Anyhoo, I'm working on I Corinthians 13. I'm pretty well finished my outline; just a matter of polishing things up and adding finishing touches here and there.
I like how Paul introduces the subject of love after his discourse about how the church is to operate, especially given the fact that everyone in the church has varied gifts. I like the fact that he presents this description of love for reason: to demonstrate to the church at Corinth, and to us, that our wonderful gifts and abilities are nothing without love.
This is how he opens the chapter:
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Paul is saying here, "Look, even if I am a eloquent and powerful speaker, and even if I can prophesy, and have understanding of mysteries, and even if I am a giant of faith, and even if I offer up myself, if I do it without love, I'm nothing." Okay, not the most scholarly paraphrase, but I'm not a scholar, so there you go. And as an aside, I'm not even going to address the phrase "tongues of men and angels" other than to say that I think Paul means eloquent speaking. If you are interested in learning more about the view on tongues and all that, my brother in the Lord, DJP, has some done some fine work on the issue.
Onward and upward.
Paul is saying that it doesn't really matter how talented and skilled we are, how wonderful we speak, how gifted we are. If we do it without love, we are nothing. That word, translated "nothing" is the Greek word ουδεισ (oudeis). It is made of up two words, the "ou" part meaning "not" and a second part "heis" meaning "one." Put together, it means not even one, not in the least, not a one. If we do not serve with the motivation of love, and under the influence of love, then we are nothing. It doesn't matter how well I do what I do. If I do it, I'm nothing. Paul says that our efforts would simply amount to a lot of noise.
When I was thinking about how to present this to my students on Sunday, I wanted to find an audio clip of the voice of the teacher from the Charlie Brown television shows. I even did a Google search on it. And while I found out that the voice was made by using a trombone, I did not find a clip of it. That's what I think about when I read this passage, even though Paul uses more specific images, like a gong or a cymbal. If I serve and I do it without love, then I may as well sound like that teacher from Charlie Brown. Unintelligible. Either that, or my words of prophecy and tongues of angels will be drowned out by the sound of clanging cymbals.
There are a lot of very gifted people out there. There are myriads of good speakers, profound thinkers and willing workers. But without love, it is nothing. Anyone can be good at a skill, but it takes a transformed life to serve with love. The kind of love Paul is talking about here is not that gushy feeling you have when you first become infatuated with someone. It isn't good will. It's love that is sacrificial. That is what ought to characterize the Christian.
This is a good reminder for me, because I am good a couple of things. I know I'm a good teacher and I know I'm a good speaker. But if I don't show love, maybe I shouldn't get up and teach or speak. If I stand up and give a really great lesson on Sunday morning, and then go home and be rude and resentful to my family, what have I gained, and what have I done for the Lord? If I am impatient and insist on my own way, what have I taught my students? The longer I teach the more I realize the absolute necessity for me to be as accountable as I possibily can. I won't be perfect, but at the very least, I need to admit when I'm wrong or when I'm struggling. On Sunday, when I teach this lesson, I will have to start off by telling my students that I don't have this all figured out. I am not always good at showing love. All too often I am very guilty of being that clanging cymbal.