We went to a concert not long ago and I forgot to bring earplugs. Shame on me! We were in a big arena, but we had floor seats not too far from the stage. It was noisy and it was loud! Normally, that doesn’t bother me too much because I’m an old rocker, but afterward, my ears were ringing. In fact, they were still ringing several days later. There were a few times during the evening where certain notes were hit that really nailed my aging eardrums, almost to the point of hurting. For a brief instant, the otherwise good music turned into an annoying and agitating noise.
Sometimes our lives can be like that. Sometimes our lives as Christians can turn sour and produce notes that instead of being a pleasure to listen to and watch, become agitating, annoying and even hard for others to endure. If we are not careful, sometimes our lives can just add to the noise. This is what Paul meant when he said,
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
It is possible, and probably more common than we care to admit, to be both theologically grounded and equipped while at the same time, being relationship challenged and dysfunctional. According to Paul, I can simultaneously “understand all mysteries and all knowledge” and “have not love.” I can perform well and my outward actions can look good to those around me while inside, I may be holding a grudge, being prideful, resentful, and failing to love my neighbor as myself and as Christ loves me. When that is the case, my life is little more than “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” that eventually becomes hard to listen to and even annoying to be around. In my performance I may “have all faith so as to remove mountains.” I may “give away all I have” to the poor and needy and even “deliver my body to be burned.” I might even have amazing spiritual gifts and “speak in the tongues of men and of angels” but at the end of the day, if I “have not love,” I am little more than a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
I can have all of my theological ducks in a nice row, but if I am love-challenged and dysfunctional in my relationships, “I gain nothing.” I’m only adding to the noise. The true test of my spirituality isn’t in what I know or what I do or what I say. It’s in how I love and treat others (Matthew 7:12).
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)