1 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.
I had the chance to gather with my family at a cabin in the mountains to celebrate the New Year. It was awesome. On New Year’s Day, we had planned on having a big pancake breakfast. The flapjacks were made, the kids were ravenous, the table was set and then someone said, “Did anyone bring syrup?” Four devastating words to a family struggling with sleep deprivation and with kids ready to eat. I’m not going to name names or dish out blame, but this seemingly small oversight dramatically changed breakfast. It turns out eating pancakes without syrup is a little bit like trying to drive a car without gasoline, or playing a guitar without strings, or a playing a football game without a ball.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he made the same statement about the preeminence of love. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 he wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Love is not only the one thing that stands above everything, it’s the one ingredient that makes everything else effective! If love is missing, it doesn’t matter what else is present.
Let’s make a few observations about these verses in Paul’s letter:
- It’s possible to say all the right things, but be absent of love. Love is the one thing that makes the right thing hearable. The content of what we say matters, but the heart with which we say it is determines the effectiveness of our words.
- It’s possible to have a faith that is powerful (it moves mountains), but love is the only thing that makes our lives influential. Faith that is absent from loves hallows people out, “they are nothing.”
- It’s possible to go through the right motions (even to the extent of martyrdom), but without love there is nothing (no gain) that comes of it; for ourselves or for anyone else. We could even say that love is the only thing that makes for a substantive and influential life.
Take some time today and ask Jesus if you are a person of love. Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 and put your name in it. For example, “Ryan is patient, Ryan is kind…” If these characteristics aren’t true of you, spend some time asking Jesus to make them more true.
By Ryan Paulson