A Noisy Gong
by Jacob Hudgins
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”(1 Cor 13:1).
We are impressed by big actions. We love feats of strength and athletic prowess. We are amazed at brilliant inventions and acts of genius. God is not. Absent the right heart, our big actions are just a lot of noise to him.
Great spiritual experiences are nothing without love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”(1 Cor 13:1). The Corinthians are very passionate about seeking the gift of tongues. It appears the appeal is the spiritual experience: “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself”(1 Cor 14:4). Paul discourages this passion only for tongues (1 Cor 14:5), yet here the point is that even the most remarkable tongue-speaker is nothing without love. He is only making noises that are empty and abrasive in themselves—like a gong or cymbal. At times we look back on our salvation, the times when we have experienced the deliverance of God, and the feeling of knowing God is with us. When we celebrate spiritual experiences without allowing them to teach us to love others, we have become noisy gongs.
Great knowledge is nothing without love. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”(1 Cor 13:2). Paul speaks about great knowledge and insight—even the power of prophecy—and great faith that has potential to move mountains. If we can do this, we have reached a remarkable level of spirituality. Yet without deep care for other people, this knowledge is fruitless and pointless—even dangerous. “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up”(1 Cor 8:1).
Great acts of sacrifice are nothing without love. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing”(1 Cor 13:3). Complete sacrifice—of all possessions and even the body itself—is nothing without love. This gets to the heart of the matter: what is in our hearts? As we sacrifice, do we do it to impress others? To be noticed? From a sense of duty? God knows our motives and wants our actions of kindness and sacrifice to come from love.
Christianity without love is an empty shell. I can feel close to God, know a lot about him, and even do a lot for him—yet if I refuse to learn to love my fellowman, my brothers, and even my enemies, I am only a noisy gong.