1 Corinthians 13 Part 1: Speaking without Love
1 Corinthians 13:1, Galatians 5:22-23. We are but noise if we don’t have love
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
1 Corinthians 13:1 NASB1995
I am now diving into a new devotional series, examining one of the most beautiful chapters in all of the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13. Paul is writing his first letter to the church at Corinth. In Chapter 12, he talks extensively about spiritual gifts like teaching, healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues. Paul intends to spend this chapter telling the Corinth church that these spiritual gifts or any other actions by a believer are not worth anything without love.
In this chapter, the word love repeated many times and is derived from Agape in the Greek; the characteristics of this type of love are amply demonstrated throughout 1 Corinthians 13 (this chapter is a roadmap for the believer). It is that love of Christians towards Christians and others which is enjoined and prompted by their religion, whether the love be viewed as in the soul or as expressed. Agape love is selfless and isn’t tied up in appearances, physical desires, emotions or sentiment.
In this first verse, Paul says that if we speak with the tongues of men and angels and do that without love, we are just noise, like clanging cymbals or a big gong (both can be sharp and unpleasant to the ear). It’s also entertaining to go and hear a wonderful orchestral symphony and see how the audience is abruptly roused from their soporific state when there is a sudden clash of cymbals or a loud reverberating note extracted from that huge gong (that noise gets your attention, usually in a negative way). After a lengthy search for an appropriate photo for this devotional, I stumbled on this one of a beautiful gong about to be struck, with the word “Spirit” in the center. Our loveless noises disrupt our Spirit of faith and peace!
We also don’t know how angels speak, although there are many circumstances of angels communicating in some way with humans in the Bible (like Gabriel speaking with Zacharias and Mary). Angels may not speak verbally at all, but their intentions are discernible. Paul was likely using an analogy here that even speaking in a heavenly way as we would imagine it is really random noise without true agape love at the core; perhaps an angel’s voice heard in love would be like a feather falling into your hand.
In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul delineated the fruits of the spirit, which play into the various aspects of love as it is described in this chapter:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22-23 NASB1995
The love here, again, is agape love. I have struggled quite often with feeling true agape love for others, not to mention more mundane love types like family love, which was a challenge in my argumentative family or filial love for the few friends in my life, and I continue to pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit every day on emulating all of the fruits of the spirit at even some basic level. I see small hints of improvement sometimes, which I squash immediately as evidence of spiritual pride creeping in. My selfish and suspicious nature that has bedeviled me for most of my life is quite wary of a type of love that wants nothing in return. Many times in my life, I rejected others because, sadly, I just didn’t want to be bothered with caring, much less loving and giving. God’s grace is also bewildering to me even now, given the atrocious behaviors that humans (including me) eagerly embrace.
We live in a world full of congenital liars, confidence men, frauds and cheats. How do we know that sharing unselfish brotherly love with another who seems to be in need won’t result in a bad situation for us? Here’s the thing - We DON’T know. God wants us to stand before Him when that time comes and not have to justify why we didn’t love others without hesitation or self-concern or fear or being hurt that the love was not reciprocated. The noises we make should be full of His love and if we are gifted from God to speak in supernatural tongues, love must be the framework, so that we create beautiful music and not clashing noise.
Here’s a fun Quote that David Guzik found in his Enduring Word commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:1 to end this devotional. It’s a citation from 18th century biblical scholar Adam Clarke of a statement made by Josiah Gregory:
“People of little religion are always noisy; he who has not the love of God and man filling his heart is like an empty wagon coming violently down a hill: it makes a great noise, because there is nothing in it.”
My next devotional examines 1 Corinthians 13:2 - Prophecy, Knowledge and Faith without Love
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father - Please fill my heart with unending love for you and for others that is unselfish and true. Let my speaking be music and not noise, because my heart is full of your infinite Grace. Amen
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
I think, you have hit on one of the great issues. Paul tells us about love is patient, love is kind, but what he doesn't say is 'Love is vulnerable' 'Love doesn't defend itself' and for me at least, and it sounds like you, those are big roadblocks in our lives. As an example, I can't do anything to defend myself against my wife. If she wants to hurt me, guess what I am going to be hurt. However much she wants to hurt me, that's how hurt I am going to be.
It's a terrifying thing. To love means to be in the power of another to hurt you. And they will. Loving will drive us to the same place it drove our Lord, if we love enough. If we love less we don't go quite as far down that road. To love is to follow the Man of Sorrows, and it will take us where it took Him. The price is no joke. So I don't judge anybody who has a hard time with it.
A little quote to help you through the day from Martin Luther, near the end ofbThe Bondage of the Will, 'No man can sense or feel himself to be a follower of Christ. You can only believe it.'
Thank you for the imagery of a feather falling into a hand. Priceless!