Friday, May 7, 2010

Love that binds the church

As I meditate on 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, I am struck with a startling realization. Paul is writing about more than interpersonal love. He is writing about the transpersonal love that knits the whole Body of Christ together.This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Love is a particular charism, gift for the edification of the Church. And love is the end state for the Church. Paul is calling the Church to wholeness and maturity.

The first three verses speak of factions that pursue specialized spiritualities. One group specializes in speaking in tongues, but they lack love for the whole Body of Christ. Instead they go off and do their own thing. Another group is captivated by prophetic powers. They specialize in penetrating mysteries and having all knowledge. They cultivate a powerful, supernatural faith, but they lack in love for the whole Body of Christ. So they go off and do their own thing. Yet another group specializes in asceticism. They give away all their possessions and pursue a life of martyrdom. But they too lack in love for the whole Body of Christ. They go off and do their own thing.

Groups like this may possess an "advanced spirituality" but they are blind to the work of the Holy Spirit to bind together in love the whole Church. These are partial spiritualities. They do not grasp the whole, the complete. "For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end." (Verses 9-10). Paul also likens this to maturity. "When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways." (Verse 11) Prophecy, tongues, spiritual knowledge, and other gifts will in this way come to an end. They are not to be ends in themselves. Rather love is the end. Love is the completion.

This is transpersonal love. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not merely the love that humans can share one person with another, but it is the calling of the Holy Spirit. It is a working that is within, between and all around us. It calls us out of ourselves, out of our narrow communities; it calls us into deep communion with the whole Body of Christ.

And we wait for this this unfolding to happen. Love is the new covenant that is written on our hearts. We wait for Christ, the Messiah, to be revealed in the world. "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." (Verse 12). All we can see for now is ourselves, our own affections, needs and wants, but we will come to see face to face. We will know who we are even as we come to know whose we are.

Paul invites us to catch a glimpse of glory to be revealed in Christ, in us, in the Body of Christ. This is our faith, hope, and love. Love is the way, and love is the end. Let us submit to the work of the Holy Spirit and surrender to the the love of Christ.

"And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." (Final verse).

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