“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
The beginning of the famous love chapter. I’ve been thinking on this verse for the past few minutes. How can I apply it? What does it mean for a Christians walk practically? It sounds pretty simple on the surface but do we really get it? Do we really understand what these verses mean by love? The Greek word for love here is a form of the term agapé from which we derive divine love or good will. So what is the passage saying? A whole lot.
Think about it this way. If I can share the gospel but I do it without good will or benevolence, I might as well be an annoying clash of a symbol. If I share the gospel but I do it out of pressure or resentment or compulsion and not love then I would be better off to just keep my mouth shut. Have you thought about it like that before? Granted I do believe the Holy Spirit is able to work despite those feelings and that the gospel presentation may still be effective, but is God truly pleased in that? I would argue not.
Also, if I can explain doctrine and I can talk theology but I have no desire to practically love my neighbor, it’s worthless. If I am more concerned about my denomination and tradition than I am for the slightly soiled, smelly individual that just walked into the back of the church then I have completely missed the point. But those things are important aren’t they? Sure. Doctrine is incredibly important and theology is incredibly important but if we’d rather live in the ivory tower than down in the street with the hurting then we have no business talking about either one of those things.
Then it gets even deeper. If I give up my entire life in service to the church but I don’t do it out of genuine love for the body I have wasted my life. Even if I should go so far as to endure persecution to the point of dying a martyr’s death but I don’t do it out of love for God then I have died in vain. I could surrender my body to the flames thinking that I am doing a great service to God, all the while truly wasting my life and just providing a little extra light until my body turns to ash.
These three things are outward manifestations. God is not nearly as concerned about what we look like or act like on the outside. He is deeply concerned about our hearts. Out of our hearts spring the overflow of what ever type of well we have rising up inside (Luke 6:45). So no matter what you may do and how wonderful you may think it is in God’s eyes, if it’s not done out of a sincere heart of obedience and love it’s worthless. So what does that mean for us? Let’s look at one example: evangelism. If my evangelism is simply reduced to a 30 second question and answer algorithm and all I’m concerned about is getting a decision and then moving on to the next individual and I’m not willing to lovingly invest my life into someone else’s life then what is it really worth? Now, hear me out, I’m not saying that this approach to evangelism is always wrong. I think it has it’s moments and there are times when you only have a few minutes with someone and you feel led to share with them. What I am saying is that the majority of our evangelism should involve loving others to the point that are willing to sit and listen to their stories and truly invest our time into them. We are to show them goodwill by sacrificing of ourselves, more than just 5 quick questions about Jesus, and truly see where God is working in their lives and truly sharing the truth of Gospel strategically in the area where they need it most.
Love is an investment. So, no matter what I may do on the outside, if I’m not willing to risk my comfort and invest in the lives of others; if I’m not willing to give up my life to Christ in an act of unbridled love and gratitude, then I am completely missing the mark.
So, evaluate your life. Are you serving out of love or are you serving out of compulsion? Are you following Jesus and sharing the gospel just to soothe your conscious or are you truly loving those around you? The answer to that question could mean everything.