This is the first of a two part article on the importance of love, written as part of a blog chain for Christianwriters.com. Check out the other blogs (link in sidebar).
1Corinthians 13:1-3 Though I speak with tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries aamd all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Much of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a loving rebuke, correcting things where they had strayed from the truth. Chapter 12 and the first few verses rebuke them for placing too much emphasis on spiritual gifts. They thought because they could speak in tongues, work miracles and healings, or had prophetic gifts, that they were somehow more important than those who had differing gifts and callings. Paul made it abundantly clear that love should characterize believers, not giftings.
In chapter 12 Paul explained we are like individual parts of a single body, and every part important. If a person stubs their toe or turns their ankle, they automatically stumble and reach for their foot to try to comfort the pain. Our whole body will sympathize with the pain as we limp over to a seat to minister to our injury, or as we limp to reduce the pressure to the injured part.
This is how the church should be with its members. If life brings an injury, if our brother or sister in Christ is going through a test or trial of faith, we should be there to comfort and encourage them, to strengthen and restore. And even if someone stumbles into sin or has weaknesses which must be addressed, fellow believers owe a debt to Christ to restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness and meekness. The one who stumbles is part of the body of Christ, just as is the one who did not.
But all too often we do not practice love. Some of us may even have spiritual gifts and callings, but that does not make us right with God or mean we will relate correctly to our brothers in Christ. We may speak in tongues, perhaps even in the angelic language, but without love it is only so much noise.
A cymbal is a very annoying instrument when played by itself. How many have heard a small child beating on a pot with the lid or a spoon? Most babies love to just make noise. Sometimes we adults do, too. We drum along to music or pop the bubblewrap, but while we are doing so, typically annoy those who may be around us.
Such are the spiritual gifts not accompanied by love. If I am given a word of knowledge for an individual, but speak in accusation rather than love, it will never edify them or help them, but only offend and hurt them. If I speak in tongues or prophesies, but talk about other believers (gossip, backbiting, accusations, etc), then any influence God might desire to have through me becomes just so much noise. If I am talking about someone else’s business to others, why would anyone consider words from God through my mouth?
Someone has said: “Loving without saying it, you are assuming. Saying it without love, you are hypocritical. Not loving and not saying it, you are uncaring. Saying it and showing it, true love. The heart of love is love from the heart.
Some may have prophecy – the inspired knowledge of future trends and events – and may have great scriptural knowledge and doctrinal knowledge, but knowledge without love puffs up with airs of pride, which is nothing. I may even operate in miraculous gifts of faith able to remove mountains in people’s lives, but if there is no love I am nothing. How contrary this is to the practice of some churches who glorify spiritual gifts above everything else, and honor those who have them while relegating those who don’t as less important in the body of believers.
13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. This verse, in the Greek, is interesting. The word translated bestow…to feed is only used one other time in the New Testament, Romans 12:20: If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him a drink… Overcome evil with good.
Some translations say, “If I deliver my body, so that I may boast,” because a number of early manuscripts read this way. In light of the context, I believe this is the correct rendering. So this verse teaches that even if I give up all my goods to my enemies to meet their needs, even to the point of delivering up my body to be assaulted or killed, so that I may boast in what I have done, it will not profit me if not done out of genuine love. This was Paul point in falsely boasting in 2Corinthians 11:16-33). He could boast of many trials endured for his faith and ministry, as some did, but such was foolishness and did not honor God. Love is greater than all.