Love Minus Love Equals Nothing
Love is the missing link in the world today. Love is the cure-all medicine for our sin-sick generation. By the word “love” we do not mean a fleshly love of the opposite sex, but a divine love shared by those who know the Lord. Love is the foundation of all that is worthwhile.
Love for one’s country is the foundation of a nation. Without this love everyone becomes a law to himself, and unity and strength are dissipated. A nation minus love equals self-destruction.
Love for each member of the family is the basis of the home and a sample of a greater fellowship with our Heavenly Father. A lack of love in the home brings over a third of a million couples into our divorce courts in an average year. The home minus love equals emptiness.
Love is the reason for salvation. The Apostle John said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). God loved, therefore He gave. God’s love for man makes him worth something. Man minus God’s love equals hopelessness.
Love is the test of assurance of salvation. “We know we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 John 3:14). A definite test of personal salvation is our love for others.
Love is usually at the root of all sacrifice, service and generosity. My life and your life minus God’s love equals nothing.
Paul the apostle deals with the gifts of the Spirit in Chapter 12 of his first letter to the Corinthians. Then he names charity as the acme of all spiritual gifts. The word “charity” in this beautiful classic is the word “agape,” meaning God’s love for us and our love for Him. This love is not carnal, cheap, or sentimental, but deep-rooted. Certainly it is not the billboard, theatrical-style love, but a deep, quiet, strong, steady love born of God.
The Need for Love: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
In the first three verses, the Apostle sets forth the dire need for love in the Christian’s life. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (v. 1).
The Corinthians prized the gift of speech. They loved to stand in the Areopagus and listen to the eloquence of orators. Demosthenes, Sophocles, Euripides and other silver-tongued speakers were the idols of the day. In days gone by, the power of eloquence stirred the masses to heroic deeds and bloody battle. It is wonderful to speak persuasively. But the Apostle says, “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.”
Have you ever felt the brazenness of words without heart appeal? When two pieces of brass are brought together there is no harmony but a dull dismal discord. All of us have often listened to sickening, monotonous sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. Some sermons and anthems would be better unsaid and unsung because they lack genuine love for God and for people.
Cymbals are a percussion instrument which produce a tinkling noise. As God bends His ear toward you, dear Christian, what does He hear? Beating brass, the inane rattle of cymbals? Or does He hear the beautiful symphony of pure love undefiled? The gift of speech minus love equals noise.
“And though I have the gift of prophecy…” (v. 2). The Apostle Paul continues to show that love transcends even the gift of prophecy. Wonderful as it is, this gift minus love equals nothing. Matthew paints a picture of one calling. “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesized in Thy Name?” (Matthew 7:22). The answer is, “I never knew you, depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23).
“…and understand all mysteries…” (v. 2). In my ministry I have been shocked to find some Christians more concerned over hidden mysteries than about lost men. Skill in unraveling the mysteries of God is desirable, yet this minus love equals nothing.
“…and all knowledge…” (v. 2). Knowledge is a rare gem. Never should we tread carelessly over this precious stone. Yet there is nothing so barren and lifeless as knowledge without love. If Christian doctrine is lubricated by love, then and then only will the world see a dynamic, irresistible Church. The need of the hour is for knowledge on fire. For example, suppose your neighbor is not a Christian. We know according to Scripture that your neighbor is lost. We know that he treads the brink of eternity without knowing his dangerous position. We know that spiritually he hangs by a thread and only God’s mercy permits him to live from day to day. We can know all this. But unless warm love is poured upon our cold hearts we will do nothing. Love puts feet to our knowledge and produces action. Love throws off theoretical garments and puts on working clothes. Love makes us get into gear with God and results in revival. May God shock us from barren orthodoxy and overwhelm us with consuming love!
A church member recently told me: “I have been a Christian for twenty years now. During that time I have read many books on winning others, yet I do not know of anyone that I have led to the Lord. I have memorized Scripture and know how to meet the objections of the unconverted but still I have brought no one to a decision.”
