Translation is part art, part science. This is especially true for translation of ancient texts like the Bible. Idioms (common ways of speaking) used in another time and place are often unfamiliar to modern and foreign audiences, and some words do not have an exact equivalent in a different language. At the end of the previous chapter, Paul introduces the topic of the famous passage of scripture we now call 1 Corinthians 13 with the phrase generally translated, And I will show you a still more excellent way. According to James Boyce, Professor of New Testament and Greek at Luther Theological Seminary,
The word used here -- “way,” road,” or “path;” Greek hodos -- has a rich history in the Scriptures and in early Christian reflection and practice. The invitation is to a journey, a venture of which the end is of course only known to God.
While this passage of scripture is associated in our time with weddings, Paul is talking here about Christian love. This type of love is not a destination, it is a journey--a journey that Christians make together, through their participation in a Christian community.
Some people are not easy to love. These people are often not bad people. It is a sad fact that some bad people are easier to love than some good people, because bad people are willing to pretend to be nice in order to get what they want. There is no excuse for bad behavior (particularly for habitual bad behavior such as rudeness, carelessness or thoughtlessness), but this vision of love as ever-patient and kind is an ideal, something for which we should strive, and in so striving we can experience growth both as individuals and as a community.
One of my favorite childhood hymns was "We are One in the Spirit." My favorite part was the refrain, "And they'll know we are Christians by our love."
Most people don't see Christians that way anymore. They see us as naive at best, or maybe even as narrow-minded, ignorant, backwards-looking, repressive, hateful and destructive. Is this because the church has gone astray, or is it that a few "bad apples" are bringing bad press to the lot of us? My view is that both things are true: the church has gone astray to a great extent, but even worse, the evil deeds of a few, such as child-abusing clergy and the infamous funeral-protesting Westboro Baptist Church, have tarnished the reputation of most Christians, who are, for the most part, decent, well-meaning people.
It is a sad fact that basically decent, well-meaning people are at times ignorant or even hateful. I believe that the church is in decline because too many congregations are organized around what they hate and fear and reject rather than what they love and embrace. Those churches may grow and flourish for a season, but long-term health and survival requires a church to go broader and deeper in an embrace of faith. Faith organized around faddish ideas soon fades. Faith based on a deep desire to experience a sometimes-difficult but always-rewarding journey is the only faith worth having. I am going to close with a quote from a Christian who made a faith journey not so different from the kind of journey I have made--Augustine. Augustine, like me, did not interpret all of scripture literally, but he did take scripture seriously. I really like what he has to say about love.