We got a catalog from Oriental Trading Company this week, and my son noted that most of it contained kitschy Easter stuff, some marketed to Christians. He was put off by how the message of resurrection can be co-opted and turned into plastic baubles meant to be “inspirational” yet bought wholesale for pennies on the dollar. Good for him.
We Christians can fall into clichés and kitsch easily, and no passage of the Scriptures has suffered the Chinese-made “inspirational” bauble treatment more than this one:
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. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
—1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ESV
The problem for us is, like the plastic bauble, we have turned this chapter in the Bible into a sentimental saying that we don’t entirely believe. Whatever it may contain, that something meant to change us instead bounces off our Teflon hides, and we go about being whomever we were before we encountered 1 Corinthians 13.
Here’s the upshot. That passage states that we can live out an entire Christian life and have it come to nothing for one reason: We didn’t love people.
The thing about love is that it asks something of us. If you say you love someone, you need to do something about it for it to be real. It’s not enough to speak words. Some kind of action is demanded.
How did God the Father show love? He sent Jesus. How did Jesus, God the Son, show love? By dying on the cross on our behalf and rising again. How does the Holy Spirit of God show love? By coming to dwell within believers in Jesus, guiding them into all truth and changing them into the likeness of Jesus.
Too much of the Christian life has become little more than words. But if we claim to love other people, there must be some action associated with that love.
If Facebook postings are any indication, Christians have a lot of people in this world they hate. The funny thing about hate is that all you have to do to make it effective is to express it. To be a lover requires more than words, but just give voice to hate and you’re a hater. That’s all hate requires.
If Christians are to change the world, it’s time we stopped kidding ourselves about hate and love. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for them, not hate them. And loving an enemy demands some sort of action from us on behalf of those enemies. All hate requires is our brutal opinion.
One of the most notable questions in the Bible is “Who is my neighbor?” A man thought he’d stump Jesus with that question after Jesus said we should love our neighbors as ourselves.
Perhaps the better question for Christians today is “Who is my enemy?” If there is any question of enemies, again, a random sampling from Christians posting on Facebook would be enough to generate a long list of foes.
“Who is my enemy?” Ask the question. Now, as a Christian, find a practical way to show love toward that person or group.
Because nothing under the sun is more stupid than to fool yourself into thinking you’re a Christian when your lack of love in action—to both friends and enemies—proves otherwise.
One thought on “How All of Your Christian Life Can Come to Nothing”
Great post, you might like to read Henry Drummond’s essay ‘The Greatest Thing in the World‘. It’s based on this very text.
Also, I linked to your article on my own blog so would like to invite you to leave a comment there.