1 Corinthians 12:31–13:3
And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
At some point we all discover that Christianity is easier to profess than practice, yet Christianity is about both believing and behaving as a Christian should. So we try to carry our crosses, but if someone crosses us, we tend to lose our composure & behave in much the same way the rest of the world behaves. But in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul reminds us that agape love is about a personal choice not personal strength or personal ability. We have a choice as to whether or not we will allow God to love through our life. The power of that choice is that we can exercise love in every relationship if we let Christ rule our circumstances. It is not rules that change relationships but the Redeemer and love is the key ingredient in how we interact with others. Often when we read the “love chapter” we start in chapter 13 but Paul begins in chapter 12 when he says, “Now I will show you the most excellent way.” We tend to view love as one way to doing life when in reality it is the most excellent way. So what way have you chosen, the most excellent way or some mediocre way? In our relationships we want excellent results but that requires an excellent way, is it possible that our poor results are a product of a pathetic way? Paul now highlights the importance of love in our lives by contrasting it with five things Christians consider important.
- Spiritual Gifts
The work of the Holy Spirit brings gifts into the lives of those who place their faith in Jesus, given so that we can serve Jesus not in our own ability but in His. When these gifts are exercised apart from love Paul says they become meaningless, nothing more than noise and pointless pomp without purpose. On the day of Pentecost God gave the apostles the gift of speaking in other languages but if love wasn’t part of their language the gift would have been pointless. In the 1st Century religious cults celebrated publicly in the streets crying out and carrying on with cymbals, drums and colorful clothing. It was all about a show designed to look spiritual and their crashing cymbals were intended to awaken their gods to hear their prayers during worship. Paul is saying that gifts without love are as pointless and ridiculous as the crashing of cymbals to awaken a nonexistent god. Love is necessary not noisy, it is not a reflection of loudness but of the Lord.
Paul says that even if you know it all, everything there is to know about philosophy & psychology & theology & every other kind of “ology” but have no love then you are nothing at all. I have always found it amazing that when the knowledgeable people of this world analyze what is wrong with us, why we kill and abuse each another, that their expert opinion and so their saving solution is always the same. We need more education they say and if we would educate everybody then the problems would go away. Paul says that knowledge is not our answer and don’t misunderstand me I’m not opposed to education but the solution of more knowledge isn’t working. In fact earlier in 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” I think what we need is not more knowledge but more love. Excellent ways produce excellent results and as a society we have bought into the mediocre result that the way of knowledge will always produce apart from love.
Paul does not say that faith is not powerful, in fact he says that faith can move mountains, but without love it is power without a point. Paul says that without love I am nothing, that if we do not display the divine love of Christ there is no point to our life. Just because you are breathing does not mean that you are really living, today we have settle for power without purpose. Life is pointless without love because living is loving. Faith and believing is important but unless it is backed up by love it is of little value, just like power without a point. The problem with the priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan wasn’t a lack of faith but love. Faith without love walked by on the other side, leaving the man lying unloved and dying. These men had the power to change others but without love that power had no purpose, in Galatians 5:6 Paul says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Love is what brings focus to faith.
Paul says, “If I give all, notice he doesn’t say, “If I give 10%.” he says everything, giving till we are on empty. The checking account, your home, letting go of the car keys, cashing in any retirement funds and insurance policies, your smart phone and smart clothes, everything. If I give all to the poor but don’t give love then I don’t just have nothing, I am nothing. In our society we get calls all the time from people appealing for funds for worthwhile causes and the question is not do you give but why do you give? We often ask the wrong questions like are you generous when we need to be asking why are you generous because generosity alone is not enough. So why do you give? Do you give because you feel guilty if you don’t, or you want to impress others or because you think you will get more than you give? This is loveless giving based in self-benefit, there have been many generous gifts given not because of love but because of the tax write off. The motive for giving is love and without it our generosity becomes empty and meaningless.
As Christians, we are called to bear fruit and show ourselves ready to serve Jesus whenever and wherever He sends us. We need to be committed to the cause of Christ but commitment without love is fruitless. The reality is that our efforts will never amount to anything more than just our human work without the driving force of His love in our lives. Love is more than our accomplishments resulting from commitment; it’s more than the hardships, it’s why we suffer. Martyrdom is about being so committed that you die for what you believe. But giving up life without love becomes nothing more than an empty shout of self-praise. In Acts 7:60 While they were stoning Stephen he cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Then he died. His commitment for Jesus was founded in a love for His Lord and others. By the way, how committed to your faith are you, would you be willing to lay down your life if it came to that? Commitment without love is like rules void of relationship, so what way will you choose, will it be the most excellent way of Love?