Friday, July 15, 2011

If You Have Not Love

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

"Love" has multiple and often casual meanings in English: we know that loving chocolate and loving our children hardly comprise identical feelings, yet we use the same word for both. When St. Paul wrote the verses above, however, Greek was the world language; and the Greeks had different words for "love" of things and pleasures, for sexual love, for family love, for friendship love--and for the sacrificial, selfless love called agape, the ideal Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13 and the hardest of ideals to attain. Without it, moral purity, sacrificial giving, even Christian ministry are all worthless in the eyes of God.

Shocking words, those. Is Paul saying that self-centered motives on the part of a preacher invalidate the salvation of everyone led to Christ by his ministry? Hardly: God can use even outright evil to accomplish much good. The "worthlessness" of loveless work lies in what it fails to accomplish for the worker himself. The Christian who truly loves God treasures quiet time for its own sake, joyful in the privilege of being with the One he loves; the works-oriented Christian sees quiet time as a means of getting marching orders, or, often, support for his own plans. The lover lets the challenges of his work draw him further into dependence on God; the worker trusts in his own strength to accomplish things. Perhaps most telling of all, the lover cares little about worldly success or appreciation, but finds all the reward he could hope for in His Lord's pleasure. The worker sees success and appreciation as indicators of God's pleasure, which is a no-win situation for his own spiritual growth. If he gets the rewards he feels he deserves, he lets pride eclipse his gratitude; if he doesn't get them, he grows bitter against God.

Do you love God the way you love those human beings you are closest to--through constant attention, eagerness to please, and complete faith in His good nature? And are you willing to let Him help you love the rest of humanity in that way?

If you give ten percent to the church each week,
But your heart remains cold and proud,
You may draw applause from the world at large--
But our God rarely goes with the crowd.

If you sing in the choir twenty days a month
With a voice like an angel's tone,
But then look unmoved on another's pain,
All God hears is the hurting one's moan.

If you know to the names of Kedar and Put
Every word that the Scriptures said,
But you close your eyes to the world's great needs,
Then your spiritual worth's all but dead.

It is not through our works, though they be great deeds,
We find favor within God's eyes,
But by means of love, fed by humble hearts,
Through the Spirit Who makes Christians wise.


Suzana said...

Hello, I just found your blog. I think it is amazing. Thank you for writing it.

Katherine Swarts said...

Thank you, Suzana.