When I was working in ministry, even as recently as a month ago, every other Monday night my wife led a bible study through Mark for a few college aged women. Kelly always asked me a series of questions in the book of Mark before the study began, almost like a sharpening of sorts. I loved being able to give her the right answers to the text and “prove” to her that I was smart in this regard (some men are so insecure right?). But there were times when, though I knew the right answers, if I wasn’t sensitive to her in my responses, making her feel as if she should have known the “obvious” answers, then it would hurt her or make her feel like she was under qualified. That’s pharisaical and that’s ugly. Spiritual knowledge is good, fruitful, and important, but if I don’t have love and if I’m not expressing to her the truth in a loving way, then it is ugly and it’s nothing. I don’t want to be like that; yet how many of us day in and day out do not question the things we do? Paul is very clear; if we don’t have love, we are nothing.
1 Corinthians 13.2-3, “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.”
Just as prophecy or teaching without love is nothing, so is knowledge. I spoke on this last week. Paul uses the phrase, “and understand all mysteries and all knowledge” to show the comprehensiveness of everything. Mysteries here represent diving spiritual understanding and knowledge represents human understanding. In Scripture, the term “mystery” always signifies divine truth that God has hidden from man at some time. Most specifically it refers to Old Testament heroes and saints who have had things spoken to them about Christ and the New Testament.
Paul’s argument holds, even if he knew all there was to know about God and the divine mysterious plan of the Almighty, if he didn’t have love, it would be nothing. And adding all knowledge wouldn’t help either. We can know all the observable facts about nature, science, and the stars, and we would still be nothing without love. How much money, how many people are spending their entire lives focusing on these things, searching out the mysteries or what have you, and yet are doing it not from a place of love, but power?
Love is that important!
Now we have to stop and ask ourselves a very humbling but searching question. If all that knowledge, even of the mysterious divine Will of God, amounts to nothing without love, how much less does our very limited knowledge of things give us without love? This should strike the heart of many of us who are putting such a massive priority on knowing things over loving things. Don’t we think we are so special just because we may “know” something someone else doesn’t know?
Aren’t there magazines and television shows devoted to the latest gossip, the latest stories, the latest rumors bespeaking of something hidden that no one else knows, and isn’t this attractive to so many people? And follow this to its logical conclusion; what if you learned everything there was to learn? What good would it be without love?
And what is more, we are so limited; we cannot possibly know all there is to know, yet arrogance surrounds us when we know just a little bit more than someone else on a given subject; that’s part of the problem with so many teachers in the classrooms today. Arrogance is the spirit of the classroom rather than love; yet how much is that same unholy spirit living in the fabric of our living rooms? We may know more than our children, we may know more than our spouses in given things, but the truth is, if we don’t have love, it amounts to nothing. And when we place our knowledge against the vast scope that Paul is painting here, and realize how far we fall short of this example, and yet even if we met it perfectly, we would still be nothing without love; oh how this should humble us!
Paul did not discount knowledge, however. Philippians 1.9-10, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Things done without love are harsh when it comes to knowing things; but love is the perfect edifier. Knowledge coupled with love is powerful indeed. I pray you meld the two together today, but always error on the side of love.