God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 13:2-3 If I have… but don’t have
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 25, 2023
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and have all knowledge, and if I have all faith, that could move mountains, but I don’t have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give everything I have to the poor and surrender my body to be burned, but I don’t have love, I gain nothing.
Now Paul exposes more than the sin of pride that is proud of spiritual gifts. He hammers away at anything at all that is done without love. Paul takes us to the extreme heights of true achievement among mankind: to be a prophet like Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel, to be able to search and understand the deepest points of doctrine in the Holy Scriptures, to know every point of the Bible: law, gospel, justification, sanctification, illustration, parable, miracle, history, chronology, proof, support, comfort, and every other thing—if one could have and know all of that, and a faith capable of withstanding any attack from the devil and of accomplishing whatever God wills—if one could also have all of that, but not love, then that person would have nothing.
Look at all of the barren and useless scholarship that came out of Europe and the Eastern United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; all of the speculation about sources of the books of Moses and the other Scriptures that occupied some of the greatest minds of their generations, but with no love for the Christians aching to hear about Jesus. All of that scholarship fell like drips of water into desert sand; there was no value, no encouragement. It was as if two hundred years of “scholarship” had tried to assassinate genuine Christianity. In the dying words of another assassin from the same period, it was all just “Useless, useless.”
Love for a Biblical scholar must be for the faith of the ordinary believers in the pews, for the children in the Sunday schools and for their faithful teachers, for the elderly in their homes and nursing homes, for the suffering and sad who are in the hospitals, and for the ordinary preachers who spend so many hours in their rooms visiting with them and so many sleepy, exhausted hours behind the wheel going to see them. The Biblical scholar must do what he does out of love for his Savior most of all, because if he does not open the pages of the Scriptures as a repentant believer, trembling before the holy Word of God, but instead if he does it as a sceptic, then he has stepped into the ranks with Korah and Dathan as a member of their family. He does it brashly, arrogantly, not believing that the earth really is about to open up its mouth and swallow him and his followers (Numbers 16:32-33).
But what about the noble, heroic Christian like the early martyrs who had to give up their lives for their faith? Some gave their possessions, some gave their freedom, some gave up their own health while tending the sick, and some gave even more. Paul says that even if those men and women did what they did without love, the love that comes from faith and is a love that wants to serve for the sake of Christ, then they gain nothing.
“Everything that does not come from faith is sin,” Paul said (Romans 14:23). So that means that God’s judgment on some of the world’s greatest humanitarians is that they merited nothing by their actions, by the sacrifice of their lives, because what they did was done in the service of a false god, a false religion.
A man can be the nicest, gentlest, sweetest person, but without love—the love that proceeds from faith in Christ—nothing he does will gain him anything.
These two verses preach an exceptionally clear message of law to us, showing our sins and our failings, and illustrating how so many people in the world come up short to God’s demand of loving holiness. But the Lord touches us with his gospel as well. For what would we know of love without God’s own example and constant shower of love upon us? The definition of agape love is set upon a high tower with the great words: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” For if I have the love that God gives, and trust in him even though I have only the most ordinary of humble gifts (son, worker, believer), I have the love of Christ. And that means I have everything.
Pastor Timothy Smith