“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. 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. 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.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Have you ever met a mean Christian, someone who seems to lack love?
They can quote scripture like no one’s business? Or they always have faith that no matter what happens God has a plan? Or they are very generous in donating money to charity? But they can be nasty and mean spirited? They speak well but often speak with words that hide daggers?
If Paul were writing to us today he might remind us that without love all of our supposed goodness is worthless. He might say, “You missed it. You seem to have a lot of good things going on and yet you don’t have love. Love is the force that drives our gifts to their fullest potential.”
That’s what he told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 13.
That is the force of the first three verses of this chapter. He idealized love and at the same down he took this congregation down a few pegs.
Without love your words are just noise. Without love you are nothing. Without love you gain nothing. Love should be the driving force of our individual and communal actions. Jesus showed us the way of love. Paul urged the Corinthians to follow in that way.
Paul moved on in this chapter to describe what love is and what it isn’t. He used the positive qualities of love to contrast with the Corinthians poor behavior described elsewhere in the letter.
Love is patient and kind. Some Corinthians acted oppositely. It rejoices in truth and always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Some Corinthians did not act in such ways. But some did act in the following ways: envy, boastfulness, pride, rude, self-seeking, anger, keeping track of the wrongs of others, and delighting in evil.
Paul said love is not any of those things. Love isn’t simply or even primarily a feeling. Love is action. This is good advice for a marriage and a church. Love needs to be rightly understood if a relationship is going to work. This goes for the marriage relationship, the parent/child relationship, friendship, and any other human relationship.
This includes the relationship of the members of the body of Christ, the Church. As members of the body we belong to one another and to Christ. We are not our own. We cannot afford to take the selfish way out. When we choose to live in ways that are without love we separate ourselves from one another and fail to become the people we were created to be.
If we find ourselves participating in things like envy, anger, keeping track of wrongs, rudeness, or pride we are missing the mark and destroying our relationships with God and one another.
Like a successful marriage we are called to give ourselves to one another in love.
This is not simply about being good. This is about living into the ways of God, who is love, and who created us in love so that we can give and receive love. Only love will keep us together.
Love is who we were made to be. Love is what we were created to do. We follow after Jesus who showed us what love can look like. It was love that led Jesus to give his body in death that we may have new life.
Friends, may we recommit ourselves to a life of love, the virtue of all virtues, the gift of all gifts. May that love draw us closer to God and one another that we may be a loving force to serve the world. Grace and peace to you.