We have been studying 1 Corinthians in our Sunday morning Bible class all year. For the last several weeks, we have slowed our pace as we have very deliberately been working our way through chapter 13. Paul’s words there on love are familiar to all of us—familiar to the point that, I think, we sometimes fail to appreciate just how significant they are. But he makes the point that no matter what we might accomplish for the Lord, if we do not have love, it is worthless. By a happy coincidence, Wes McAdams just happened to repost this article he wrote a few years ago this week. It aptly sums up what we have been talking about, and so it seemed good for me to publish it here for your benefit (and, as always, I encourage you to check out his blog “Radically Christian”). -BP
The Greatest Commands
In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to:
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
It is easy to see that “love” is the greatest command. But you might think–because Jesus says loving God is the greatest and loving neighbor is the second greatest–that our relationship with people should take a backseat to our relationship with God. But is that true? Should things like worship take precedence over relationships with people?
Here is what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:23-24): So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Offering a gift at the altar was important, but repairing a broken relationship was more important. The relationship took precedence over worship. Jesus also taught that there were more important and less important parts of the Law. All of it should be kept, but things like justice and mercy and faithfulness were the weightier matters (Matthew 23:23).
Loving God first and loving our neighbor second doesn’t mean our religious practices should trump our relationships with people. It means we love people because we love God. Our love for God informs and invigorates our love for our neighbor.
Faith and Service without Love
As it pertains to this subject, 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most profound passages in the New Testament. Paul wrote: 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. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Do you see what he said? Your religious understanding, your religious knowledge, your faith, and your service are absolutely WORTHLESS if you don’t have love. All of the things Paul listed are important, but love is the most important, because without love none of the rest of it even matters.
You’re probably familiar with Paul’s description of what love looks like. He wrote: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
You don’t get to be impatient, unkind, and rude to your neighbor and say you actually love them, because the Bible says that is not loving. Your faith, understanding, knowledge, and service are all incredibly important, but they are meaningless if you treat people poorly.
Why It Matters
Some might be asking, “Why do we have to determine what is most important? Why do we have to rank things? Isn’t it all equally important?” But as we’ve already seen, Jesus and His apostles say it is NOT all equally important. Every biblical issue is important, but love is the most important.
And it matters because if we don’t love our brethren, our neighbors, and even our enemies, then it doesn’t matter how right we are about doctrine or worship practices. And as a group, a church can believe right, worship right, teach right, and be organized right, but if they are not loving then they are not Christ’s church (see 1 John 4:7-21).
Isn’t it interesting how we get things backwards so often? We tend to care more about a brother’s view on worship than we do his view on war. We care more about what he believes about God than about how he treats the poor, the immigrant, and the widow. We all prioritize things. The question is, do we have the same priorities as God?
Again, every biblical issue matters. What you believe about God matters. How you worship matters. But in the end, love matters most. We all need to meditate on that truth for awhile and then go out and show Christ’s love to the world.