If I Don’t Have Love (1 Corinthians 13 as Song)

In other classes that I teach, I assign essays to students with no hesitation without feeling the need to actually write the essay in question myself. My work is full of writing of essay-like articles, chapters, conference papers, and reports, and so I feel confident that the assignments of this sort that I impose on students are doable.

When I taught the Bible and Music for the first time, however, I felt that if I am going to ask students to produce something creative involving biblical text and music together, then I most certainly have to participate in the effort alongside them myself.

Last year this led to two pieces of music: “Yahweh, God of Star Armies” and “O Lord Our Lord (Psalm 8)” to the melody Mná na hÉireann. The latter (as you will hear if you click through and listen) I only recorded in a very rough take, with just me singing and the guitar. But I think those have potential.

This year I decided to do likewise, and so I asked my wife what her favorite passage from the Bible was. Her answer was 1 Corinthians 13, and so I set about setting it to music. I presented the result to her, and she gave some helpful feedback. Here’s the song that resulted:

Here are the lyrics, which closely resemble those you’ll find in mainstream and well-known Bible translations:

“If I Don’t Have Love”
Though I speak with tongues of men or angels, but don’t have love,
I am like a clanging gong or clashing cymbal. 
 
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
if I have faith that can move mountains, but I don’t have love,
I am nothing, nothing, nothing. 
If I give all I have to the poor and surrender my body to the flames
If I don’t have love, I gain nothing, nothing, nothing.
 
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast
love is not proud nor rude.
Nor is it self-seeking,
Love is not easily angered,
It keeps no record of wrongs,
Love does not delight in evil
But rejoices with the truth
Love always protects,
Love always trusts,
Love always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease;
where there are tongues, they will be stilled;
where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 
 
For now we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when completeness comes, the imperfect disappears. 
 
When I was a child, I talked like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put childish things away.
 
Now we barely see a reflection in a glass;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part, only in part;
then I‘ll fully know, even as I’m fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
Faith, hope, and love
But the greatest of these is love.

What do you think of it? If that isn’t your cup of tea, you can try another recent setting of 1 Corinthians 13 by The Corner Room that may be more to your liking…

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  • John MacDonald

    I like your wife’s choice!

    One of my favorite passages is when Jesus says: “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven (Mark 12:25).” This seems to suggest Jesus thought there was no real reason to get married, and so speaks against the thesis of Dan Brown, Michael Baigent, and others who think Jesus married Mary Magdalene.

    It would be odd that Jesus was married and the Gospels don’t mention it, since they mention the rest of his family.

    This fits in with Paul’s claim that marriage is unnecessary. Paul’s words are that we should avoid marriage unless we will not be strong enough to avoid sexual sin. Paul taught being unmarried allows us the time to focus on the Lord’s work rather than our spouses. Paul comments that.

    ” 32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Cor 7:32).”

    I think Jesus and Paul would have thought marriage was unnecessary because the Kingdom of God was imminent, and so it was better to be focused on holy things and preparing the way – since people were not married in the Kingdom of God anyway (see Mark 12:25).

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      Yeah, the passage right above your citation – 1 Cor. 7:26-31 – pretty much explicitly lays out that Paul’s idea is that getting married will cause you additional concerns because of the impending tribulations.

  • Steve in UT again