Growing up is hard to do but it’s imperative for the building of a Kingdom Community. In 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) we are given some clear tracks for growing up. Often times when you hear the love chapter its at weddings or on cute greeting cards. But this chapter needs to be situated in its real life context to understand how it’s the brutal antidote for what’s going down. This Corinthian church is the first church plant. When people talk about the early church they like to expound nostalgically about the church in Acts but the first real organized and intentional church plant is birthed in Acts 18 when the body in Corinth is started. Very soon this newbie church is a hot mess. Many like to rail on the church in Corinth as having an immorality problem. Their baseline problem was not immorality. Their mess revolved around the complication and explosiveness of doing community. Mashing together Jew, Gentile, Male, Female, Slave and Free was a potent combination. Most of what is happening in Corinth is messiness related to the selfishness of the human heart.
What happens when people really share life and mission together? They fight, they posture, they divide, they manipulate, the jockey for power, they hold grudges, they lie, they make their personal preferences idols and they eat each other alive. The real self is exposed. So when Paul give them an antidote he introduces it as “the more excellent way.” He essentially tells this bleeding body that the way forward through the mess is what follows. He tells them how to love. He exposes their love as smoke and mirrors (1 Cor 13:12). Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it well “our love for others might actually be an insidious form of selfishness” This is called Eros love and community cannot be built on it.
Eros Love seeks not serve but to be served. This love has stirred into it an expectation that something will come back in return. Eros love longs to be seen, clamors to be noticed, wants to be influential and seeks to be included in everything. In counseling I phrase it “the desire to be desired by those we desire.” But this insidious love is very elusive, frustrating and hard to measure. Someone who interacts and relates through this lens of love will always be exasperated. Someone will always offend them; they didn’t get invited to dinner, the pastor didn’t meet with them, they thought they would be on that leadership team, the person they desired did not ask them how they were doing etc.
In a distorted way Eros love makes us paranoid that we are missing out or are not getting our due. I’ve known people to rehearse scenarios for weeks in their head that were mole hills that now are emotional mountains to them. Eros love creates a mental tally of every little offense and then holds a grudge about every single one of them. This grudge turns to anger, which turns to judgment, which then becomes an accuser, which turns to bitterness, which then turns to disillusionment. There is an unverbalized social experience this Eros love is asking for. When it doesn’t come, the heart begins to get ugly.
What is Paul’s searing answer to this fool’s gold love and the sly way it postures; grow up. He says in 1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I acted like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” He challenges them to wean themselves off of infant love; love that poses as love with expectations that are damaging. He calls them up to a love that community can be built on. A mature love is essential once the sexiness of community diminishes. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer “the sooner a community begins to shatter human ideals and human love as their thermometer the better of they are.” The question is do we want to growing up?