For a reformed, Bible believing, inerrancy card toting, conservative like myself there are some reactionary red flags that go off when I hear expressions like “without love I am nothing.” Seriously, is it possible for a sermon that is hermeneutically sound (big expression that means good interpretation of the Bible), homiletically polished (big expression that means good sermon) to be reduced to nothing if it does not have love?
That’s Paul answer. He actually drives it home with a bit more force. He says that without love “I am nothing” and “I have gained nothing.” Read 1 Cor. 13 for yourself if you don’t believe me. In this one chapter he says we can have loveless sermons (v.1), loveless insights (v.2), loveless faith (v.2), loveless deeds (v.3), and loveless sacrifice (v.3). All of which amount to nothing.
In this his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul spends the twelfth chapter explaining how spiritual gifts operate within the body of Christ. He carries the metaphor at length illustrating how each gift functions analogous to body parts. In the final verse of this chapter on body life, Paul tells his reader, “I will show you a more excellent way,” which is the set up for the most quoted chapter in the New Testament: the great love chapter.
I’m convinced we would dismiss this as sentimental, liberal, drivel if we heard someone reading it and didn’t realize it was coming from the New Testament. Perhaps we are too familiar with it to realize how scandalous it truly is. Countless summer wedding sermons have anesthetized us from its sting. This provocative text has been lost in a field of fancy flower bouquets. It’s as though we expect Paul to conclude the love chapter with the words, “And they all lived happily ever after.”
But he doesn’t. He tells us that all that is not done in love is lost. He reminds that love never ends. It abides forever. But that all of the silly stuff we get distracted by each day will one day vanish like a morning mist at the appearance of the sun. Only what is done in love will “echo in eternity.” All that is done for lesser reasons will be forever lost.
Paul’s words should insight a holy revolution. It should invoke a radical response.
But maybe you are a bit like me: maybe you read this passage and simply hear wedding bells instead of the raspy voice of a Jewish carpenter pinned to a rugged tree crying out, “It is finished.”
It is here at this cross that we find the manifestation of the love of God. And this act of selfless sacrifice is the standard, the motivation, and the source for our quest to love God with heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
This is love, not that we first loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propiation for our our sins. (1 John 4:10).