“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
There is no truth more distinctly uttered or more emphatically stated than this—the infinite superiority of love to gifts. And in pondering their relative position and value, let it be remembered, that the gifts which are here placed in competition with grace are the highest spiritual gifts.
Thus does the apostle allude to them: “God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing.” Then follows the expressive declaration of our motto. In other words, “Though I were an apostle, having apostolic gifts; though I were a prophet, possessed of prophetic gifts; or though I were an angel, clothed with angelic gifts; yet, destitute of the grace of love, my religion were but as an empty sound, nothing worth.” Is there in all this any undervaluing of the spiritual gifts which the great exalted Head of the church has bestowed upon His ministers? Far from it.
The apostle speaks of the way of spiritual gifts as excellent, but existing alone, they cannot bring the soul to heaven. And love may exist apart from gifts; but where love is found, even alone, there is that most excellent grace, that will assuredly conduct its possessor to glory. “Grace embellished with gifts is the more beautiful; but gifts without grace are only a richer spoil for Satan.”
And why this superiority of the grace of love? Why is it so excellent, so great, so distinguished? Because God’s love in the soul is a part of God Himself; for “God is love.” It is as it were a drop of the essence of God falling into the heart of man. “He that dwells in love, dwells in God, and God in him.” This grace of love is implanted in the soul at the period of its regeneration. “Every one that loves is born of God.”
Is it again asked, why the love of His saints is so costly in God’s eye? Because it is a small fraction of the infinite love which He bears towards them. Does God delight Himself in His love to His church? Has He set so high a value upon it, as to give His own Son to die for it? Then, wherever He meets with the smallest degree of that love, He must esteem it more lovely, more costly, and more rare, than all the most splendid gifts that ever adorned the soul. “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Here, then, is that grace in the soul of man which more than all others assimilates him to God. It comes from God, it raises the soul to God, and it makes the soul like God. How encouraging, then, to know the value which the Lord puts upon our poor returns of love to Him! Of gifts we may have none, and even of love but little; yet of that little, who can unfold God’s estimate of its preciousness! He looks upon it as a little picture of Himself. He sees in it a reflection—dim and imperfect indeed—of His own image. As He gazes upon it, He seems to say—”Your parts, my child, are humble, and your gifts are few; your knowledge is scanty, and your tongue is stammering; you can not speak for me, nor pray to me in public, by reason of the littleness of your attainments, and the greatness of your infirmity; but you do love me, my child, and in that love, which I behold, I see my nature, I see my heart, I see my image, I see myself; and that is more precious to me than all besides.”
Most costly to Him also are all your labors of love, your obedience of love, your sacrifices of love, your offerings of love, and your sufferings of love. Yes, whatever blade or bud, flower or fruit, grows upon the stem of love, it is most lovely, and precious, and fragrant to God.