James and I are slowly reading through Corinthians. Our church is doing a series of sermons this summer that is kind of a survey of the New Testament, so we had the sermon on Corinthians fresh on our minds when we came to chapter 13. That chapter is known by many Christians as "the love chapter" and it is commonly read at weddings. We probably had part of it read at ours. I've been thinking about that chapter in a context other than marriage lately. While Paul does address marriage in the book, it is not his primary topic. The book was a letter that he wrote to a church - a church that needed help - a church that was in need of guidance. So if it was written to a church, what does chapter 13 mean to the church?
Here's part of the chapter:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Christ himself tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Stop thinking about those verses in reference only to your spouse and think about them in light of your neighbor. Just who is your neighbor? Obviously your neighbor is the person who lives near you, but your neighbor is also the homeless man that you walk by and ignore on your way to the baseball game downtown. Your neighbor is the teenage mom who rings you up at the grocery store. Your neighbor is the HIV positive homosexual man you see getting treatment at the "free clinic". Your neighbor is the child in foster care that goes to school with your 3rd grader. Your neighbor is mentally ill woman that you see standing outside of Wal-mart taking to a person who is not there.
How are you being the hands and feet of Christ to those people? How are you showing them love? I am writing to myself. It is hard. I have worked with the public. I have come face to face with the homeless man, the poor HIV positive patient, the teenage mom, and the mentally ill woman who talked to the empty air. These are people who left a lasting imprint on my mind. I still see their faces. I still remember struggling to communicate with the woman whose mind was so shrouded with schizophrenia that she probably wasn't even sure if I was actually standing before her or not. It was not easy. Love is patient. I got exasperated. Love is kind. I had turned my back in disdain at the homeless man. Love never fails. I have looked down at the teenage mom for being irresponsible. Love is not boastful.
The best professional advice I ever got did not come from a fellow pharmacist or a professor. It came from a sister in Christ who had served as a missionary in Africa and had learned how to love her neighbor. I asked how she did it, day after day. She told me that she tried to remembered that we are all God's creatures - all created by his hand. But for the grace of God I could be the homeless man or the HIV positve patient or the child stuck in foster care or the mentally ill man. We are called to protect those who cannot protect themselves and love the unlovely, just as Christ has loved us.