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.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
– 1 Corinthians 13
Last night I went to a Southern Gospel concert with some friends. I love Southern Gospel music – and yes, I am 29 years old. Just like any other genre of music, there are some really hokey songs, some really great songs and timeless classics that will speak to your soul every time you hear them. But one defining characteristic of Southern Gospel music is that it regularly reflects on eternity. Often times they will spit doctrine at you in music form! And at the same time reflect on the greatness of God and the hope of eternity spent with Him.
Last night mid-song, the lead singer quoted a section of the “love passage” out of 1 Corinthians and I have been chewing on it all night/morning. I remember very well the first time I heard – with my heart – that very simple statement in V. 8 “Love never fails”. Being a thinker more than a feeler, and also being task oriented, I have the weakness of addressing issues instead of people. Being originally from Philadelphia, I like to blame my culture for these tendencies!
But the Holy Spirit, through Paul, states that if I speak the truth boldly, or have faith to move mountains or offer my body to death in someone else’s place without love, that it is worthless. “I am nothing” (V. 2). The first commandment under both the Old and New Covenant is “Thou shall have no other gods before me” and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Ex 20.3, Deut 6.5, Matt 22.37).
I believe wholeheartedly that Paul is speaking directly to the love of God in this love passage. And this is how we are to ultimately love God; and through that love of God love others. Understanding the depths of our forgiveness directly correlates to the depth of love that we have for God. “He who has been forgive little loves little” (Luke 7.47). In this passage Jesus is referencing the “woman who was a sinner” who was washing his feet with her hair and her expensive ointment. She was serving Jesus in the humblest form because she had been forgiven much.
Of how much have you been forgiven? I have only once in my life had someone truly set against me. Living through a variety of circumstances and situations, I learned that it is certainly not easy to love when you are reviled. But when it is a one-time thing, when it is a person that I did not know well, or I knew that I just needed to get through the situation, it was easier to respond well. Perhaps it was self control or pride thinking “I’m going to take the higher road here”. But one will never truly understand what it is to serve until he has been treated like a servant. He will never know true self-sacrifice until he has given everything for someone who despises him in return.
Jesus said to “turn the other cheek”, to go the extra mile or when someone takes your shirt, give him your coat too. If someone wants to take all of your earthly belongings, suffer the offense for the sake of love, and do not go to court (Matt 5.39-42, 1 Cor 6.1-7)!
Now, often times we romanticize this interaction. If I give everything, then the other person will see my selflessness and of course will soften up, change his mind, and reconciliation will occur. “Love never fails”, right? I do not think that is what the passage means. I have not done research nor have I taken a poll to tell you how often true sacrifice results in love returned or repentance, but I can tell you that that is not what happened in my onetime real life experience. Paul is referencing the return of Christ and the culmination of our salvation by joining Him in eternity. The other gifts like prophecy, tongues and even knowledge, those things will be moot as we encounter Christ – the image of the unseen God. Knowledge will be perfected and fulfilled, no longer will anyone need to speak into another’s life through prophecy or tongues, but love will abide forever. The love of God. It never ceases or fails.
And if I understand the weight of my sin and the extent of God’s grace to forgive me of that, then the reality is that I can understand that no matter what is done against me, it does not compare to the debt that I have to the grace God. God has forgiven me more than I will be asked to forgive someone else. Ever. And since I know that I have been forgiven much, I can love much – both God and my neighbor, even my neighbor who despises me.
It is essential to remember that whatever happens here on Earth, God takes care of it. All sin will be punished – either it was punished in the person of Christ on the cross, or it will be eternally punished in the offender in eternity in Hell. I do not need to try to get revenge or even justice. Rather, I need to trust God that He has handled it. I do not need to add to the punishment of the cross or Hell. I can’t. So instead, I need to love. Offer grace. Offer forgiveness because I have been forgiven so much more. Suffer the offense and join Christ in His sufferings. And exemplify love because, “Love never fails”.