The Power of Love: 1 Corinthians 13 Meets the Carters on Everything is Love
Everything is Love serves as a fitting bookend to a chapter chronicling a rough patch in the marriage of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Shawn “Jay Z” Carter. The album is a declaration of victory over their marital drama and a celebration of their marriage, their family, and their lavish lifestyle. On this, their first joint album, the Carters meditate on love in all its various forms—a fleeting feeling about a former friend and the more enduring kind that stands the test of time and tribulation. This kind of love—the one that puts the needs of others first, the one that teaches us to put away “childish” things is also the powerful force at the center of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth in Corinthians 13.
On the opening track, “Summer,” the Carters’ rumination on love in the summer is full of references to the beach and the ocean, but in its closing minutes Damian Marley’s voice can be heard saying, “love is universal, love is going to express itself as a form of forgiveness and compassion for each other.” Damian is right—the most powerful form of love is not limited to marriages. In fact, despite being read in most marriage ceremonies, 1 Corinthians 13 is not about love between a husband and wife. It is primarily about the love that should characterize the life and relationships of the body of Christ.
The Christians in Corinth were struggling with unity within their new and burgeoning church. As Corinth was a hub of trade and culture, many different types of people had come to call the city home, and this diversity was mirrored in the Corinthian church. But the intellectuals, the wealthy, the Jews, and the Gentiles were struggling with how to live and worship together as one church despite their many differences. When Paul writes to them, their differences are threatening to rip the church apart, and rather than try to settle their petty squabbles, Paul encourages them to choose the more “excellent way.”
1 Corinthians 13 begins with the assertion that the gift of tongues without love is a “clanging cymbal,” that a man with knowledge and faith is “nothing,” and that charity and perseverance are meaningless without love. Put simply, every good gift—knowledge, faith, wealth, charity—is worthless without love. In songs like “Boss,” “Nice,” “Heard About Us,” and “Apes***,” the Carters spend a lot of verses praising their wealth, extravagant lifestyles, and rarified social status. These things may make life better, but ultimately, wealth and social status fade. Things—even good things—devoid of love are meaningless. According to Paul, love is paramount in the life of the believer, it is the thing that makes all the other gifts work correctly, without love it is not possible to live together in unity.
On this, their first joint album, the Carters meditate on love in all its various forms.
The idea of love being unselfish is prominent throughout Everything is Love. On “Black Effect,” a woman is asked to describe love. She talks about the different forms love takes, but concludes that the ultimate result is the “the unconditional giving of self.” In “Friends,” the Carters honor the “tight circle, no squares,” who have walked with them through some of the most difficult moments of their lives. Beyoncé points out that “there ain’t no pride involved” in their friendships, because love is not proud. Pride is a hinderance to love, it demands its own elevation often at the expense of others. Just as Beyoncé’s friends pray for her and seek better days for her unselfishly, love is not self-seeking. Whether it’s in marriage, or in friendship, or in the body of Christ, love demands putting the needs of others first.
The Carters also talk a lot about love being long-suffering and forgiving. Beyoncé loves Jay Z enough to forgive him for his infidelity, and Jay Z loves Beyoncé enough to pursue her when she considered leaving him. In “713,” Jay Z talks about the early stages of their relationship and how he fumbled in their courtship, but kept pursuing Beyoncé because he had “never known a love like this.” On “Lovehappy,” the couple talk truthfully of their marital woes, but choosing to recommit themselves to one another. Beyoncé sings that while she knows they have a long way to go, she believes Jay Z can change, and while they have a long way to go, they will ultimately work it out.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Love always believes the best about people long past when common sense would tell us to abandon ship. Love does not mean ignoring hurt or pretending things are fine or accepting abuse. But love also does not keep score, it does not keep a tally of offenses. It is always looking to repair what has been broken, even if the person being repaired is only you, be willing to love yourself enough to seek healing. The reality is that in a fallen world those we love are prone to let us down and, in some cases, break our hearts. Therefore, forgiveness and the willingness to be long-suffering are critical to the ability to 1 Corinthians 13 love.
Everything is Love is a testimony about the power of love to mature us, to cover a multitude of sins, and to hold together things that should have been torn apart. Jay Z also talks honestly about feeling unworthy of love because of his past, but as Beyoncé sings on “Lovehappy,” “love is deeper than your pain.” The album is also a good meditation on the barriers to love—fear, pride, and selfishness. The love Paul describes is not natural, it takes the supernatural to love others in this manner, but just like the Carters think it is worth it, it is worth it for the health and beauty of the body of Christ. We should be willing to go at least as far for each other as Jay Z was willing to go for Beyoncé. For the sake of the Bride of Christ, we should remember that “the ups and downs are worth it,” though not always pleasant, because heaven is on our side.