I recently ate at a restaurant and had the unique experience of seeing 1st Corinthians 13:1-8 written out on the wall, in both English and Greek. This is the infamous “love” passage, oft-used in wedding ceremonies.
As I sat there eating, my eyes kept coming back to one part of the passage:
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge…but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1Cor 13.2)
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Gift of prophecy aside, I was interested more in the second piece – if I “can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,” but do not have love, I. Am. Nothing.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant I may be, or how much understanding I have – without love, I am failing.
It was fresh for me that day, because I have found myself grieving the Church lately.
We are very, very proud of our knowledge.
We have endless books, podcasts, videos, conferences, and sermons to increase our knowledge.
We structure our churches and ministries around a few different things, but none more important than the Bible and study – growing in our knowledge.
Our leaders (myself included) go to seminary for many years, in the pursuit of knowledge.
We devote ourselves to systematic theologies and endless debates and primary focuses based in knowledge.
None of these things are bad, in and of themselves, of course. They are actually very important.
We want to increase in the knowledge of God and His Word and His ways.
We should be hungry for more.
We are specifically told to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” (2Pet 3.18). We are told, “Though it cost all you have, get understanding,” (Pr 4.7).
Pursuing more knowledge and understanding is good, is biblical, and is important.
On its own, this pursuit is not the problem.
The problem is when we seek to increase knowledge and understanding without also increasing our love.
There are few if any studies, resources, and conferences out there committed to helping us increase our love.
Witness Christians disagreeing online.
There, brothers and sisters in Christ, for whom He mutually died, those who will spend all eternity together, those who are part of the same family, those for whom the crucial truths that unite us are far greater than any disputable matter that we may disagree on – Christians online rip each other to shreds, call each other heretics, abuse and assault one another with their words, mock one another relentlessly, and cheer one another on for doing so.
I find it unbelievably depressing. In our pursuit of knowledge, and our pride for holding to what we believe, we throw away love, and throw away holiness.
We throw away love by acting in ways that are opposite of loving.
We throw away holiness because to be “holy” means to be set apart – to be different from the others, to be separate from the typical, to be unlike the rest, to be sacred.
In disagreement, Christians often don’t look any different than any other group – just as self-righteous, just as condescending, just as insulting, just as cruel, just as divided.
We do not look holy at all.
We have made our knowledge more important than our love for one another.
And I don’t buy for a minute the argument of, “Love means calling people out in their error.”
I agree with the sentiment, and love does certainly call us to do this.
But if we are using that as a license to act in a way that in any other context we would call “being a rude jerk,” then we are obviously not loving well.
And if calling people out is the only way we are showing them love, then we are terrible friends indeed.
If a wife only heard from her husband when he was criticizing her, we would call him a terrible husband.
If children only heard from their mother when she was rebuking them, we would call her a terrible mother.
If a brother only heard from you when you were calling him out on things, and there was no other encouragement, or affection, or bonding, we would call you a terrible sibling.
So yes, at times, love will seek to correct. Of course. But no lover on their wedding day, no parent looking at their newborn for the first time, no person bellylaughing with their closest friends, would ever say that love is mostly and primarily about the correcting.
People who do nothing but point out what’s wrong are not truth-tellers, they are fault-finders, and fault-finding is not a godly quality (Jude 1.6). Seeking and speaking truth means being truthful about the good, too. Otherwise it is an extremely narrow-minded and limited truth indeed.
And in the name of “speaking the truth in love,” we absolutely do not get to throw away other Spirit-filled qualities like joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control (Gal 5.22-23).
If we are speaking truth to one another in a way that is divorced from the fruits of the Holy Spirit, then we should rightly question why we assume the Holy Spirit is on our side in the debate.
The apostle Peter puts it this way:
Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2Pet 1.5-8)
Our knowledge of Jesus can be ineffective and unproductive. What makes it so?
When we lack these other qualities – to our argument here, when we lack mutual affection and love.
Lacking these things makes our knowledge worthless. Christian disagreement bears witness to this. In the wars over knowledge, over who has it right and who has it wrong, no one is changing their minds, no one is built up and edified, no one is supported, and I imagine no one is coming to Christ, because why would anyone want to join a group that acts this way?
But Peter says we can grow not only in knowledge, but grow in love, and grow in mutual affection, “in increasing measure.” Surely our commitment to growing in these qualities should match our pursuit of growing in knowledge. Surely seeking to grow in the ability to disagree with love and affection should be as much a priority as increasing our Bible understanding.
If it were, the Church would be a very different place.
Jesus said “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13.35).
The sign to the world of our Christ-following was not our theology or Bible knowledge, important as those are.
How we love one another would be the sign that we belong to Christ.
The problem is not the pursuit of knowledge. The problem is the pursuit of knowledge without the pursuit of love.
When we grow in both, even our disagreements look profoundly different.
We will no longer be impatient with those we disagree with, we will no longer be boastful or proud, we will no longer be dishonouring, we will not be rude, or self-seeking, or easily angered with others, because the passage I read on the restaurant wall tells me that love does not do any of these things (1Cor 13.1-8).
We will be holy. We will be different. And we will find the way of Christ as we are.
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