Without Love I Am Nothing

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. 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. 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. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, KJV)

1 Corinthians 13 holds a special place in people’s hearts because they often hear these words intoned at weddings — and purportedly, as a model for the ideal marriage. Now, a marriage should be founded in love… and God’s word is appropriate at any time! But connecting this passage to a wedding as if it were written for that purpose would be an error because Paul was addressing the Corinthian church at large, so there was more at stake here than wedded bliss.

The King James translators chose the English word charity to translate the Greek word agapē (one of their words for love) and to the contemporary reader this highlights the giving nature of love — and this is key. Contrary to popular belief, love is not a feeling; it is rather a doing… but it’s a doing that benefits the recipient more than the giver.

You see, love is a giving of the self… which often means giving-up the self for others. So what happens when we decide not to love… when we decide to save ourselves for ourselves? We disappear. Not physically, though — we still populate the earth… and we still walk around with smiles congratulating each other for doing good-works among humankind. But without love we would be nothing… and by nothing I mean as non-existent persons who happen also to be breathing the air. This is serious stuff.

Please note, however, that those who are unloving might still have spiritual gifts. They might have understanding — and even faith! But without love all these would be nothing. All this “spirituality” would just be a noise that draws attention to the self… but without communicating… and that would make us placeholders for the selves we ought to be. We would still maintain a personal presence, but something else would belong in our space.

Note also that altruism does not necessarily equate to love. This passage tells us that even the noble purpose of feeding the poor… and even giving the body to be burned… would still not profit the giver if they were done without love. But what if they were done in love? What then? Is there a profit? Yes indeed! But not on this earth.

We believers look to heavenly rewards, not earthly ones… but please don’t misunderstand: good works won’t gain heaven. Besides, we are already citizens there — and it is a benefit of our citizenship that we will receive heavenly rewards for earthly deeds. But we also note with sadness that having heavenly citizenship does not make the citizen loving — nor does its counterpart in secular altruism. Love is never automatic… so there is something more.

Jesus taught that sinning in the heart was sinning indeed, and this teaching opposed the common understanding of how the Law worked. But we Christians, too, must be careful why we do things, lest we be reduced to a set of behaviors — behaviors which look holy and self-sacrificing — but which amount to nothing. Such behaviors would be like the noise of brass or symbols, which without the vocalists or the instruments of melody are just that — noise... plain old noise. So what should you do? Seek God’s face, make melody in your heart to the Lord… and love will find you. 

 

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