You know how sometimes you hear something so much it loses all meaning? How many times have you heard that you need sunscreen? Last week my stepson Bryan was here visiting, and before he and his friend left with my husband for the College World Series, I offered sunscreen. Bryan didn’t quite roll his eyes, but he said, “Yeah, no thanks” in the tone that meant, “You’re doing that old-person unnecessary worrying thing again.” He comes by that naturally – my husband used to give me the same attitude when I tried to get him to wear sunscreen. He’d say “I need a little color”. Then he got skin cancer. Thank God it was the kind that was not dangerous and could be treated easily, but still… now he is very good about the sunscreen.
Or how about good things? Nice sayings? Things become cliches because they’re true, but because they’re true, they get said until they’re cliches and we don’t really hear them. For instance, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”. I’ll tell you, when I was getting toward the end of chemo and felt like I could barely sit up, I never once thought about my checkbook balance or going shopping for new cute clothes, or getting some fun electronic gadget. A new car wouldn’t have meant a thing. Or “Treat people the way you want them to treat you”. It works, and even when it doesn’t change the way people treat you, it’s the right thing to do. But sayings like that are just so tired and even kind of corny. It’s hard to pay attention to the truth they contain.
Today I was thinking about a section of scripture that is so familiar that it can just slide in and out of my ears without really touching my brain, or my heart.
What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others.What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others. I Corinthinans 13: 1-3
Those are some pretty big “what if’s”. What if there really was an evangelist who was supernaturally able to preach to any nation, any tribe, no matter how remote, without an interpreter. China one day, Zimbabwe the next, newly discovered tribe a week later. He would be world-famous, at the very least. But without genuine love for people, not only those to whom he preached, but those around him, in his life, his home, his ministry, God says he would just be making noise. So what about those of us with smaller (much smaller) ministries?
What if I was able to tell you spot on what God wanted you to do and what he had in store? What he was thinking about your life? What you needed to change, accomplish, learn? What was going to happen in the country, in the world? What if I could go on television and make 100% accurate predictions about politics, or natural disasters in time to save thousands of lives? What if I had the kind of faith that was literally unstoppable – that I could pray for anything and see it happen? That would probably be pretty impressive. Could it influence people, bring them to faith? I would think so. Would it count for anything in God’s eyes? Not unless I lived in love.
Even if I gave everything I owned to charity – everything, even my Donny Osmond blanket – and lived on the street, or went to a country where Christians are persecuted and preached the gospel until I was executed for doing so, God says that I gain nothing. Not if I don’t love others.
When Jesus knew that the time was near for the end of his ministry and he was telling the twelve the last things he wanted them to know, he didn’t say “Here’s how to run an efficient megachurch”, or “Make sure that you don’t let these sins become rampant in society, whatever you do. Keep people in line.” He didn’t even say “Before I go I need to teach you the Sinner’s Prayer and the 4 Spiritual Laws”. He said “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples..” (John 13:34-35)
A new commandment? (That’s another verse that’s way too familiar.) Can you imagine what the idea of a NEW commandment meant to those good Jewish men? Jesus didn’t tell them “It would be really great if you could get along.” No, he made a new commandment – up there with “Thou shalt not commit murder” – “Love each other”.
It’s harder than it sounds. But more on that next time.