I Cor. 13:13 "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love."
I Cor. 13:1-3 "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing."
There are a lot of stereotypes for Christians in today's church, but I think Paul alludes here to not only some wonderful evidences of powerful faith and Christian duty or service in this passage but also shows us what kinds of believers can exist in the church and still not possess the key element of Christ's Gospel: Love.
Verse 1: "If I speak with tongues of men and of angels.....
There are certainly people in the church that impress us with words. Great teachers and pastors and evangelists, people that can hold your attention and seem to declare so eloquently the truth in a heart gripping and jaw dropping manner. There are those that seem to possess exactly the right word for every occasion. I remember being in a series of revival services one time that held my attention so powerfully. The evangelist was awe inspiring. He made you want to leap from your seat into the service of Christ! I was so moved, in fact, that I knew that I had to get a moment with this man afterward. Sadly, however, when the service had ended, the man had time only for the signing of his name in the Bibles of his hearers, but no time to discuss the Word or encourage a young and inexperienced preacher. I was hardened by that moment for some time. It threw out all of the greatness of his speech and brought nothing but sour grapes into my distaste for his candor. He had love, but truly for his own name. He was preaching for vain glory the cause and claims of Christ. The result in the heavens and in my heart was the continuation of the verse: "...I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." I have never even heard that man's name again in the sixteen years of time since. Be careful of the mighty in word that impress your ears. Do they have love?
Verse 2: "If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge..."
While some have words that can move us and shake us, others seem to possess a much quieter tone, but one filled with such a knowledge and wisdom and prowess in the Scriptures that none would dare to ever question their intents, their motives, their sources or their heart. Some men and women hide behind such things. There are many who seek to attain a knowledge above that of their peers in Christ in order to be elevated beyond them, unquestioned and unaccountable to anyone. This is not Christian fellowship. I have met men of highly esteemed rank in the Christian education field that quite frankly had come to know so much about Christ that they had forgotten along the way to actually grow in knowing Christ Himself. In seeking to be a teacher of the Word, they forgot the Teacher of the Word. I know many a person quite capable of explaining to you many of the mysteries in Scripture that you and I might wrestle with and struggle to comprehend, having been gifted with such a keen-ness and ability to know all mysteries, but should you question them or cross them, should you even perhaps so little as not understand what they are saying, they quickly and hot temperdly react and prove themselves a person devoid of really applying all that they have learned. What profit is it to have gained so much wisdom and knowledge for everyone around you and to never have the capacity for applying it to your own walk with Christ? This is the knowledge that puffs up and tears down others. It is wisdom for prides sake rather than the edification and encouragement of the church. The result of a man's pursuit of such status, a status he can hide behind unquestioned and unaccountable to his brothers and sister in Christ, is that in the eyes of Christ, he is nothing. Do they have love?
Verse 2 "and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains..."
It seems almost contradictory to think that faith can exist where love does not. I have met individuals with a kind of faith that seemed such as this however. They are brash and bold and brazen in their faith. They are in your face and out of their minds. They belittle the weak and young in faith. They trample upon their fellow believers and condemn them for their distrusts and unwillingness to simply believe that God can and God will. They perhaps have arrived at such a point where they can see the fundamental workings of faith, the inner workings of the kingdom, the principles by which they almost speak of God as though "God must do" and is "required to act" based upon His promises and the ways in which the Lord has arranged His Word, but all the while, despite many successes, there is a creeping element of pride and prejudice. I have personally witnessed the lives of two such men.
They, through their approach to faith as I have mentioned, attained much, accomplished much, and accredited it all to their faith, but they were unapproachable, unkind and ungentle so often. They fell into the trap of using people on behalf of their plans rather than making plans on behalf of people. They both would declare to you and I what God was going to do, and with an almost salesman like pitch for faith, ensure that you not only wanted their kind of faith but felt incompetent in your faith without them. Both of these men died suddenly, taken to be with the Lord before their faith without love could do any more damage to the Body of Christ. As the consequence of Scripture says, "I am nothing." Beware such men and women. Following them may teach you how to believe God for big things, but do they have love?
Verse 3 "And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor..."
