by Lisa Leidenfrost
Often we will rank our worth by what we do and accomplish. We feel good about ourselves if we get through our list for the day. We feel God is pleased with us if we accomplish certain tasks that go along with ‘being godly’. I think this is just basic human nature. But this backfires when, for some reason or another, we are not able to do all the things we would like to for the Lord. This can subtly bring our worth into question. But often, how we view things, and how God views things are a completely different thing. I’d like to look at a well-known passage from a different angle and in the process I will be jumping over some of the words until later, so bear with me.
Before we look at this passage, I want to bring out another basic human nature idiosyncrasy, and that is how we tend to rank each other. In every church culture without our being aware of it, we will value certain things above others and rank people accordingly as we put them on the ‘godliness scale’. In other words, in Church XYZ the ones we really look up to as having ‘arrived’ will be doing thus and such. This passage actually lists some of those things and if we look at major groupings of churches we can have some fun naming which group would highly value which activity listed. Remember, all these things listed are good things. Let’s start. I will read only part of the verse at first then go back for the rest later.
Godly activity number one:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,(I Cor 13:1). What general group would rank this activity really high? The Charismatics. If you speak in tongues to this degree you would be seen as really godly and in tune with the Lord.
Godly activity number two:
Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge (v. 2a). What general group ranks very high having ‘understanding’, ‘theological knowledge’ and ‘the reading of many books’? The Reformed. We highly look up to those who have read many books and have great understanding and knowledge. We are reformed and our college of NSA exemplifies our love of learning. In our churches we encourage people to be reading and understanding more and more. All these things are well and good.
Godly activity number three:
though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains (v. 2b). What general group has been known for their faith in pioneering into really hard areas and believing God for the impossible? The missionaries. I really look up to missionaries who have done amazing things through their faith in God. That ranks pretty high in my book since my husband and I are missionaries.
Godly activity number four:
though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, (v. 3a). What general group highly values feeding the poor above other tasks? The liberal churches. Good works in these areas can take precedence even over spreading the gospel. They place a high value on helping the needy which is a very worthy task.
Godly activity number five:
though I give my body to be burned (v. 3b). What group has done this? The Martyrs. Who doesn’t admire the martyrs as the highest of all rankings? We look up to them as saints, people so high we could never attain to that level.
So, that is how we view the rankings. We admire and rank people as having really arrived due to what we value from our church background. All these things are good but let’s see how God ranks the same things and what conditions must go along with these rankings
- Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. This is how God views the gift of tongues without love.
- And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. In other words, it doesn’t even rank with God at all. All that knowledge and all those incredible acts of faith are of no account to Him. It doesn’t rank.
- And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Even though one incredibly sacrifices for the poor, or undergoes the incredible personal sacrifice of being burned alive for Christ, if there is not love with it, the profit that you gain from it is nothing.
It seems a bit severe, but it shows the very high value God places on love being central to everything. And this goes along with what Jesus said in Mathew 22:36-38: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
So, if love is the highest thing we can do that outranks everything else in God’s book, what is it like?
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Notice how it says that love does not parade itself. I think it is quite a human thing to hope people will notice that you are out doing your Christian acts of service. We think, ‘look at me, I am a serious Christian doing door to door evangelism.’ Or, ‘look at me, I have read all these books and understand all mysteries.’ It is like saying, ‘look at me, I am one of the mature people in the church because of what I’ve done’.
Can we do the same thing with love? No, because God puts a sneaky clause into the love thing. If you try to parade that you are doing it, it is no longer love and it doesn’t rank anymore. So He has you there. So what is love?
Love is something that grows in you as you grow in Christ. It is something that you give out of what you have received from Him. It flows naturally when you follow Him whole heartedly because He is working in your life. It is not something that can be paraded because it is all of Him and none of you. And the wonderful result is that from the outflow of love within, good works naturally result that are accepted by God. It is not something you strive for, to give you worth. You have the worth already inside you due to Christ’s love, and the works will naturally follow.
So what does this tell us about those who are in circumstances where they physically can’t do all the good works they want to? It tells them they are accepted in the beloved and have worth anyhow just because they are His beloved children. It tells them that even if they are house bound and in bed, when they concentrate on the most important things of loving God and loving others in whatever state they are in, God honors that and will work that out in greater ways for good than if they had been healthy and out in a frenzy racking up the good works on their own steam for the wrong reasons. It also means that you are doing the most important thing when you choose to love others by how you love God even when He puts you through some pretty hard circumstances and that He is pleased with you because of it. If He hasn’t allowed you the ability to do much more than that, it is ok. You have great worth because you are His child.