Read Slower: A Review of “Loving The Way Jesus Loves” by Phil Ryken

“The” is not a verb! At least once a semester I have to repeat something like this. I teach English Composition at a local college in our town and because we are an open enrollment school I sometimes have students who are very…um…well, rusty on their grammar. Of course grammar as a whole gets a bad wrap and culturally we don’t tend to focus on it much anymore. When “bootylicious” got admitted to the OED I just about gave up on any sense of a dignified English language. But perhaps worse than our grammar skills as a culture are our reading comprehension skills. I do it too, but I hate that we breeze over content without carefully considering context and meaning. Sometimes we don’t even read all the words in a sentence, and then ask or make stupid comments about what’s being said. Sadly, too often Christians do this with the Bible too. We often assume we know what a text is saying or what it means, and we breeze over it without a second thought. Philip Graham Ryken, president of Wheaton College and former pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, believes we have done this with 1 Corinthians 13. After reading, carefully, his book I know I have, and I assume many others will concur.

Ryken wants to tackle the subject of “love.” The “love chapter,” as 1 Corinthians 13 has been dubbed, is an oft-quoted chapter. Read at nearly ever modern wedding ceremony (Christian and non-Christian) the chapter actually has far more to do with love of your neighbor, love of your church family, than it does of love for spouse. But, as Ryken points out, it is also a call to love like Jesus. In fact the reality is that none of us loves as we ought. “None of us lives with this kind of love,” he writes, “and there is an easy way to prove it: start reading with verse 4 and insert your own name into the passage every time you see the word ‘love'” (19). The truth is, as Ryken points out in every chapter. The love passage is really a pointer to the love that Jesus perfectly lived out and which we are continually striving to demonstrate.

Ryken takes us piece by piece throughout the chapter and spends time stressing each word. Love is patient. Love is not irritable. Love doesn’t rejoice at wrong doing. And in each case he shows us how to love better, not by pulling ourselves up by our spiritual boot straps, but by looking to Jesus. So , Ryken writes:

Earlier we saw how ridiculous the Love Chapter sounds when we fill in the blanks with our own names. It reads very differently, though, when we put Jesus in the picture. If 1 Corinthians 13 is a portrait of love, then it is really a sketch of the Savior we meet in the Gospels.” (28)

Regularly , Ryken is pointing us to the gospel. This makes studying the love chapter so much richer than it ever was for me before. It’s not about marriage, not even ultimately about me just being better and working harder. It’s about me imitating my savior, and knowing that when I don’t he still loves me perfectly.

The best part of the book is its slow reading of the verses. I have all too often breezed over these verses. “Love is patient, yup cool. Love is kind, yeah be nice. Love does not envy. Right, cause that’s a bad thing. Love does not boast. Got it, don’t be an arrogant jerk.” And without much thought we read these verses and then try to be “more loving.” But Ryken is careful, methodic, almost obsessive, with how much detail he puts into examining each word and it’s relationship to love. Always, too, he is point us to Jesus as the model and the only one who does this perfectly. We must learn from him and depend on him.

Ours is a culture that completely misunderstands love (epitomized in the cliché: love is never having to say “sorry”). But if we are careful to read and comprehend what God’s Word says about love we can have a more clear target. And even though we will alway struggle with loving others like Jesus, we can rest confidently in the fact that our Savior always perfectly loves His messy people. Try and comprehend that!

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