When I was eleven years old, my family moved to Waukegan, Illinois, where we attended Immanuel Baptist Church and where I learned 1 Corinthians 13 by heart.
My Sunday school teacher said that if we learned all the verses and hymns on the fifth grade list, we would earn a brand new Bible. To track our progress, she gave us a ribbon with our name at the top, shown here in several photos.
We memorized 1 Corinthians 13 in the King James Version (KJV) one section at a time.
Scholars say the KJV was deliberately translated into poetic language that is easier to remember than ordinary prose. Our Sunday school teacher told us that charity means love.
1 Corinthians 13
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
After I learned the first section of eight verses, I recited them to my teacher during class time devoted to memory work. A few weeks later, I recited the last five verses. To this day, I can still quote portions of the chapter. Not all of it, but some.
We also studied 1 Corinthians 13. Someone told us to read it aloud by substituting our first name for the word, “charity,” as in verse 4.
[name] suffereth long, and is kind; [name] envieth not; [name] vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”
When I inserted my name, I was shocked to find out I was not all that loving.
One of the rewards of blogging is you get to wrestle with ideas and reflect on your own life before you share with others. This is especially true as I think about 1 Corinthians 13 today.
By the end of the school year, we fifth-graders had memorized everything on the list, and the day came when the Sunday school superintendent presented each of us with a brand new Bible. While I no longer have that Bible, the process of memorizing scripture to earn it introduced me to the beauty, truth, and personal relevance of
1 Corinthians 13.