“But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.
Paul writes to the conflicted church in Corinth that he “planted” several years earlier…
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3
Most of us know this passage because it is often read at weddings. Paul did not intend for this letter to become a part of “Christian scripture” because it was merely a letter written to a church that he started and they were struggling. Even more so, I think Paul would be surprised that this portion of his letter to the church in Corinth is read at Christian weddings.
Saint Paul tried to convey to the church that there were more important things than speaking in tongues, healing others and overseeing the administration of the church. Then he proceeds to tell us that love surpasses any title or spiritual gift ever given. Imagine that? Love is something everyone can do and it is the greatest gift given and as Paul says, it is “the most excellent way.”
Then he applies love (or the lack of love) to several situations.
- If I speak in tongues (which he just talked about in chapter 12 of 1Corinthians) but do so without love, I would be like a noisy, annoying instrument. (Think drum kit given to a 3rdgrader on Christmas.)
- If I had the power to declare God’s intentions (prophecy) and understand the secret will of God (mysteries) and have a perfect understanding of theology (knowledge) and I have an unshakable trust in God (faith) but I am without love, I am nothing.
By the way, if you look to the original Greek in which this letter was written you will find that my rendering is a little closer to the original intentions of Saint Paul.
- If in an act of faithful, selfless devotion I give everything I have to the poor and even give my life as a burning sacrifice as sign of my faith but do not have love, I am nothing.
All of this is surprising to me because Paul is the superstar apostle who speaks in tongues, gives prophecy, has the clearest understanding of the Christian faith (theology), seems to have an unshakable faith in Christ and does not draw an income for preaching and starting churches. This guy can do it all and yet he says that love is the most excellent way.
He even mentions that the three greatest things are “faith, hope and love” and out of those three only love will continue on forever.
I don’t want you to miss this… Paul is an intellectual. He is a theologian. He is heady. Paul is not known for being “warm and fuzzy.” I definitely do not think Saint Paul is a hugger. I think it is amazing that he is advocating for love above correct theology and wisdom. I would think that love would be secondary for Paul but it is not. That should perk up our ears.
Even Paul knows that God is love. Love that comes to us in the person of Jesus.
As we continue to make our preparations for Christmas, just remember that there is no such thing as the “perfect Christmas.” Let those images go and focus on love. The love that God sent to us in the person of Jesus and the love we share with one another.
God bless you,