We say things like love will find a way, and love is all that matters, and love never fails. But then life happens. We get busy, caught up in our own desires and dwell on our differences…and we forget.
It’s easy to lose track of the following description of love:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” I Corinthians 13:4-7
Recently, as I was reading through 1 Corinthians 13, first three verses struck me as representative of some of the primary expressions of Christianity today.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” I Cor. 13:1
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” 1 Cor. 13:2
“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-3
Do you see three different expressions of Christianity in these statements? Charismatics, evangelicals and social gospel Christians have been known to distrust or behave unkindly toward each other. That is a shame, for the uniting characteristic among Christians should be love. Without love we accomplish nothing.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in experiencing our faith in powerful ways, or in the depths of the knowledge of God’s word, or in giving of ourselves and our resources to those who need help that we can lose track of our first responsibility: to love. The definition of love helpfully follows in this passage, for we might be tempted to develop our own self-serving interpretation of what it means to love.
Christians don’t always love each other. They make and defend dividing lines between denominations and doctrine and dishonor each other in the process. Christians do a good job of protecting their own ministries, but do not always protect the work of other believers. I have also experienced Christians questioning the faith of others who do not believe exactly the same doctrine as they do. Christian maturity improves some of these tendencies, and that is why Christians all need to remember the first item on the list: love is patient.
I was once lamenting the differences between Christian traditions, different denominations with different doctrine, and a wise older woman said, “I like to think that each one is preserving part of God’s truth.” That was a new thought for me. God is way too big for us to fully understand, and I like the idea that each denomination, as long as it remains true to the gospel, emphasizes different aspects of Christianity.
To have faith in Jesus Christ is to believe the gospel. Of course, there are plenty of other doctrines and beliefs, but those who have faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus for his or her sins, without depending on their own or someone else’s work, is a Christian.
So, if charismatics express their faith through spiritual gifts, and they do it with humility and without envious or self-seeking impulses, then they are bringing glory to God. If evangelicals ponder deep theology, and they do it with humility, bringing no dishonor to another, and they rejoice in the truth, then they are bringing glory to God. And if Christians give sacrificially of themselves to others, and they do it in humility, protecting, hoping, and persevering, they are glorifying God.
Most of us cannot do it all.
However, we can each be patient, kind, seeking truth, always trusting, always hoping, and always persevering, and we can also resist envy, boasting, pride, evil, dishonoring others and anger. Love never fails.
Have you experienced unifying love among Christians? Or not-so-unifying lack of love? Do you relate to one of these three expressions of Christianity?