1 Corinthians 13:1-3
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.…
I. THE APOSTLE DECLARES THE NOTHINGNESS OF LIFE WITHOUT LOVE. He supposes some extreme cases.
1. The acquisition of all languages; the utmost facility of expression; the most splendid eloquence. He does not even limit to humanity, but adds, "and of angels," to show that no acquisition in this direction at all meets the case. The Corinthian Church was peculiarly proud of its "gift of tongues;" its love was not so conspicuous. Our glorying is often false glorying. That which is most praised is not always the most praiseworthy. We are apt to prize most what we should prize least. To talk is not the chief thing; to be is far more important. Talking power without love is noise without music, sounding brass, clanging cymbals. Heavenly language would lose its heavenliness without the royal grace.
2. The most extensive knowledge. Knowledge of the future, human knowledge, knowledge of the secret purposes of the Most High. To know is not enough. If the knowledge of the head does not rightly affect the heart it is thrown away. Knowledge is a splendid weapon, but it is in dangerous hands if it is not in those of love. We may know Christ - know very much about his person, his character, his work - and yet not be his. "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy Name?... then will I profess unto them, I never knew you ' (Matthew 7:22, 23). Balaam, Caiaphas, and Judas are illustrations.
3. Startling faith. Judas wrought miracles; but how less than nothing, judged by true standards, was he! What profit if other mountains be removed and the mountain of selfishness be left! How sad to get so near the cross and to catch nothing of its spirit! Here is faith without the chief of works, which alone can prove its genuineness and power. Here is a faith which does not work by love, and is useless except for boast and display.
4. Abounding charity. The worth of charity lies not in what we give, but in how we give. The object for which the gift is bestowed does not determine its value; the motive prompting the gift does. We may give "all our goods," and that to "feed the poor," and yet perform no virtuous action. We can give lavishly from motives which rob our charity of all its charitableness. Men who give without love do not give; they invest. It is not a spiritual act; it is a commercial speculation. They invest and expect a large return - it may be of' distinction or applause, or something similarly self tending.
5. Unlimited self surrender. Though the body be given to the flames, yet all may be "nothing" A man may go to the stake for Christianity, and yet know nothing truly of Christ. There is a self sacrifice which is no self sacrifice. Man has fallen so low that he has originated false and worthless martyrdoms. In later centuries the history of the Church was blotted by some who sought martyrdom from motives of notoriety and vain glory. The martyr's crown may be sought by those who have not the martyr's spirit. The martyr is made, not by the burning of the body, but by the love which binds the truth to the heart, and will not let it go at any cost:
II. WHY IT IS THAT LIFE WITHOUT LOVE IS NOTHING.
1. Nothing can compensate for the moral quality. The motive is more than the deed. To do is nothing compared with to be. The internal is greater than the external.
2. Unless we have love we cannot be brought near to God. God is love. Love is of the Divine essence. If we are destitute of love we are destitute of that which is most conspicuous in God. When the great archangel fell he fell out of love. When we get power we do not grow away from Satan, nor when we get knowledge, nor when we do unusual deeds from selfish motives. When we get love we do. Love is never attributed to Satan; "love is of God." As we have love, so far we are like God. Satan has power, knowledge, and is doubtless willing to sacrifice much to secure his own cuds; if we have these, without love, we tend to grow into devils. Love is a redeeming, consecrating quality, which, pervading deeds, gives to them a new and God-like character. - H.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.