1 Corinthians 13:2. if I… have not love, I am nothing.
Nobody wants to be a nothing. We all want to be a something. And so we find our worth and value in all kinds of things. For the Corinthians it was in their spiritual gifts, or their knowledge, and their status, or who they followed, or even where they sat at the Lord’s Supper. What is it for you? Your job? Your kids? Your looks? Your brains? Your money? Your reputation? Your behavior? Your spirituality? Your gifts?
We live in a culture of performancism. We judge each other by what we do. If we perform well, we are valued. If we don’t, we are forgotten (how many silver medalists can you name?). We debate who is the G.O.A.T. in various sports. We celebrate only spectacular achievements (think American Idol and American Ninja Warrior). Our students are growing up in a “no fail” world where stress, over-medication, and suicide are increasing rapidly. We tell our children to follow their dreams and that they can achieve whatever they put their minds to.
But what if they can’t?
What if none of us can? What if our value is found in simply who we are and who made us, and not in what we do? What if what makes us something rather than nothing is the simple fact that we are loved?
What if, when we focus on performance or getting better, we actually only get worse? What if, when we try to do anything apart from God’s unconditional love, we actually gain nothing from it, or at least nothing positive. What if, without love as our guiding truth, we actually just become self-absorbed, self promoting, and selfish? What if our spirituality could actually just be narcissism?
I know it can be easy to read 1 Corinthians 13 as just more performancism. If you don’t perform well at loving others you are nothing. But if you figure out how to love well, then you are something. You are valuable.
But what if this is not how this great “Love Chapter” is to be read? What if Paul is showing us that the only way to love is to first be loved. That is, first we must accept our worth based solely on the fact that we belong to God out of his sheer love and grace, and not out of our own performance or achievement.
What if love isn’t something we earn, or even something at which we succeed or fail, but rather it is something that is? Just is. A State of being.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Paul isn’t describing love as something we do. He is describing it as being. Paul doesn’t move from “Without love I am nothing” to “So now here are some ways I’ve learned how to love.” Rather, he has personified love. Love is. Love does. Not, “love this way or that way.” He doesn’t say here “be kind.” He says “Love is kind.”
Maybe this is where we need to start. Maybe we need to move away from seeing our love as a performance or a goal to accomplish. And instead see it as what it really is- a fruit, a gift, a life of faith not works.
“To live is Christ” means we are filled with love as a state of being. Love is. And love is in us. Why? Because Christ is in us. Without love we are nothing because without Christ we are nothing.
Do you have the love of Christ inside of you? You do if you have Christ inside of you. Do you believe this? Have you seen love as a performance? How does union with Christ allow us to see love as our state of being?