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.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
In this prelude to his love hymn, Paul explains, in no uncertain terms, the absolute priority of love over all else. If we have incredible socials skills, are smooth talkers and great debaters, but do those things without love, we are doing nothing but creating noise pollution. If we are brilliant and highly educated, smarter than everyone who has ever existed, even if we know for certain every single fact about the universe, but are devoid of love, we are nothing. If we have all faith, yes, even if we are incredibly religious and put our entire trust in God, but do not have love, we are nothing. He doesn’t say we’re missing something, that our lives are a bit lopsided. He says it’s all worthless without love. If we are incredibly religious by way of action and give up our bodies, even to painful death, without love, we gain absolutely nothing.
Don’t let familiarity of these verses dampen their strength. He is quite literally saying that everything, whether it be valued by the world or religion, is completely worthless without love. That does not mean that they have no value, but that they have no value apart from love. In and of themselves, they are worthless.
As followers of Christ, we cannot speak of miracles without speaking of love. We cannot speak of humility or sacrifice without speaking of love. We cannot speak of God or faith or hope, without first speaking of love. Our logic and knowledge are useless without love.
Paul denounces secular and religious areas, both inner and outer, if they lack love. Nothing surpasses love.
And I think this is where the idea of “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life” comes from. We often look for rules to follow. We want to be good Christians. We want to know what we need to do or avoid in order to do right so we can be ‘good’ people. But Paul says that all of that is completely and utterly worthless without love. First, we must seek love. For all meaning comes from love. There is nothing which has its meaning apart from love. Once we are motivated by love, then we can talk about what we should or should not do. Because no matter how right you are, if you don’t have love, you’re wrong.
I realize this post is incredibly vague. Left here, one could interpret love to be whatever they so happened to desire it to be. The next post will describe what exactly Jesus and the writers of the New Testament meant by love. The post after that will discuss ways of achieving that love. But I hope this will at least lead some to rethink their method of being “good Christians” or, more generally, “good people”.
Some additional verses on the subject to meditate on:
1 Peter 4:8
1 John (The entire letter is essentially this post repeated again and again)
Next Post: Becoming Loving People