After her honest confession, she asked, “Why have I been so useless?”
My answer caused surprise. “You are a fruitless Christian because your eyes are dry.”
“I don’t understand,” she said, and so I added, “You have failed not for want of knowledge but for lack of love for people.”
The biblical promise is: “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6). Tears and compassion are missing in so many lives.
This lady returned home to read the verse and to pray. As she prayed, her life was strangely warmed and her unconverted sister seemed heavy on her mind. She arose to find tears she put her arms about her and said, “More than anything in this world I want you to be a Christian.” That night they were the first at the meeting to come to Christ. Knowledge without love is dead. Knowledge with love is dynamic.
“…and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing” (v. 2). All faith, complete faith, without love places you in the minus column. Faith is much to be desired, but certainly it is not the greatest gift. This faith is not so much saving faith but a faith of getting things done.
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (v. 3). All of us have given to help the poor; a dinner to the hungry, a donation to the underprivileged, a dollar to the cripple as he stretches out his tin cup. Prosperity imposes obligation. To have should mean to help. The needy are all about us, but often benevolence is an act of relief for a guilt conscience. The emperors of Rome gave lavishly on special holidays to keep the masses under their control. They gave without loving. How humiliating would be a revelation of the motives for our deeds! The Pharisees sounded the trumpets so that all would be aware of their giving. The Bible says: “They have their reward” (Matthew 6:2). It is not so much what we give, but how we give it. We can give without loving; we cannot love without giving.
“…and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing” (v. 3). The Apostle contrasts love with martyrdom. Some undoubtedly suffered the fiery faggots and lions’ teeth in Corinth. Surely hundreds suffered physical violence because of their deep love for Christ. This text suggests, however, that martyrdom could result from something other than consecration. Perhaps it could be fanatical devotion to a cause rather than love for Christ. Martyrdom may be more out of faith than out of love.
We humans are crafty creatures who rationalize so much that it is difficult to decide what our real motives are. Stop right now and look over your life. Analyze your failures, your restless spirit, your dissatisfaction. You will discover that love is the missing link. Why is it that tithing your income to the Lord comes so hard to you? The answer is lack of love for the things of God, for giving proves the sincerity of your live (2 Corinthians 8:8). Why is it that thousands of mid-week prayer services are so miserably attended? The answer is obvious: the dynamic link of love is lost. If you are ill or providentially hindered, God understands, but beware of vain excuses.
You’ve heard the tale of the deacon and the nominal church member who went fishing together. As evening approached, the godly deacon suggested that they head the boat in toward shore so as to attend the mid-week prayer service. The nominal church member said it was impossible to get home on time. The deacon was honestly sorry about the whole situation and said so. The nominal church member, who never attended prayer meeting anyway, exclaimed, “I couldn’t attend tonight. My wife is sick!” And so he continued to bob up and down in the boat, many miles away from his sick wife.
A man told me he was too busy to attend church. I replied, “You are busier than God expects you to be.” The man realized this, confessed his sin, and put the Lord first. Beware of the barrenness of an over-busy life.
We need to heed the advice of Scripture: “See ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). John Calvin, commenting on these verses, says, “For where love is wanting, beauty of all virtues is mere tinsel, is empty sound, is not worth a straw, nay more, is offensive and disgusting.”
Life with all its gifts minus love equals zero.
The Characteristics of Love: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
As the artist combines color to produce a masterpiece, so the Scriptures reveal many characteristics which, blended together, give a beautiful portrait of Jesus Christ. Analyzing the colors in a painting, we must beware of missing the over-all beauty. From Bethlehem’s manger to the Mount of Ascension, the life of Christ was one of unselfish love. Every characteristic is not only fulfilled in Christ but its achievement should be the aspiration of every Christian.
“Love suffereth long, and is kind” (v. 4). There is no doubt that this world is starving for kindness. There may be times when we suffer long, but how kind are we?
