Tuesday June 2, 2009
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. 1 Corinthians 13:1.
The whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 is devoted to the way love expresses itself. The New Testament in particular deals with the love God has for us or our love for him, generally pointing out that love without actions is dead. Love is verified by the actions it provokes, supremely the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for those he loved. This passage is unique in that it reminds us that not all apparently loving actions are motivated by love. In fact, lesser, even offensive, motives can provoke seemingly good actions.
What motives might these be? It doesn’t take long to look around us, or even inside us, to find some answers. Desire for personal recognition or advancement, fanatical dedication to an ideology, creating a sense of indebtedness to oneself, plain old manipulation or even a court order can provoke seemingly loving actions. But these actions can be done without care or concern for the person to whom they are directed. These motives are not long term; once the desired end is gained or found to be unattainable, or irritation or impatience sets in, the actions cease.
On the other hand, “love never fails.” Paul lists qualities of love that reveal attitudes that cannot exist with the lesser motives listed previously. Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres,” for love does not require other motives to support it; it is sufficient in itself. Of course, in practice our earthly relationships are not totally altruistic. Most of us need a “pay‐off” somewhere along the way to keep us encouraged, and fortunately, most of the time real love gains a response.
But our text reminds us that while our words and actions may be a proof of love, we need to discern our motives behind those words and actions; are they really generated by love?