Worship is at the heart of one of the most beloved passages in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13. In this familiar passage, Paul describes the characteristics of love. After a long list of what love is not, he concludes:
Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Paul wrote these words in a letter to a church that was struggling with serious divisions and disputes over worship practices from baptism to communion and everything in between. Instead of focusing on what’s going wrong, love gathers people together to celebrate the truth. It rejoices in a way that brings people together and builds them up as one body.
Bible scholars debate just what “truth” refers to in this verse. Does it refer to any true statement or to the Gospel itself? Other biblical examples of this contagious rejoicing may offer clues about the truth that love celebrates.
Although the word Paul uses for “rejoices with” (sugchairo) is unusual, it occurs in some of the best-known passages in the Bible. Luke also uses this word in the Christmas story and in Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.
Children of the Promise
In the Gospel of Luke, sugchairo is used to describe the celebration when Elizabeth gives birth to her son John after years of barrenness: “Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with [sugchairo] her” (Luke 1:58 NRSV). Elizabeth’s friends and family shared her joy and spread the news about what the Lord had done in her life.
Elizabeth’s story is similar to another woman who gave birth in her old age: Sarah. In fact, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Sarah uses the same word after her son Isaac (whose name means “laughter”) is born: “Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with [sugchairo] me’” (Gen. 21:6 NRSV).
The truth that Elizabeth and Sarah rejoiced with was the children they bore according to God’s promise, even after it was no longer humanly possible.
If the truth that love rejoices with is not an idea, but rather a person—like it was for Elizabeth and Sarah—who would this person be for us? Paul uses Sarah’s example to describe how all Christians are “born as the result of a divine promise” (Gal. 4:23 TNIV). In fact, “Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise” (Gal. 4:28 TNIV). Love rejoices with every person who was once dead in sin and is now born again in Christ.
Once Lost, Now Found
Jesus’ parables about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son offer more examples of love’s celebration. The same word for rejoicing describes the shepherd who leaves his flock behind to find one lost sheep and the woman who will not sleep until she finds one lost coin. They both call together their friends and neighbors to celebrate (sugchairo) finding something precious that was once lost (Luke 15:6, 9). In the parable of the lost son, the father calls his friends and neighbors together to celebrate when his son returns, because “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (Luke 15:24 TNIV).
What is the truth that love rejoices with? The truth is, you were once lost and now you’re found. You were once dead and now you’re alive. God has chosen to “give us birth through the word of truth” (James 1:18 TNIV) and that’s worth celebrating.
The Open Invitation
Love’s invitation is open to everyone, but some choose not to come. In the parable of the lost son, one person refused to join the celebration. The older son was focused on his brother’s wrongdoing, and he believed he was more entitled to his father’s love than his wayward brother was.
Like the older son, some people believe they have a greater claim to inherit the Father’s kingdom than their younger brothers and sisters. The truth is, only God can qualify someone for the kingdom. Everyone who is born again as a child of the promise receives the full inheritance of the first born son (Rom. 8:14–17; Gal. 4:6–7). There are no slaves in the kingdom of God.
Many women who are eager to use their gifts in the church face resistance from people who, like the older son in Jesus’ parable, refuse to rejoice with the truth of their sisters’ new birth and identity in Christ. In spite of their resistance, love never stops longing to rejoice with them.
In This Issue
The articles in this issue of Mutuality celebrate the rich contributions that women like Jesus’ mother Mary, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and women who use their preaching gifts have made to the church’s worship. These articles also explore current issues by responding to the charge of “feminization,” offering alternatives to romanticism, and recognizing the need for inclusive language in our worship.
Paul is a great example of someone who confronted serious issues in worship in a way that called divided people to a greater unity. A church that is focused on wrongdoing will fall apart. Love does not overlook wrongdoing—it overcomes it on the cross. If we rejoice with the truth of God’s amazing grace for us all, love will build us up into one body. And love never fails.