We have heard it all before, the rendering of 1 Corinthians 13 that is often used to mushy effect at weddings to talk about how one’s feelings for another is a reflection on how one’s feelings should be about God. Sometimes the hook on the demands for endurance is brought to mind in the sermon, but only sometimes.
Read in its entirety, however, this passage can gives us an insight, more specifically a critique on our contemporary culture’s obsession with knowing everything before putting one’s life and heart on the line (what are the odds that sometimes, the wedding service where such a passage is read would be preceded by a signing of a 100% guarantee of post-nuptial safety in the form of a pre-nuptial agreement?).
This critique of the obsession with knowledge can be gleaned from the passage that immediately follows the famous “ending” to this passage: Love never fails. We sigh with emotional gooiness when it is read, without noting that the passage does not end with a fullstop, but with a semi colon. This means that while love never fails, by contrast, to quote the passage:
if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be destroyed. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away (1 Cor 13: 8-10)
For a modern consumer of tweaked emotions, gooiness gives way to alarm. Knowledge, that foundation of all Modern institutions and great bastion against uncertainty, will be destroyed. For the Christian, Paul’s epistle reminds us that only a firm foundation in love can lead to sound knowledge.
This is why Augustine of Hippo, in his City of God, looked to love as the basis of political organisation. To be able to discern what counts as political knowledge within any political association, says Augustine, look at what they love.