“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, 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 charity, 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 charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
(1 Corinthians 13:1–3, KJV)
The movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” features a man named George Bailey. He is a man who cared about his community so much that he gave up his life’s dreams in order to help them. Yet, George who is running the family business, Bailey Brothers Savings and Loan, encountered a serious problem. His uncle Billy accidentally lost $8,000 of the company’s money that he was supposed to deposited in the bank. The loss of the money began a downward spiral in George’s life as he knew a bank examiner would discover the money missing, resulting in scandal and criminal charges. On the verge of ruin and despair, Mary (George’s wife) and Billy rally the people of the town to help. They remember everything that George had sacrificially done for them, and they donate more than enough money to make up for the missing $8,000.
The point here is the sacrificial love of one man resulted in a dividend of immense proportion. It was not just the money that they gave to him. His war hero brother Harry, toasts George as “the richest man in town.” He was rich because his love for the people of the town touched the lives of so many.
Paul wrote to a church that was abusing spiritual gifts in worship. Their major problem was one that stemmed from a lack of love for others. To this, Paul wrote Chapter 13, the “love chapter.” In the first three verses, he repeats the phrase “and have not charity” three times. In this phrase, the word “charity” is agape, which we commonly understand as the deepest form of love. Along with the three phrases, Paul gave three associated negative results of doing things without love.
The first negative was, to be a “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” He is saying that one could use the gift of speaking in “tongues,” but without love they were just making loud noises. We commonly refer to people who say a lot of things without any substantial meaning as, “windbags.” Paul is saying that those who lack true love are making a lot of noise, but it means nothing.
The second negative is that without love one can be seen as a “nothing.” He indicated that people could have the gift of prophecy, superior knowledge, and faith that would move mountains, but without love they would be nothing. In other words, there was nothing truly positive coming forth from their lives.
The third negative was that without love people could do many charitable works and even suffer martyrdom, but end up with receiving nothing of profit. Imagine working your whole life just to end up with nothing to show for it.
In the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” brother Harry spoke of George Bailey as the “richest man in town.” Yet, there was one man far wealthier. The main antagonist, Henry Potter, controlled most of the town and wanted nothing more than to put George out of business. He loved money and power above all. Yet, he was the poorest man in town because he had not love. Let us consider our lives. We may not have a lot of money, but if we have true love, we have true riches. This love, agape, is only possible to those who have trusted in Christ alone for eternal life. Moreover, it is those who live by the Spirit (Gal 5:16) who will manifest this true love, the love of Christ, towards others.