walk in the word
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3, esv).
Most of us are pretty familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 at least from all the weddings we’ve attended, if not from time spent in the Word. “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” (1 Corinthians 13:1–2).
That’s right. Even if we’re amazingly gifted, even if we’re incredibly knowledgeable, even if we could hardly seem more vertically aligned with God . . . if we don’t have love, what else matters?“All truth and no love may be brutality, but all love and no truth is hypocrisy. We need both.” Click To Tweet
But verse 3 takes an interesting turn. It goes completely in the opposite direction. All the “if” statements from the first two verses—about being an eloquent speaker, about being a spiritual giant—feel like a natural contrast with “love” already. But what about verse 3? “Give away all I have”? “Deliver up my body to be burned”? How can I possibly empty my wallet for people in need, or surrender all my desires to serve others, if I don’t love them? Isn’t this level of giving and serving the very definition of love?
Where’s the contrast that makes this verse make sense?
Here it is: We tend to equate love almost entirely with affection (with giving and serving). But according to Paul, love is equal parts affection and truth. It’s both of these things put together. All truth and no love may be brutality, but all love and no truth is hypocrisy. We need both. Not just a balance between the two, but treating each one of them as being crucial to the whole. Otherwise we’re playing games with people, and nobody needs that kind of love.
Two of Paul’s later how-to statements are really helpful in applying this.
Just as you can’t really be loving without having generous, sacrificial affection for another, you can’t really be loving if speaking truth has no place in the relationship. Love is fully both, not just a balance. Only then is it truly love.
Lord, You keep teaching me more about love, and I need every lesson. I want my love to be like Yours. Forgive me for selfishly leaning in one or the other direction and failing to demonstrate the fullness of Your love to the people in my life. Protect me from the pride that leads me to truth-based brutality, as well as from the subtler pride that can lead me toward nice, kind hypocrisy. Fill me with Jesus’ love. Help me always be truly loving in Jesus’ name, amen.
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