Is love more important than faith? In the Biblical chapter that has been dubbed the love chapter it says, it is. “Now faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest is love.”1
The one that gets me every time, the one I skip right over and go on with the rest of the chapter is verse 3 that says if I give ALL my possessions to the poor and even give my body to be burned, it might not count for anything. What? Really.
I am not sure why I would do that if it didn’t count for something. I think herein is the difference between me and say, a 30-year missions veteran.
If I did that, I would be doing it to gain something. Most missionaries are not in the field for years just to get a few feathers in their caps. There is a deeper principle at work. It’s the love principle.
This passage says without love those who do monumental acts of charity actually gain nothing. It doesn’t actually say that giving to the poor or being martyred isn’t showing love, it just brings up the possibility not everyone who does such things has a motive of love. This is something I hadn’t really pondered.
If that is true, then the question becomes what would be their motives? As with all of scripture, the answer is found in the next few verses. It tells us what love is and what it is not.
If we look at the things love is not, that should tell us what the opposite of love is. This gives us a clue about wrong motives even in the face of altruistic endeavors.
Here are just a few words from different translations used in the next few verses: envy, jealousy, boastful, vain, haughty, conceited, arrogant, prideful, rude, unmannerly, unbecoming, insisting on our own way, self-seeking, touchy, fretful, resentful, keeping track of wrongs, unjust and unrighteous.
If my whole reason of feeding the poor is to boast about it or put another mark in my column, I don’t really have love and in God’s economy, it is a useless act.
If I am working myself into the ground in order to be seen as better than others, I might as well stop now. If whatever I am doing is out of envy, arrogance or pride, I might as well not even start.
When I display any of the traits listed above, I am doing more harm than good.
I used to run a not-for-profit organization. Like every organization of that nature, we begged for funds to continue to operation. We ceased to operate when funds dried up.
It’s easy to play on people’s pride regarding the needs for funds. It’s difficult to raise money for causes without giving folks some earthly benefit, in other words playing just a little on this sense of button-busting pride.
In the final analysis, it’s not about how much money I give or work I do, it’s about my why. Why do I give money, feed the poor or work tirelessly?
It must come from this deep place inside of me where I connect with the true meaning of love as shown to me through Christ. He gave the supreme sacrifice by dying on the cross that I might live.
We know this and we put our faith in Him. What this passage is saying is that’s just the beginning. The true test of whether or not we really understand the gift of faith is in our love.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”2
When a missionary goes to foreign country and works tirelessly for the people there, she does it spurred on by that burning love for Christ that resides so completely in her that it’s hard to stop and rest. She takes no thought of herself.
When she does stop to rest, eat and sleep she is also doing that to rejuvenate her body so she can be ready to work for those she is serving. Taking care of herself or loving herself becomes part of an act of worship.
It’s different than working to bring glory to herself or her mission-sending organization. The love of Christ and the work has become so intertwined with who she is that the three cannot be separated.
“The value of life is not measured by success—neither ours, nor others—nor by happiness or tranquility, nor by what people think of us … The value of our lives is measured by what we do, by how we live,” says Pamela Binnings Ewen in The Moon Over the Mango Tree.
The passage is talking about a missionary and continues to explain: “He changed lives … God lived in him then. God ceased to be an abstraction when He dwelt within his spirit. His life had meaning.”
The reason love is more important than faith is right here in this passage. Love is the very essence of God.
Love is the realness of God.
Us loving people is the way others can feel the real touch of God.
We are “Jesus with skin on” to those around us and in other parts of the world.
In order to make a difference, we have to know this and understand our why.
We have to get out of our arrogant, vain, boastful, envious, chest-thumping pride and connect with God who has no recourse but to work through us.
Yes, an all powerful God could have made us robots who had to do His every bidding, but instead He chose to give us free will and work through me and you.
Out of love, He limited His own resources so we could once and for all totally understand Him.
I don’t want my life to be a vague representation of who God could or might be.
I want it to show the real God filled with love and compassion.
I desire to be real so I can show God is real.
Oh, that my life would cease to be an abstraction and become one of love-filled meaning.
1 1 Corinthians 13:13
2 1 John 3:16
Teresa Shields Parker is a wife, mother, business owner, life group leader, speaker and author of Sweet Grace: How I Lost 250 Pounds and Stopped Trying to Earn God’s Favor and Sweet Grace Study Guide: Practical Steps to Lose Weight and Overcome Sugar Addiction. Get a free chapter of her memoir on her blog at Teresa Shields Parker.com. Connect with her there or on her Facebook page.