Nothing Without Love

Talk tin can

1 Corinthians 13:2 “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 we are looking at gifts apart from the motivation behind their use, then the Apostle Paul ranked prophecy, and teaching, and the knowledge behind them ahead of speaking in tongues. In the next chapter Paul simply says, “He who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues” (14:5). The reason? “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” It served more people–the whole church– to speak God’s message in a language everyone could understand.

So the church has always valued the kind of people Paul describes here: Leaders who are at home in God’s Word–they can “fathom all mysteries and all knowledge.” They have the speaking gifts to deliver what they know, a gift for prophecy. And because faith comes from hearing the message, their own faith is strong, and so is that of those who hear them–a faith that is ready to do great things.

Or so it seems. But what good is all their knowledge when there is no love: when all that knowledge and all that rhetoric and all that seeming faith to tackle the big challenges facing the church is really focused on the leader? Earlier in this book Paul told the Corinthians, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Without love, all that knowledge and preaching and confidence can come across as arrogance. It becomes a roadblock for the gospel. As someone has said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Still worse, when such gifted leaders succeed in taking people under their spell, they develop a “cult of the personality.” Everyone gives lip service to the idea, “We are all about following Jesus,” when the truth is “We are all about following Pastor Bob.”

If we have such a deep knowledge of God’s word and its mysteries, and the talent to deliver it, and the faith to act on it, but don’t have love? “I am nothing.” Only God himself knows how many great scholars, and great preachers, have ended up lost because they became so full of themselves they no longer had any room for the Holy Spirit.

The Bible praises things like knowledge and preaching. They bring people God’s grace, and faith, and life. But we still need love to use them well and be blessed for ourselves.

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