I often get asked to preach on 1 Corinthians 13 for weddings. I am glad to do so but I am also aware that 1 Corinthians 13 is calling for a love between brothers and sisters in the church, though the principles are also helpful for husbands and wives. Paul uses strong language here. Love in the Christian community is a non-negotiable. Sacrificial service, charismatic phenomena, etc., without love, mean nothing.

In insisting on love as a non-negotiable, Paul was following in the footsteps of his master. In the farewell discourse, with the cross before Him, Jesus commands his disciples to love one another, which is not a particularly unique call (John 13:34–35). But He qualifies it by saying that they are to love one another with the same kind of love with which He loved them — a love that is personal, a love where one gets close enough to wash the other’s dirty feet. Jesus reminds them that their loving one another is evidence that they are really His disciples. In other words it was a non-negotiable.

Paul had in mind the same kind of personal love too. It must be remembered that the 1 Corinthians mandate was given to churches that were house churches, 20–40 people assembling in homes. They were people who knew each other well enough to wash each other’s feet, to lovingly enter into the mess of each other’s lives as they walked together.

And while no one in the church today would deny the importance of love, this personal dimension is lacking or weak in many churches. The anonymous nature of much of modern urban Christianity means many churches are de facto ignoring a command that Jesus and Paul considered non-negotiable. This should disturb us. But I find few worried about this state of affairs.

I am not arguing that we go back to being house churches though I am hearing more and more of groups of believers doing that. Most churches have some sort of small groups. How do we help our small groups to be places of authentic face-to-face relationships? Throwing 15 people into a group does not guarantee that they will 1 Corinthians 13 each other.

I am not sure how we will do close relationships in the modern urban church. I am also suspicious of any one-size-fits-all programme.  What I know is that it must happen. We need to seriously think and pray about how we are to live out the 1 Corinthians 13 mandate in our churches today. It is a non-negotiable.

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