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 my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
On one side of the equation Paul places speaking in tongues, prophetic powers, knowledge, faith, charity, and martyrdom, and on the other side love. Of course Paul is not saying they are exclusive of each other, but instead is stating that all our spiritual gifts, faith and Christian life must be bathed in love.
Without love all our spiritual gifts are just clanging cymbals and self-edifying exercises that impact only our own sense of worth but have no real power in ministry. In other words it is not the gift that is important but the love that powers the gift.
The word translated as love is the Greek word agape and though some scholars equate it with charity, the overwhelming consensus to the meaning remains love. Prior to the New Testament agape was not in common use and appears only twenty times in the Septuagint (LXX), but appears 116 times in the New Testament. Paul uses the word 75 times in his Epistles and makes it a central core of his theology.
Leon Morris, in his Commentary on 1 Corinthians, gives us a wonderful view into the depths of the word agape. He writes, “Whereas the highest concept of love before the New Testament was that of a love for the best one knows, the Christians thought of love as that quality we see on the cross. It is a love for the utterly unworthy, a love that proceeds from a God who is love. It is a love lavished on others without a thought whether they are worthy or not. It proceeds from the nature of the lover, not from any attractiveness in the beloved. The Christian who has experienced God’s love for him while he was yet a sinner (Romans 5:8) has been transformed by the experience.” Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1Corinthians, pg. 174
When we experience God’s abounding love for us regardless of our performance, works, deeds and efforts we can only rejoice in such unmerited love. The result is a renewing of our minds (Romans 12), and the transformation of our hearts that lead us from absolute selfishness to the foot of the cross. When we understand God’s love we find ourselves loving others, not out of duty, but because we are impregnated with the desire to see others enter into God’s love.
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4
Christianity isn’t about knowing God, but it is about knowing God and experiencing His grace. There is a world of difference between having head knowledge about God and having the wonder of God live deep in our hearts. You can know by heart every doctrine and teaching in the church but if Jesus isn’t dwelling within our spirit and very being we will never experience the power to love.
It is little wonder that Jesus tells His disciples in the final days before the crucifixion, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34, 35
When secular people think of Christians they think of us as people who are always against everything. They think of us as unloving, self-satisfied bigots who are wed to success and power. Unfortunately, we all too often have given that impression with our multi-million dollar buildings, gigantic budgets and lack of spiritual concern for the poor and persecuted. However, these are only our perversions of the gospel and not our true calling to discipleship. Jesus calls us to love and we love through service, compassion, caring, prayer and acceptance of the broken and outcasts of society.
As Christians we love legalism because it defines our responsibility and duties to God in tight little circles. We think if we only keep ourselves inside the box and do everything required of us written in that box we are safe from really caring about the world around us. It is so much easier to say our salvation is secure because of the day we worship on than to come to grips with God’s calling for us to love the unlovable. It is easier to sit in the comfort of our local church than to spend countless hours encouraging and comforting the broken people of this world. We replace the commission to love with safe activities that draw us far away from having to confront our society with God’s love.
“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loves us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God, if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:7-12
Next post I am going to pick up on these verses in 1 John but for now I simply want to state that the call to love others as God loved us isn’t a call to more works in the disguise of love. It is a transformation of all that we are and will only take a hold of us when we have come to the foot of the cross with humbled hearts. It is only when we understand that we are undeserving of such wonderful grace that we can begin to comprehend what God has done for us. And when that happens we will be like beggars dancing at the Gate called Beautiful anxious and excited to tell all who will listen what God has done for us. We who were dead have been made alive.
* Please remember our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted for their faith. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/