“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” -1 Cor. 13.1-3
Of all the passages of Scripture that have been heavily quoted and inadequately considered, 1 Corinthians 13 must rank very highly. Of all the subjects that have been watered down, cheapened, and reduced to humanistic wisdom, the subject of love must be at the top of the list.
What do we know of the kind of love that Paul was calling the saints to pursue, and to what degree are we actually walking in it?
Some time ago, I read through a short biography on a man named Robert C. Chapman (1803-1902). Charles Spurgeon called him “the saintliest man I ever knew,” and his life had a profound effect on many souls, not the least of which were A.T. Pierson, Hudson Taylor, and George Mueller.
Early in his life he announced that the Lord had called him to proclaim the Gospel, and many of his friends said, “Robert will never make a preacher.” In response, he exclaimed, “There are many who preach, but not so many who live Christ. My aim shall be to live Christ.”
Chapman’s life was a remarkable demonstration of the nature of God, expressing the most supernatural kind of hospitality and kindness, even to religious antagonists in his own congregation. Though many were gripped with prejudices, foul attitudes, and a lack of respect when he took up the pastorate at Ebenezer Chapel in 1832, the congregation was won over to humility and love by the selfless example set forth in this precious “earthen vessel.”
He would regularly house guests in his home, though he was a life-long bachelor. Visiting missionaries, new converts, and other needy souls were influenced by his Spirit-empowered hospitality. They testified that his house was simple, without excessive furniture and trinkets, but immaculately clean. He esteemed that which God had given him, and cared for it out of a deep sense of honor for the Lord and esteem for his guests. He would rise daily at 4:00 a.m. to engage in prayer, adoration, and Scripture meditation. He would say, “It is one thing to read the Bible, choosing something that suits me, and another thing to search it that I may become acquainted with God in Christ.” The fruit of his life showed that he had become intensely “acquainted with God in Christ.”
In later years he would have breakfast ready for his house guests at 7:00 a.m., following his daily devotional time. The joy that marked his life was contagious, and more than once people testified that after spending a day with this dear man, they felt as if they had encountered the Son of God Himself.
It was common for him to be found conversing with the homeless, counseling the downtrodden, or standing on a chair in the Barnstaple Square proclaiming the glory of the Cross of Christ. The love of God compelled him to such labors, and he gave himself painstakingly to the work, as “broken bread and poured out wine,” for more than 70 years. He passed into eternity in 1902 at the age of 99, a remarkable witness to the phenomenon of the abiding life.
What do people encounter in me? What have I really learned of His love? Dear saints, I yearn to come into the same reality that was Chapman’s experience.
Paul said that we may speak skillfully with the tongues of men. We may even speak with the tongues of angels. We may have the gift of prophecy, or know all mysteries and knowledge. We may have enough faith to remove mountains. We may give all of our possessions to the poor. We may even give ourselves to martyrdom for a noble cause. But according to the apostle, we may have or engage in any of these things and still be totally devoid of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. This is both astounding and terrifying.
I don’t want to be a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” friends. I want to commune with the One whose zeal burns like an unquenchable fire. I want to be touched and singed and transformed by the heat of His selfless love.
In Hosea 11.8, the Lord says to Israel, “My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled.”
O, that our hearts would be turned over, that our lovelessness would be toppled, our hard-heartedness shattered, and our coldness melted by the compassions of God Himself!
O, to love You as you are! To love righteousness, truth, and compassion! To love human souls as You do! Give us Your own love, Lord. Catch us up in Your heart, and enable us to be an expression of Your Son in this generation, that our sons and daughters might see your majesty.