I worked as a junior high camp counselor and senior counselor at Pine Cove for three summers during college. It’s one of my favorite places on earth. Toothpick tall pine trees and situated on a lake in Palestine, TX, Pine Cove is teeming with some of the most genuine, fun-loving, and wise believers I’ve ever known. Pine Cove is where I finally dropped my foolish pride and learned that dancing on a plastic chair with middle schoolers is cool.
At meal-time on the Ranch, Jiggs would ring the dinner bell and we’d all come scampering from every corner of the property to get our fill of macaroni and cheese and corn dogs.
Jiggs was a mentally-challenged gentleman in his fifties. He’d been working at Pine Cove for many summers, and he was sort of our mascot; a complete joy to be around. But that bell was LOUD; and the way he rang it…it was not a pretty sound.
Corinthians 13 says I am like this cacophonous bell-tone, “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” when I speak in lofty religious terms without love. Love must be seeping through the words I speak. My sentences should be couched in compassion and…well, love! If they’re not, I may as well be banging pots and pans.
It goes on to say that if my “faith can move mountains, but [I] have not love, I am nothing” (v. 2). What?! If my faith is so strong that it can shove Mt. Everest into the sea–or harder still–heal Finn’s defected body, it is nothing if done without love? That kind of faith sure is desirable to me, but it’s not the pinnacle of Christian virtue.
And if I “give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (v. 3). Wow. That’s commitment. I have a tough time giving up a pair of running shoes or my favorite sweatshirt to the poor, much less my entire estate. Someone who can sacrifice their body to torture seems like the holiest of believers…but if they don’t have love, it’s worthless?
Loving like Christ is harder than talking like a Christian. Loving is harder than having faith for healing. To love is harder than to give to a food bank. It is even harder than being a martyr. Jesus always asks us to “eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way…” LOVE.
So how do we get this love?
I think after twenty-something years, I’m beginning to understand what these verses are really saying. 1 John 4: 7, 8:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Whoever does not know love does not know God, because God is love.”
God is the definition of love. So all those good deeds, if not accompanied by love; they don’t count. I know a lot of people who do really good things and live really good lives. Some of them put Christians to shame. But I think Corinthians 13 is saying that if good things are done without The Good One, they are nothing. They are as off-putting as the sound of a gong. We need Him to be able to love.