God wants you to be strong spiritually and you can see you have developed and matured in some of these ways. You may even be able to say you have been diligent in each: 1) accumulating knowledge; 2) communicating truth; 3) increasing faith; 4) serving in generosity; and 5) sacrificing. And if you know someone with all of these qualities, you deeply admire him. Surely someone like this would be a shoe-in for heaven, right? No doubt all of these traits are critical, but if you had all of these and had not the sixth trait of spiritual strength, all of the others would be meaningless.
Go to 1 Corinthians 13:1 for strength number six; this strength gives all the others value. “Though I SPEAK with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” No matter how skillfully you communicate truth to the lost or the saved, publicly or from house to house, if your message is not deeply rooted in love – in God’s eyes you do no better than bang on pots and pans. I’m not, but I could be the most powerful debater, the most eloquent preacher, the most effective soul-winner and the smoothest conversationalist, but if my words – or your words – are not driven by love, God says I might as well beat around on an old metal trash can with a baseball bat – because I’m wasting my time.
Paul makes the same point in Ephesians 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head — Christ.” We need to reel in our emotions and be aware of the messages we send with facial gestures, tone of voice and body language that do not communicate love. Otherwise, we can unravel all the good we try to accomplish. I’m not the only one that can grow in this area.
1 Corinthians 13:2, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.” I love reading and studying the word and will of God, don’t you? Over time, diligent study rewards us with increased knowledge. But, no matter how much we know, our knowledge will always be dwarfed by our ignorance. Socrates said, “The more I learn the more I realize how little I know” – and that’s right! Imagine you knew the Old and New Testament. You not only had it memorized, but you had a perfect understanding of every Scripture. You understood every controversial issue; you were the expert! You grasped every symbol in Revelation and could explain it so a child could understand. That would make you the most valuable Christian on earth, right? Wrong! Unless this knowledge involved the understanding and application of the teaching on love, it would be inadequate. Listen, “though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand ALL mysteries and ALL knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.”
We need to know the scriptures and we need to know the truth, but there’s an equally important fact: “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” True, but that goes for God as well. GOD doesn’t care how much we know till he knows how much we care! See, our knowledge can be used as a trap by the devil. Never forget that! Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Only one form of knowledge will not puff up. It is taught in Ephesians 3:19, “to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ever wonder why, with all the trouble in Corinth that Paul drops the great chapter on love at the climax of the book? Simple! With all the ills plaguing the church at Corinth, none was greater than their lack of love. Does that mean other issues were unimportant? Not at all! But we need to be abundantly clear: if we cannot consistently demonstrate love – wholehearted, unselfish, unmistakable concern for the welfare of others – we lower our ability to influence long-term those in error. Now, we may intimidate a few for a little while, but if they are not personally convicted the Jesus’ way – by speaking the truth in love, helping them secure long-term change will elude us.
1 Corinthians 3:2, “And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Is this as hard for you to grasp as it is for me? I can have a great faith in God as Creator, in Jesus as God’s Son and still be NOTHING. Clearly, love must come first!
This is why we find love at the pinnacle of the Christian virtues in 2 Peter 1:5-9. Then, 1 Peter 4:8 reads, “Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves.” Romans 13:10 adds, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Next, Matthew 22:35-39 teaches that the greatest command is to “love God and thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus singles out one of the identifying marks of the genuine Christian in John 13:35: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Never downplay the importance of love. It is the first fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22! Get this: Corinth had all the gifts of Holy Spirit, but lacked the fruit of the Spirit. They had the gifts of the Holy Spirit, yet were spiritually impoverished. No matter how gifted you are, if the use of those gifts is not powered by love, they are meaningless. Do you get it? Love is the acid test of discipleship. No amount of faith can compensate for a lack of love.
The apostle Paul is not done. 1 Corinthians 13:3, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed poor… but have not love, it profits me nothing.” This word for “goods” refers to possessions, property and wealth. Warren Buffett pledged$30 billion to the Bill Gates charitable Foundation, but he kept his $14 billion fortune. Can you imagine, though, someone liquidating ALL their assets – emptying bank accounts, cashing in stocks and bonds, draining IRA’s dry, selling their house, car, appliances, jewelry, electronic gadgets and all their clothes except those on their back and then giving the money to the poor and needy? You could have that kind of amazingly generous servant heart and it would still mean nothing to God without love!
Finally, the Holy Spirit insists, “and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Surely, if I was willing to sacrifice my body and die for my faith, God would be so impressed that He would overlook my inadequacies. Stories about Christians dying for their faith so impress me. Polycarp, an elder in Smyrna who studied under John, died in about 155 A.D. The Pro-consul threatened Polycarp: “Take the oath and I’ll let you go, revile Christ.” Polycarp responded: “For 86 years I have been his servant. And he’s done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me? The Proconsul rejoined: “I have wild beasts. I will deliver you to them, unless you repent.” Polycarp did not waver: “Call for them, for repentance from better to worse is not allowed…” More intense, the Proconsul pressured Polycarp: “I will have you consumed by fire, unless you repent!” Polycarp remained focused: “You threaten me with a fire that burns for a time and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire which awaits the wicked in judgment to come in everlasting punishment. But why are you waiting. Come, do what you will!” Then he was fastened to the instruments which had been prepared for the fire. He prayed and was burned at the stake. But now, even if any of us were going to go to such lengths in standing for the truth, Paul says “though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing!”
Love is the greatest sign of spiritual strength. As we develop the strengths we’ve noticed, we will strengthen the church and souls will be saved, but Paul is telling the Christians at Corinth to reexamine their motives – the “why” behind the “what.” In fact, in both letters we have to Corinth, he stresses need for self-exam. He writes in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.”
Article by Brett Hickey