The Language of Love
But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. - 1 Corinthians 12:31- 13:13
Since it is the start of a new year, a time of reflection on past, present, and future relationships and how they connect us to the larger world, I desired to write about love for the month of January. In this oft-quoted passage, a common feature of weddings and other matrimonial ceremonies, Paul talks about the “more excellent way” of love. For Paul, love is how everything makes sense: all of our prophesying, testifying, believing, and actions are for naught if we do not do it in the spirit of Christ, which is love. It is the greatest of all gifts to abide in, greater than faith and hope.
Why though? What does Paul mean by “love” in itself? I find myself continually frustrated by the shortcomings of the English language when it comes to interpreting holy writ. It’s embarrassing really: how is it that the Greeks had several words for “love” when our language only has one? Other languages also have many words to represent and differentiate the various forms of love, but we only have the word “love.” It is maddening. However, there is something beautiful in that very fact as well, no? Paul describes an emotion that is so profound that it challenges the limits of description. It is an emotion so important that all of reality does not make sense without it: music is just noise, prophecy is pointless, and martyrdom is devoid of authenticity without this strange, profound feeling. It is a word that is too insufficient to contain the meaning it represents, just like God’s truth cannot be constrained by our minds or quantified by our hearts.
In this passage, Paul is telling us that love is God’s path to freedom, a way to meaningful, genuine connection and unity amongst all human beings. This word represents an emotion, intention, and action so profound that it cannot be truly categorized by all its representations found in the languages of this world. The poet Rumi, when reflecting on the gift of love, once wrote, “A great silence overcomes me/And I wonder why I ever thought/To use language.” As we go forward in this new year, we are called to reflect and reconsider the language of love. How do we express this profound emotion to the people in our lives, both family and strangers alike? How can we represent love in a way that goes beyond the word “love”? In this new year, let us consider the greatest gift of God and how it illuminates and provides meaning for everything in our lives, and how we can illumine one another through its expression. I pray that God gives us new words, new ways, and new means that illumine our ability to truly speak the language of love in exciting ways.
DQ: What language and words do you use when expressing love to other persons? How does this expression reflect God’s love for you and for those persons?
See more devotions from Kyle and our other Young Adult writers, or find our how you can become a writer yourself at our By Young Adults for Young Adults devotion page.