1 Corinthians 13 was the subject of the sermon I watched this morning online. Perhaps, my favorite all-time chapter in the Bible. It’s a popular favorite, too, recited at weddings and funerals and known to people who aren’t particularly religious.
Some things that stand out to me from the sermon are these things: Love isn’t a feeling; it something that you do. Talent, skills and giftedness are things we value, but they don’t require or demonstrate love. An eloquent and inspirational speaker without love is like a clanging gong or cymbal.
I liked the analogy of the guitar solo vs. a gong solo. Who would do that? No one does a gong solo. That’s what talent is without love. It’s like someone doing a gong solo! Nothing but noise.
Not even prophecy, or knowledge or faith that can move mountains is worth anything if I don’t have love. If I give everything I own away to the poor and give my body up to be burned at the stake (the ultimate religious sacrifice), but I don’t have love, I gain nothing.
As I think about these things, it occurs to me that love isn’t (just) something that we do. It’s certainly true that the love being described isn’t a feeling that comes and goes. Love is more like a commitment than a feeling in that sense, and it is (partly) something that we do; but it’s much more than that.
One of the simplest and most fundamental principles of Christianity is that salvation is a free gift. It is nothing that we earn. God gives salvation to us freely.
A closely associated principle is that righteousness is nothing that we achieve. God attributes righteousness to us freely. Again, we don’t achieve righteousness; God considers us righteous when are rightly related to God.
These words, salvation and righteousness, are among the most basic of Christian principles. These words are used with a great deal of presumption that everyone knows what they mean, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
What is salvation? Why should we want to be saved? Saved from what?
Righteousness may be even more misunderstood. Are we talking about moral superiority? Self-righteousness? Holier than thou?
I will try to illuminate these very central ideas to the Christian faith in this blog. Few things are more central to Christianity than the idea of salvation and righteousness.
I recently had a conversation with someone who is not a believer in Jesus Christ as I am. He charged Christians with being smug, implying that all Christians are the same. They have this confidence which he described as smugness. At that stage in our conversation, I became offended and repulsed.
I was offended because he seemed to be lumping me in with “those smug Christians”. He was making the conversation personal instead of sticking with the merits of the arguments. I was repulsed because pride is the root of all sin, and I was horrified that I might be characterized as prideful.
Of course, I am prideful. That is the condition of the human heart. We naturally trust ourselves above all others, and even above God. We don’t seem to have a lot of it when we are infants and young children, but it creeps in, and it grows as we get older. We learn to keep it under wraps if we value friendship and relationships, because the pride in me conflicts with the pride in you. Sometimes we learn a false humility, but pride lurks there beneath the surface in all of us.
When I first read the Bible in college in a world religion class it was this theme of pride in people, among other things, that jumped off the pages at me. It was like looking in a mirror and acknowledging, as difficult as it was, the pridefulness of people and the pridefulness in me. If God was God, and I believed that there was a God, that we did not create ourselves, then pride in people is an ugly thing.
These things resonated in me because I saw the pride in people, and I saw the pride in myself, and it repulsed me, just as I was repulsed in my recent conversation to think that I might be considered prideful. I have been thinking about those things for several days, and these are the thoughts I have today as I reflect on these things.