5.9 1 Corinthians -- The More Excellent Way (1 Cor 13)
With this background, it makes perfect sense why Paul stuck his immortal chapter on Love right in the middle of instruction on the gifts of the Spirit and the offices of the church. If we were a professional hermeneutical scholar, we would no doubt attribute this interruption in the text as an interpolation by a later redactor, drawing on anonymous and vanished oral traditions. But it is wrong to detach this chapter from its context. The love Paul is talking about cannot be understood apart from Paul's ethics in chapter 10: the glory of God and the good of many. Paul wanted his readers to realize that even the good gifts that God bestows are useless and even destructive if they are not motivated by love -- not the eros love of the Greeks, but the agape love of Jesus who offered himself for us.
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
(1 Cor 13:4-5).
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:13).
It is easy to say that love is incompatible with racism. But this kind of love is also incompatible with most modern forms of anti-racism. "Love is patient, kind, not rude, keeps no record of wrongs." Is this the track record of the modern anti-colonial and social-justice movements? Hardly. Rather, the very word "racist" has become a commonplace insult used by political activists against anyone who disagrees with their agenda. The moral highground ("equality," "tolerance", "non-discrimination") has often been seized by people with highly disruptive, self-promoting, and sometimes deviant objectives. And some of these people have claimed affiliation with Christian churches. Let us be clear that this form of aggressive, intimidating, publicity-seeking activism has nothing in common with "the more excellent way," and is far more akin to the racism it is ostensibly protesting against. Why? Well, read 1 Corinthians -- racism and modern anti-racism alike are impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, anger-provoking and quick to take offense.
Be careful! It is very easy to oppose one evil and become a mirror image of it. For example, how many people who are tired of bondage to an addiction become "converted" to a life of legalism? This may be a degree of improvement over the addicted lifestyle, but it is not health. Likewise, the difference between a hateful racist and an angry anti-racist is not very great, in terms of their responsiveness to the Spirit of God. The focus in Chapter 13 is that it is not enough to hold "right" doctrine (or knowledge), although that is important elsewhere. Both right doctrine and right conduct must be maintained in a right spirit, i.e. a loving spirit. And love is understood as those actions which work for "the glory of God" and the good of the other. Paul would not agree that it is permissible to hate the hater, ie. the racist. His goal is reconciliation within a community of faith, for the benefit of all. Most political movements for justice have fallen far short of the Pauline standard.
The primary reason for this seems to be a loss of the sense of sin. Paul never lost sight of the fact that "all have sinned" (Rom 3:23), not least himself. Therefore, he did not go before the Corinthians in a posture of spiritual superiority, but as one who had, like them, drunk deeply at the wrong well. He could speak boldly because he spoke humbly. But modern anti-racism is plagued by a spirit of self-deception: it declares that it is the other, and only the other, who has sinned, and once he is removed from the scene the nation will be healed. The anti-racist is just as proud, judgmental and intolerant as his opponent. There is no reconciliation possible, because neither party really believes they are "of one" in sin. Contrast this atttitude with Paul's confession to the Corinthians:
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Cor 15:9).
Here there is no moral posturing, but an extension to them of the love and forgiveness that Paul himself has experienced. It is this awareness of having failed so badly that becomes a part of the foundation of participation in a community of grace.