“…but have not love…” 1 Corinthians 13:1, 2, 3
I am committed to memorize 1 Corinthians 13 – “The Love Chapter” – because I want to be better at loving others. I want to love like Christ loved – deeply, tenderly, attentively and unreservedly. I want to love others because they, like me, are made in the image of God. Most of all, I want to love others because Christ gave His life out of love for me and you and every person, past, present and future. So I am “storing up” this wonderful thesis on love in my heart.
Yet, I know, loving others requires more than words. This is what Paul was teaching in 1 Corinthians 13. Listen to these first 3 verses:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. It I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
When we consider this chapter, we tend to go right for the “Love is patient, love is kind . . .” (v. 4f) and it is good to know what love looks like in action – what is does and does not do, because love that stays in the mind and heart has no impact on the beloved. But in verses 1-3 I find a core truth that I must always keep in focus: the greatest spiritual gift requires the most humility.
The Love Chapter comes in the center of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, very appropriately placed because he has looked at and will go back to those abilities and callings that make the church a functioning Body. Some of these gifts put people in the forefront of ministry, where pride can get out of control. So he tempers the ego with this discussion about love, calling it “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). And the most demanding.
In the calling of a teacher, it is very easy to get “the big head,” and if, in the future God allows me to become an author, I know the temptation will be greater still. Eloquence of speech, knowledge, Scriptural understanding can all get in the way of service. If love is not my motivation, then I am being driven by my ego.
Yet Paul also shines the spotlight on what we see as the most Christian behavior: self-sacrifice. He equally says that if we sacrifice all that we have, including our very lives, but are not motivated by love, our actions gain us nothing of eternal significance. But oh, how we will be remembered in history.
What the apostle is saying is that we may be able to impress men with our great words and actions, but God knows the heart where the true motivation lies. And the heart is what he measures: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). That which is done for ego’s sake has no standing before God, only what is done for the sake of love will come forth out of the fire as gold.
Love and humility are the twin sisters of the Christian life – you truly can’t have one without the other. Jesus gives us the perfect example in John 13:1-5, as he humbled Himself to wash His disciples’ nasty feet. Verse 1b says: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the extent of His love.” The NASB says it so beautifully: “He loved them with a perfect love to the end.”
I want to love with as near to “a perfect love” as is humanly possible. But that’s the problem – it’s not “humanly possible.” So how do I do the impossible? John has the answer: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). The only way I can love like Christ is if I allow God’s love to flow through me to those around me. That’s why anything done for the sake of appearance is “a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.” It’s a lot of attention grabbing noise – but it’s not love.
Holy Father, You are love – Your Word declares it and You proclaimed it loudly from the Cross. You call me to love others, in my home, my church, my neighborhood and the world. I can only do it if You love them through me. Let me be Your conduit of love Lord. Amen.