I have to admit that I often struggle with the letters written by a man called Paul to the early church and recorded in the Bible. One of my friends says he has a long list of things to argue with Paul about when he finally gets to meet him. But sometimes Paul gets it spot on. Yesterday I went to a wedding of a friend where one of Paul’s most famous letters was read which he wrote to a church in Corinth. I don’t know much about them but clearly they needed to learn a lesson or two about what love is. 1 Corinthians chapter 13 contains everything you need to know about love – it’s almost a manifesto for it.
Lately I’ve learned a lot about what love looks like in practice and I have to admit that Paul was right. He said that words and actions without love behind them are just a lot of old noise. He went on to say that love is patient, love is kind, does not envy or boast, it is not proud, does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and 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.
Like all manifestos it contains some tough challenges within it. And like most manifestos that get signed up to, it inevitably gets broken. However… it contains some great promises within it to hold onto. Love always protects and trusts, it always hopes and perseveres. Despite everything that gets thrown at it, love never ever really fails. Ever.
An act of love and kindness can be the difference between giving up or going on. When you’re on a dark bewildering path, you’re in desperate need of some light: the light of kindness and love reminding you that wherever you are, you’re not on your own. At church this morning we sang Stuart Townend’s version of Psalm 23 which says, ‘And though I walk the darkest path, I will not fear the evil one, for you are with me and your rod and staff are the comfort I need to know.’
The idea of God’s staff is meant to conjour up a vision of a shepherd keeping all the threats at bay with a massive stick. However… lately I have a view of God’s staff actually being more the people who appear sometimes out of nowhere to carry out an act of love that keeps the wolf of despair at bay.
It can be anything. When a little girl runs across a room to give you a hug. When a friend puts your favourite cake and a mug of tea in front of you that says more than their words ever could. When a friend makes you laugh because she offers you a Nando’s serviette ‘because that’s all I have’ for you to wipe your eyes with. When a friend who lives two hours away just ‘happens’ to have arrived in your neighbourhood and makes time to have a chat.
Never ever underestimate the power of your act of kindness to shine light into someone else’s dark places. After all, we are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road; we are here to help each other, walk the miles and bear the load. Faith, hope and love are sometimes all we have left. And the greatest of these – without a shadow of a doubt – is love.