Givers abound. The church is full of wonderful people who will give to the work of God's kingdom. There are those, however, who may give the most, but actually love the least. Such men and women are well respected in the church, even depended upon and placed in authority for the mere fact that they have money to give, but this is not the criteria for leadership in the Scriptures. The lifestyle of one who might afford to ensure that food banks meet budget requests, ministerial alliances can provide for those without electricity and churches can purchase the next item on their wish list are often found to be controlling. They ensure that money is given to the cause of their choice. They are surrounded by the grateful receivers of their finances who sing their praises, but should another need arise that conflicts with the personal plans of the particular giver, a war breaks out, dissension and argument result, and the Body of Christ quickly learns that some of the biggest givers are actually some of the most selfish of Christians. Some Christians will tell you that they don't want anyone to know that they have given money to something, but they won't object to their name being printed in places of honor or being put in charge of how money is spent. There are some of these givers who would not give a dime to a beggar but will give a thousand dollars to a recognizable charity that allows them to be lauded with praise, receiving it with great false humility. Again, the outcome in the eyes of Christ for all their efforts to be something great is that they are a great nothing in the kingdom. Do they have love?
Verse 3 "If I surrender my body to be burned..."
How is it possible that a man could die for his faith, under such a cruel and painful death, and not have love for His Lord? Martyrdom exists in the church today. An approximate 100,000 believers die for Christ every year around the world do to persecution. We don't hear of it on CNN or any major networks, but it is happening. Paul is certainly not belittling the sacrifice of these saints lives to follow Christ, nor is he declaring that one might do so who has not love for Him, but out of the irony of the statement there is a truth for the American church. What can a person do that is greater than self-sacrifice? What greater love is there than to lay down one's life for another? The Scriptures do tell us that. I believe the point the Spirit is driving home in me is this: having beheld the hearts of mankind since their creation in the beginning, the Lord knows that within everyone of us is the awful capacity to do even the best of things with the worst of motivations. The most Spiritual of practices, the most religious of traditions, the most seemingly self-sacrificing actions of our lives can still be completely empty and devoid of what makes them worth absolutely anything in the eyes of our Great and Loving Heavenly Father: Love. Quite literally. Again, the quoted principle of consequence in verse three is just that: "it profits me nothing."
Let us turn our attentions to the latter verse of the chapter, verse 13. Why is love the greatest of the abiding three? It is because (1 John 4:8) "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love."
The word is Agape, the unconditional love and the defining bond between the Son of God and the Father. It is not like the love the world gives; it is higher. It is not tainted by the flesh; it is spiritual and pure. The world knows how to put faith in some things and to put hope in others, the world knows how to even love in some ways but not in this way. The need for faith will dissipate, as will the need for hope, but the abiding nature of the Father, eternal in His kingdom, will be the same love which sacrificed Christ on your behalf, which has been an everlasting love, which has existed in the very character of who God is before anything that is had ever been. God gave us light, a thing which we understand by our sight physically but now understand by our souls spiritually, and God gave us love, a thing which we understand upon receiving supernaturally and are now entrusted with sharing physically to the world devoid of both around us.
The men and women who do the greatest things in the church but do none of them from the motivation of love are really after only one thing, and that is to be loved despite their inadequacies and insecurities, to be found acceptable and worthy in some way, to be unconditionally loved. They may seek to overbearingly control things, but it is only out of a fear that in letting go, they will be let go of by others. They may seek to make you ponder profoundly and wow you with wondrous words, but it is only because they are in search of acceptance and a place where you would love them even if you knew their dark and hidden sins. They may be moving mountains on the inside but some are actually just scared little children, able to ask God for what seems Big to us, but unable to believe the simple truth that they really are loved.
When any Christian arrives at the place where they define the love of God based on any other merit than the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us, they will stumble into the life of worthless works, meaningless martyrdom, selfish sacrifices and the clanging cymbals of speech, all impressive to our flesh, but a grief to the Holy Spirit.
Do you have love today? Is your love genuine? Is your love God's love? Is your love for one another in the Body of Christ completely based upon the worth that Christ set in His sacrifice or is it earthly merits based, worldly minded, and only given to others if they cater to your own unmet needs for acceptance and a sense of security amongst your peers? Christ's love abides into and throughout eternity. It is the kind of love that lays down itself for the benefit of another, knowing that this pleases the Father and has its own reward in the heavens.
Consider today what it is that you do in the name of Christ. Consider today if you truly have love. Perhaps God has gifted you with that which is yet untapped and unseen that will explode the growth of His kingdom, if ONLY you would seek to let LOVE be the driving force of your life.