guide them, even those in the church construct love in such a way that allowed the previously mentioned sexual immorality to continue even among Christians. Paul exposes to the Church that he has received word that this is happening.
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1)
It is not clear how many incidences are reported, but it seems that at least some of the activity reached levels that were even more egregious than that which the gentiles (secular society) would accept.
Through this information we can see that influences outside of the Bible tend to corrupt the thinking of Christians. The influences of those who do not adhere strictly to the Bible’s teachings, but allow the relative concepts of the world to merge with their thinking, morality, and example perpetuate the kind of hybrid gray area thinking that allows Christians to concoct concepts of every aspect of life to suit desires that are not of God.
The Bible Establishes the Boundaries
This is why it is so important to dismiss our own desires and allow the Bible to establish our boundaries. Love is one of those areas that is so confused by the influences of the world, that even today, Christians are easily led away from the light and made confused by the concepts of the world. Love is accused of being elusive, emotional (out of our control), unfair, the cause of some of the worst pain ever, the reason for depression, and even as a bondage that kills freewill. We tend to take these attitudes of the world and use them to concoct a better way to love.
In reality love, not concocted in our own minds, is a simple and easy to follow fundamental principle of relationships. It is by its biblical definition something we do, that is not for ourselves but intends to do for others. If it is true that love is something we do for others, it is there reception perception that matters, so there is nothing for us to personally define. As we learned from the Corinthians, personally defining something based on the desires of the flesh can drive us to do some really bad stuff. But if it is a process of giving (not receiving), we will not be able to corrupt it with the desires of our own flesh.
Parenting today is not unaffected by the concepts of the world. Parents are bombarded with parenting style advice and even guilted into concepts of loving their children in specific ways that benefit everyone accept the children. Because of public opinion, the courts, and the media, parents are afraid to teach their children the truth in fear that they might be judged by society as bad-parents because they do not love their children according to the ways of the world. As such, many parents attempt to bring up their children in the gray area – which always leads to darkness.
Obviously this lesson is headed toward the true definition of love and what we should expect of it. We find this in 1 Corinthians 13. If we love in every relationship according to the ways of God found in the Bible, we will always love in the light, where love really is. It is impossible to train up our children to go the way they should go when we as parents depart from the way. Allowing anything of the world to influence parenting is allowing something that is not of God to corrupt parenting. The first thing you need to develop a parenting style with healthy boundaries is establish a solid understanding of how God loves and how you can also love that way. If you can keep love a thing you do only through God’s guidance, you reduce how much head-butting you will have to do with the world when you love your children.