By Irvin Himmel
It is likely that someone will charge sneeringly that a preacher has turned soft if sermons are delivered on the subject of love. To the contrary, no preacher is sound unless he declares the whole counsel of God, and love is a vital part of God’s counsel. Just as the truth needs to be taught on the authority of the Scriptures, the way of salvation, the church, godly living, and hundreds of other subjects, the truth about love needs to be set forth in a clear manner.
In 1 Cor. 13, one of the outstanding chapters of the Bible, Paul portrays love’s excellence. “Through the centuries the passage has been acclaimed as incomparable. Beautiful in its brevity, dignity, simplicity; beautiful in its orderly progressiveness, nobility of thought, exquisite phraseology; it is all of this and far more” (Berquist).
Love Is Both Excellent and Indispensable
Writing to the Corinthians about supernatural gifts in chapter 12, Paul reasoned that it was proper for the Christians of his day to desire the best of these gifts, “and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” Chapter 13 gives us insight into how truly excellent is the quality called love.
The King James Version uses the word “charity,” which in modern usage generally denotes benevolence or helping the poor. Just remember that “charity” in this passage means love, and the word “love” includes much more than almsgiving.
(1) Love is more excellent than speaking in tongues. Obviously, judging from statements in chapter 14, some of the Corinthians acted as if the rather spectacular gift of speaking in tongues was more to be desired than all other endowments. Paul corrected that false impression. Tongues were a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22), whereas the gift of prophecy edified the church (1 Cor. 14:1-5). The apostle said, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue” (1 Cor. 14:18, 19).
Now, suppose a person could speak with all the tongues or languages that man has ever spoken! Suppose he could speak with the power of the angelic hosts! All such would mean no more than a noisy gong or tinkling, clattering, or clanging sound in the absence of love. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (13:1).
How empty is eloquent speech without love. How meaningless are words that flow like noise coming from a brass instrument which lacks vitality. One may be so gifted that he has power to hypnotize by the magic of words, yet without love his speech is as worthless as sounds echoing from bronze.
(2) Love is more excellent than the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, and miraculous faith. Among the nine supernatural gifts mentioned in 1 Cor. 12:8-10, one finds “the word of knowledge,” “faith,” and “prophecy.” No master how important these gifts were in the revelation and confirmation of the word, the possessors of these marvelous endowments were nothing if they lacked love.
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (13:2).
(3) Love is snore excellent than benevolence or even martyrdom. The Bible teaches us to be generous toward the poor. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Paul and Barnabas were reminded by James, Cephas, and John to “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10). Some who call themselves Christians are not very charitable toward the poor. If they were put to the same test given to the rich young ruler, they probably would flunk. Jesus told that young man to “sell whatsoever thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shah have treasure in heaven” (Mk. 10:21). The young ruler was grieved, for he had great possessions.
It is possible for one to give his body in sacrifice to the service of God. In the Old Testament, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to give their bodies to be burned in a fiery furnace rather than bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold (Dan. 3). In the New Testament, Stephen was martyred because he dared to preach the truth (Acts 7).
What if a person gives all his worldly goods to feed the poor, then gives his body to be burned rather than disobey God, but lacks love? Here is Paul’s answer: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (13:3). Self-sacrifice is vain unless prompted by genuine love.
Love must undergird all of our actions. It is absolutely indispensable.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 18, p. 274
April 30, 1981