It's funny how a familiar text can suddenly take on a fresh force and energy at times when you read it. This happened to me a couple of days ago in 1Corinthians 13. This section of Scripture has been so sentimentalised, trivialised, and romanticised by the cultus of the Christian wedding that it is easy to forget just how revolutionary the Apostle Paul's teaching is. He is centralising love in our expression of salvation, placing it in a crucial relationship to the entirety of our discipleship and integrity. Paul is making our love for one another as believers the benchmark for the rest of our activities and ministries.
Somehow I find this easy to take in when it relates to speaking in 'tongues of men and of angels' and of having faith 'so as to remove mountains', but v3 completely radicalises my thinking on what is to be a sincere disciple. Paul states that we could give away everything that we have (think about what that really means for a moment), but without love it is useless. Then he goes a step further: 'if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing'. Now that's amazing!!!
Somehow in my mind martyrdom has a holy air about it, and undoubtedly it ought to as I think of brothers and sisters, past and present, who have yielded their lives for the gospel. But even this ultimate act of commitment to the truth of God is completely vacuous if love is absent. I could go to the stake and still be in disobedience, because I have failed to love my brothers!!
How revolutionary this ought to be in Church life. We are sometimes tempted to think that if we are active, sacrificial, busy Christians then it's acceptable to harbour some ill-feeling or loveless sentiment in our hearts against other Christians. Paul says no. If we don't have love, the it's all for nothing. What a challenge...