I actually posted this devotional to my blog about six months ago but after talking to the editor of the devotional, I took it down at her request until after the book was published. Well, the book came out exactly 6 days ago!
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)
I once took an online quiz that told me I had the Bible knowledge of a seminary scholar. Whether the quiz had merit or not, I have always been confident in my Bible knowledge: my parents made “Bible” a subject in our home school; I memorized hundreds of verses through the AWANA program; and my best friends were kids who had cataloged away an equal—or greater!—amount of Biblical knowledge. Bible trivia was practically a contact sport—we were vicious in our efforts to “beat” each other to the right answer.
When I got to college though, I wanted to use my Bible training in a deeper way. My sophomore year I was chosen to be a Bible study leader on my dorm—I couldn’t wait to meet my five little sheep that I would shepherding! As I poured over my Bible, I prayed for insight. The Holy Spirit just needed to shine his divine flashlight on the right passage. Little did I know that His “lamp” was going to light my “path” first.
I finally decided to teach on a well-known passage—1 Corinthians 13. The words were so familiar—“love is patient, love is kind”—like a worn-out song on the radio, so recognizable that they bounced off my brain without really sinking in. But I wanted the passage to sink in with my girls so I started from the beginning, determined to extract some sort of “new” insight. I usually sped through the first three verses but this time I paused, wondering how I could present them in a fresh way. My mind started forming 21st century metaphors —“If I volunteer my Saturdays to sing to shut-ins at the nursing home, but have not love. . . if I play guitar in the praise band in front of thousands, but have not love. . .If I know every facet of theology, have read the Bible cover to cover, and memorized thousands of verses…but have not love, then I…am…nothing.”
In that moment, the divine flashlight exposed every prideful shadow of my heart. I had Bible knowledge but I didn’t have love. And that meant my Bible knowledge was…nothing. The truth was devastating—I finally saw myself for who I really was: a girl who had set up a trophy shelf of Bible knowledge yet who had never plunged into the work of Jesus Christ—knowing, serving, and loving others. Jesus loved until he bled—and then died; I had never even loved until it hurt. That day my Christian faith deepened a full 12 inches: the distance from my head to my heart.
I taught some good Bible lessons that semester, but more importantly, I learned what it meant to be a real Christian—a “little-Christ.” Instead of “loving” in words only, I applied my Bible knowledge to my hands and feet: I wrote weekly notes of encouragement to my girls and taped them to their doors; made them hot tea when they were sick; invited them to play putt-putt and eat ice cream on lonely Friday nights; and learned to truly listen, understand, and build friendships with girls who were completely different from myself. Being a good prayer leader, or a genuine Christian, wasn’t about whether I had the knowledge of a seminary graduate. It was—and is!— about love: the love that held Christ on the cross, the pathetically small love I offer back in gratefulness for my salvation and, with God’s help, the love that I give and receive in my relationships with others. Because without love, I am nothing.