Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan was made famous for coining the phrase “the medium is the message”. By it he identified the seemingly indivisible relationship in human communications between ‘messages’ (that which is expressed)
and ‘mediums’ (that by which messages are expressed). Perhaps a novel idea in the 1960’s as electronic mass media was emerging, his notion was long before passed down through the wisdom of God’s Word.
Never was this fact made more apparent than in than in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. More popularly used as a text at weddings in modern times, it was to the Christian church that Paul wrote; “those sanctified in Christ and called to be holy”. (1:2) To them Paul wanted to make clear the indivisible relationship between the gospel (the ‘message’) and the Christian (the ‘medium’). A passage worth reflecting on for all of Christian living, it deserves our special attention as we consider our role as apologists (i.e. those called to give an answer in defence of the gospel).
Without Love, Our Words Are Meaningless:
“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.” (1 Cor. 13:1)
Estimates are that the average English speaker has between 15,000-20,000 words in their vocabulary, but only uses 1500-2000 (a mere 10%) of those words in daily communication. One might speculate what better communicators we would be if we simply broadened our vocabulary.
But even if one had the elocution and erudition of a William F. Buckley, (he was really good with words) we will fail to convey anything of lasting, and more important Kingdom significance if we do not possess love. It is a simple fact of existence that I cannot produce that which is not in me. Jesus made this point most plain:
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
In considering our apologetic task we must acknowledge the inescapable unity between the message and the messenger. If my speech does not flow out of a heart transformed by the love of Christ, (i.e. ‘Christ now lives in me’ – Gal 2:20) then no matter what I say my words will be meaningless. By way of illustration, one might imagine encountering a native bedouin in the desert who attempts to describe a Canadian winter. He could have been taught the facts and words to say, but by comparing his speech to his countenance and the non-verbal cues that reveal the truth about his living experience, it would quickly become apparent that he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. We would think him foolish to presume to know that which he clearly does not. So too does the Christian without love look and sound to a watching world.
Without Love, I Am Meaningless:
“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.” (1 Cor. 13:2)
Our culture is obsessed with significance. Where thirty years ago television was populated by a small but universally recognized group of celebrities, (i.e. exceptional people whose talents were worth ‘celebrating’) today the airwaves are filled with a never ending variety of new, fresh and entirely forgettable people all vying for their 15 minutes of fame.
But the Christian knows that attempts to grasp the ‘significances’ offered by the world are meaningless; merely “a chasing after wind”. (Eccl. 1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 16) And yet it would seem that there is an equal danger for the Christian who chases after heavenly “significances” in a “worldly” way.
Who hasn’t listed to great Christian preachers or speakers expound the treasures of God’s Word and not longed for that ability themselves? And so even the revealed mysteries of God can become an enticement toward self promotion, such as was the case with Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. And yet Paul gives this halting assessment: Even if I manage to grasp the deep things of Scripture, and gain unparalleled insight into the truth of God revealed in Christ; even if my knowledge, understanding and even faith lead me to accomplish great and celebrated achievements; even if I become so wise that I can answer every question and silence every skeptic; if I attain to all of them, but not from love, I am nothing. What is more, I am nothing to the only measure of significance that even matters. I am nothing to God.
Without Love, My Greatest Efforts Amount to Nothing:
“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:3)
Of all people the Apostle Paul was one who could cite earthly deprivation as the hallmark of his Christian witness. Representing the gospel of Christ to the world had cost him everything from an earthly perspective, not excluding in the end his very life, taken as it was by Roman execution. But to what end? For Paul, in order to gain everything: “I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8) And so it is for the Christian. We store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, such that any loss we incur here on earth in service to Christ we count as only gain toward attaining our ultimate reward.
Without love, however, I stand to gain nothing no matter how great my sacrifice. How could I gain anything for without love I will have missed the point of becoming a Christian in the first place. Christ came to rescue us from sin, which is not neutral project. We are rescued from sin to life with God; a life characterized by the love that God possesses within his very being. Jesus the Son of God speaks plainly of this to his Father:
“I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
If the gospel of Jesus is nothing less than the truth about how God has made a way for sinners to enter into lives of unending relationship with God, relationship characterized by the eternal love that existed within God’s own being, then we face the inescapable fact that without this love made manifest in our lives we are incapable of being messengers of the gospel. How could we be, for we are not even what God intends his gospel to make us? And no matter what our service, it will bear no Kingdom benefits, for us or for those we would presume to share it with. Without love we can say nothing; we are nothing; we gain nothing.
O Christ let not my efforts be
Devoid of love alive in me
Each motive whole and not in part
Reflecting you within my heart.