Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1 If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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. 3 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. (NIV)
Vladimir Ulyanov was a man who worked tirelessly to improve the lot of the poor in tsarist Russia. We know him by the name of Lenin. He so threw himself into his revolutionary work that he lost any capacity for human tenderness. He became driven and miserable. He neglected his wife, and kept himself at a distance from any close relationships. Immersed in the cause of helping humanity, he couldn’t connect with individual human beings.
We might conclude that we can’t expect more from a man who embraced such an ungodly philosophy and who imposed it on others through terror. But those in Christian circles are not immune from such tendencies. Are we, in the midst of all our Christian activity and ministry, mere resounding gongs or clanging cymbals? It matters little that our cause is just and honourable, unlike that of Lenin. Doing lots of good work without love is futile according to our passage, irrespective of how good the good work may be.
It is so easy to push and cajole people into church programmes or our pet projects and lack any real care for them. We care for the project and the programme: the people are incidentals. We may speak of visions and plans but again without love for individuals these are, to quote Shakespeare, full of sound and fury—signifying nothing. Beware those with a gleam in their eye who want to sell you the latest and greatest Christian idea or activity. It might be a wonderful idea or activity but if it isn’t born out of love and carried out in love and done so as to truly bless others, then it is gong-and-cymbal material.
The Corinthian church was full of people who figured they were super-spiritual and rather clever. Paul reminds them, and us, that whatever else we may have it is sheer cacophony without love. How much of our own Christian activity is noise, and how much is beautiful music?