1 Corinthians 13:1-3 says
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
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 I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
All my Christian life I have heard preachers speak from this passage. It’s a well known and much quoted passage. When I took a poll and asked a group what it was saying the answer came back, as expected, “if I do something without love it’s worthless”.
Does the passage actually say that though? Reading through it slowly it is clear that love is vitally important, but what does the passage say about the speaking in tongues, prophesy, faith, sacrifice, etc? Does it say that the sacrifice is nothing, or the prophesy is nullified?
I believe it is saying that the action still stands, that I am invalidated by doing things with frong motives. If I do something good for the wrong reasons, the good thing I have done still is a good thing and someone was still blessed.
A good example: Our church serves on an inner-city work project. I got involved one weekend for all the wrong reasons, chief being a sense of obligation. We spent the day clearing decades of trash from a backyard in preparation for the house to be used as part of a church supported housing project. Now, my wrong motives in no way invalidated the fact that there was a clean yard when the team left, but I know that I was in a rotten mood by the end of the time and my aching muscles had no positive reason to be aching. In Paul’s terms, “if you clear the yard but have not love, you gain nothing”.
I am / I gain nothing
What does Paul mean there? I believe that Jesus will reward us, if in no other way than to greet us as His “good and faithful servants”. If we work for the wrong motives, we gain nothing. If Jesus is keeping track of the things to compliment and reward us for doing, the non-loving motives will cut out a whole bunch of potential blessings.
What motivated Paul?
2 Corinthians 5:11-21 says
Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
What motivated Paul?
- v11 – Fear of God
- v12 – For people to take pride in him
- v14 – Christ’s love compelled him
- v14 – Completely convinced of the message
A mixed bag, strangely enough, which I find really encouraging when I examine my own motives and see a mixed bunch of motives, not all of which are pure or “spiritual”.
Preaching the Gospel
Phillipians 1:12 – 18 says:
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
In what method had the message become “clear” to the whole palace guard? As a prisoner, how much freedom would Paul have had to “preach”?