Contrary to popular belief, Paul was not writing this letter to couples who were getting married. He was writing to a church deeply conflicted. This so-called “Love Chapter” seeks to put the grease where the squeak is. Therefore, when we read the words, “If I speak in human tongues and even the speech of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol” – we are reading about how love makes the playing field more equal.
Let me put it another way: do you know how difficult this passage is to those of us who try to make a living speaking and preaching? I mean, I could pass peacefully if I overheard someone in the back of the church say, “Pastor Andy sounded just like an angel today; such lofty rhetoric.” After all, some of us are in the human tongue and angels’ business.
Yet, what Paul is arguing here is that without love all our audible tones and knowledge is but auditory nonsense. Without love, the greatest speech is but a cymbal crashing to the floor. Spoken without love, the orations of Cicero are no better than the sound of a cheap trumpet.
Strong words. Whatever that little word “love” might mean to you, here in this passage it means something quite strong – unsentimental, other-focused.
Indeed, if for a moment, we can put out of our minds the mush we have heard at weddings about this passage, we might be able to realize that what Paul is saying is much closer to “hard-eyed realism” than “second-hand emotions.” That is to say, Christian love is not some kind of naïve unwillingness to look at the world as it is; rather, it is the recognition that, because the world is as it is, nothing less than love will do. Love takes all of our noise as human beings, and, like Mr. Holland’s Opus, orchestrates it into a beautiful symphony of sound. Christian love takes our knowledge and humbles it so that God can use it, for “If we understand all knowledge and all mysteries, but have not love, what good are we?”
How might we continue to grow in this kind of love for the sake of Christ? How may we embody this way of living so that the world may know who the Lord is?
Pastor Andy Kinsey