Years ago, as a freshman in high school, I landed the title role in the musical “Oliver”. I was excited about the part, but as opening night approached, my voice started to change. The shortest kid in school, I had anxiously awaited for puberty to arrive, but it came at such an inopportune time! One of my solos was a song entitled “Where is Love”, which I sung to an audience that heard one cracking note after another. On stage, I was smiling, but inside I was totally embarrassed. My response at the time was an inner vow to not sing a solo in public again, and for nearly ten years, I was silent.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but “Where is Love” was really an appropriate title for the moment. In reality, love is something that we strive for, and yet despite our best efforts, we can’t always hit the right notes. Life’s twists and turns sometimes cause us to sing off pitch or to crack on the high notes so that the intended melody results in relational discord. With the painful memory of unsuccessful results, it’s easy to make that inner vow: “Why put myself through that pain again? I’m through!”
But we were made for love: to be loved and to love in return. We weren’t made to understand perfect love as infants, but with trial and error, we learn to love better with each attempt. One of mankind’s greatest continual mistakes is forgetting why we were made. We were made for love, but it’s so much easier and pain-free to seek the comfort of accomplishment, finding identity in our talents, thinking that our abilities define who we are.
The Church is just as guilty of this mistake as the world around us, if not more so. We have been given resources for advancing the Kingdom, but we squander it on our temporary pleasures. We have been empowered by gifts of the Spirit, but these are often used to build pastoral kingdoms rather than building up the Body of Christ. The 12th and 14th chapters of 1 Corinthians discuss spiritual gifts as they are distributed throughout the Body for the building up of the Body. But right in the middle of this discussion, Paul goes down an important rabbit-trail:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
[Amazingly, even the use of spiritual gifts and the understanding of spiritual truths can be applied without love, and is therefore meaningless. All of our accomplishments, all of our talents, any miracles that come through God’s use of us are meaningless without love. We were made for love and not for accomplishment. The accomplishment isn’t a bad thing, but without love, it’s empty. So Paul reminds his readers what real love is… ]
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
One of the above descriptions of love that jumps out at me is when Paul says love “keeps no record of wrongs.” Forgiveness is such a key component of love! I also find it interesting that evil is not contrasted with good: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Love is rooted in truth. Forgiveness doesn’t deny the truth of an injustice, but it chooses to release the guilty party from their just due. It acknowledges the wrong act, but pardons the offender. Love reflects God’s grace.
So where is love in the church? It’s not necessarily rooted in programs. It’s not necessarily evidenced in extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit. It’s not necessarily a component of profound Biblical teachings. It CAN be in all these things, but it’s not the program, the manifestation or the teaching that is important… it’s the people.
We were made to know others, and to be known ourselves. We were made to love and to be loved. It takes patience and kindness. It stays away from envy, boasting, and pride. It refuses to dishonor others, refuses to seek self-edifying activities and refuses to be angered easily. It always forgives… and ultimately, always perseveres.
So where is love? It is in the people who allow God’s love to change our selfish tendencies, one day… one moment… at a time. The mature believer is the one who has learned -- truly learned -- to love, because the power of love is greater than any other spiritual gift.
“We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)