The Bible teaches that without the charity or love of Christ living in and through us we are A BIG ZERO with the rim kicked off. How is that for starter’s? First Corinthians thirteen defines, “the grace of love…even love to God, and love to Christ, and love to the saints, which is a grace implanted in regeneration by the Spirit of God.” (Gill).
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.”
The times I hear this passage most read is usually when people are vehemently debating (how ironic) over whether the spiritual gifts still operate in the church or it is the romantic passage of choice at many wedding ceremonies (again how ironic).
No matter our claim to purest doctrine, deep spiritual experiences, miracles, growing churches and community involvement if we do not have charity, we are in serious trouble. I am not writing while feeling good about myself (just the opposite), or because I took out my neighbors garbage, did the dishes for my wife or volunteered to help my church.
I am writing this because I was home all day with a blood pressure monitor courtesy of my cardiologist. It was going off every half hour squeezing my arm while I drove, sat on the couch, ate dinner and it makes you think. It is at first interesting, then it is inconvenient, then annoying. It will be doing this all night, even as I write this article.
I think the Lord monitors us in some way through his Word and presence. Maybe you too will share a squeeze in your heart reading this article.
When that squeeze comes on spiritually, at first you wince and say, “Thanks Lord, I get the message.”
Then you are saying, “Ouch, OK Lord, I copy that.”
The day goes on and he squeezes your heart again and “I heard you the first fifteen times Lord!”
Finally, you almost are crying saying, “Please STOP Lord, you are killing me.”
When Paul says without love “he is nothing” and he “amounts to nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3) it is DEVASTATING.
And I can feel the squeeze…
That means that in spite of all Paul has accomplished, he is nothing and what he does is meaningless if there is no charity in what he says and does.
This may not seem profound or deep but it is more like theological surgery and I am bleeding, bad.
Why did God have to put that in the Bible?
It really upsets us, it hurts, it makes us think we are poor in charity as we should be and everyone is right about us. He does not excuse our personality or nationality. He does not waive the obligation to love psychologically because of our dysfunctional lives.
We all think we are so loving, and WE ARE NOT. We love the way we think we should love, but we do not get off the hook that easy because the love or charity Paul describes is a character sketch of Christ.
If this is a joke, then what is the punch line? To love like Jesus loved people? Isn’t that unreasonable to ask of us?
Why didn’t he just say to be generous or sacrificial was enough? How about knowledgeable about the Bible and theology as the apex of spirituality. Impressive miracle-working power or great faith-that sounds godly! How about being a martyr burned at the stake? We want some goal, some motivation and we even charge admission to teach people those things in religious circles today, but love is not like that. You cannot be trained and educated to get it, you cannot make it happen.
Charity or love has to be the hardest virtue to claim because it is at its highest expression only when you love others who do not reciprocate it, and not only do they not return it but they are sometimes hostile, bitter and mean even when you love them. After all, that is the love of Christ.
The Bible teaches “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor 13:7ESV). Oh come on now! Are we talking about human beings here? How is this humanly possibly?
Some very smart church people, teachers and pastors say, the Holy Spirit gives you the love. Really? I know some want to give me a doctrinal lesson on positional and experiential sanctification. right now but let me ask, Do WE really have the Holy Spirit? Is it really a gift to love? Or is this fruit or character? Does this mean when I was converted to Christ I got all the love I needed for others? I think not. It is possible the seeds for that love were planted in a true believer in Jesus? Ok so where is the grove after all these years? If I give you piece of fruit from the supermarket that is fine, but it is after you eat it that it has served its purpose and is gone. If you do not eat it it can go bad. But if I have a garden or a fruit tree in my yard that is another thing.
Now I am thinking about what Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matt. 7:16-20ESV). Jesus says people are like walking trees. Like a tree that produces fruit so is our character. ” I read somewhere that character is “the stable and distinctive qualities built into an individual’s life which determine his or her response regardless of circumstances.”
A tree is not cannibalistic or “tree-balistic” (I made that word up) so it does not eat its own fruit. Others eat of its fruit. What if we thought of our lives in this way. What we say, and do is like feeding others with health or disease. Now I know Jesus was speaking of false prophets in that passage but what if without love we are false prophets. That is frightening. Without love we are a diseased tree, with unhealthy fruit.
It is the definitive mark of Christian maturity. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Cor 13: 11ESV). Love is the sign of Christian manhood or womanhood. Healthy fruit trees must grow over time. Fresh spiritual fruit is not something you can microwave, it cannot be theologically flash frozen and you cannot borrow it from others, no matter how many DVD’s, CD’s and MP3’s you purchase or download. I do not need another book or video-what I need is this Christlike love.
For those who say they can never pray that long because they run out of things to pray for…let’s change that right now. The love of God in Christ is to be lived out in the Christian life. This is the earmark of Christianity and without it you are probably not a Christian.
Oh Lord, we feel the squeeze, let the seeds of this Christlike love finally grow in our hearts!
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