God is love. And yet, it’s easy to stop making them both central amidst all the busyness of even healthy family and church life. We occasionally reflect on the irony of being involved in church and yet missing God. But how about the irony of loving actions, performed without love? In his profound chapter on love, Paul starts by reminding us of its centrality, how important it is to everything else.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (ESV)
Chapters 12 and 14 of 1 Corinthians treat the subject of spiritual gifts such as tongues, and Paul also exhorts his readers to earnestly pursue prophecy. Yet in a break between these weighty topics, he reminds us that neither is worth anything without love. And not just tongues and prophecy, but charity, sacrifice, and even faith must be tested to have the right motivation. Right actions alone are fruitless without a right heart.
I don’t know about you, but I find this challenging. It’s one thing to help someone out of a sense of duty or whatever, and quite another to do so from a truly loving heart. Any personal acts of love, even outside the church, can become heartless if we’re not careful.
But Paul’s injunction shouldn’t be surprising, because Jesus consistently taught that it was all about the heart.
So how do we turn sterile actions into loving actions? Perhaps a good starting point is to reflect on the verses that follow the passage above:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (ESV)
This list describes the heart behind loving actions. So we can test ourselves: Am I being patient, or do I want to finish with them as quickly as possibly? Does it bother me when others get more consideration than myself? Do I make sure others know of my “loving” actions? Do I listen to others’ hearts, or insist on them listening to me? Do I put up with whatever it takes to bless someone, or give up at the first opportunity? Do I hold on to slights, or let everything go? And perhaps hardest, even if all my actions and exterior attitudes show love, what goes on in my mind? And so on.
But really, maybe it’s just all about being honest with ourselves. We know what true love looks like, so we can ask ourselves: Do I love this person?
Do I really love them?
Because that’s the bottom line. If the answer is not honestly “yes, and with abandon”, then it is not of Christ.
The list above doesn’t produce love, but rather, indicates it, like a rainbow indicates the presence of light. Just acting the right way isn’t enough, any more than a painted rainbow looks real. If such life isn’t truly evident, then we have a heart problem, not a habit problem. God is really good at changing hearts, so we need to ask Him to change.
Father, create in me a clean heart. Show me where my motivations aren’t pure, and lead me on the path to Your heart. Please help me to love as You love.