There is a story about two mountain goats approaching one another on a narrow ledge. Realizing there was no room to pass they reared and bucked but neither budged. Backing up they locked horns again, but each held his ground. Again they parted and charged, but like Gibraltar they stood. Finally the sensible one knelt down, the other climbed over him, and both went merrily on their way. Sometimes we too must let people walk over us. Love is magnanimous. Holiness and kindness go hand in hand.
The entire Bible is an illustration of God’s long-suffering to mankind. With monotonous repetition the Israelites murmured and even forsook Jehovah, yet He suffered long and was kind.
Our Saviour was long-suffering with His vacillating disciples who disappointed Him so often. He was merciful to the despised, the diseased, the demented, and the dying. He was long-suffering with Pilate, with the Roman centurion, with the crucified thief. Our Saviour suffered long and was kind in His dying hours. After the nails had done their ugly work, He cried, saying, “I thirst” (John 19:28), only to be offered vinegar. His kingly dignity was mocked with a thorn crown on His head and a reed scepter in His hands. Spittle was flung upon Him and blasphemous curses were His only acclamation. Then He prayed: “Father, forgive them; for they know now what they do” (Luke 23:34). This love goes beyond understanding; yet this is the kind of love God would live through us. What kind of love is this? It is a constancy of love amid neglect, ignorance, lack of appreciation, and even undeserved violence. F.W. Faber has expressed God’s kindness in these words:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
“…love envieth not…” (v. 4). Envy sold Joseph into Egypt. His half-brothers were discontented because he was the well-favored son of Jacob. Cain’s envy made him a murderer. Envy showed in the attitude of the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. When he heard the rejoicing over his wayward brother, the Scripture says, “He was angry, and would not go in” (Luke 15:28).
Envy not only exists among relatives, but in general toward the well-favored. This disease not only disturbs the mind but it consumes the body. The Book of Proverbs declares: “A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones” (14:30). “Envy keeps no holidays” but continually works. Envy is discontentment at the good fortunes of others. Envy says, “I cannot eat, and therefore want all others to starve.” Envy says, “If I cannot see in one eye then I want you to be blind in both eyes.” In contrast love rejoices when others excel. King Saul envied David to such a degree that he lost control of his faculties. Jonathan, Saul’s son, could have been afflicted with the same satanic disease, but he dethroned envy with love. “He (Jonathan) loved him (David) as he loved his own soul” (1 Samuel 20:17).
“…love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up…” (v. 4). In Aesop’s fable the fly sat upon the axle of the chariot wheel, and said, “What a dust do I raise!” The proud have an exaggerated estimate of themselves. Their primary interest is in the first person. Love is modest. Love does not parade for the applause of the world but places herself below all others. Humility precedes honor as “an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The Apostle Paul said, “Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth” (1 Corinthians 8:1). The word “puff” is devined as “any sudden or short blast of wind.” Love is not sudden or short but eternal. Love builds.
“Doth not behave itself unseemly…” (v. 5). Regardless of academic background a Christian man will be a gentleman and a Christian woman, a lady. Why? Because when we possess God’s love we are courteous. Love is not boorish, but polite. Love has transforming power.
A Christian is not hard or harsh but gentle and kind. A Christian will not make a fool of himself. One of the blackest sins of Christians in this day is this thing called temper. The secret of temper is more than self-control; it is Christ-control. All of us have dynamite in our make-up. Unless we walk with God and claim His power to overcome, there will explosions.
“…seeketh not her own…” (v. 5). There is a modern philosophy which says we must toot our own horn if we expect to get anywhere. If you do not push yourself and sell your ability, you are branded a victim of an inferiority complex who will not make the grade. How completely different from God’s procedure? “Love seeketh not her own.” In plain talk, love does not push itself into the limelight. Love does not brag or show off. Love does not strive for place or position. In God’s program we stoop to conquer. We kneel to rise.