If I speak with the tongues of mankind and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions to charity, and if I surrender my body so that I may glory, but do not have love, it does me no good. Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away with; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part and prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away with. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1Cor13:1-13)

It may surprise many that Paul teaches that genuine spiritual gifts such as prophecy and speaking in tongues are of no value to the practitioner if they are not accompanied by love. Likewise, seemingly selfless spiritual acts such as charitable giving, even a willingness to give oneself to martyrdom will do the individual no good unless the action has been motivated by love (v3). Yet this is entirely in accordance with what I have been testifying, namely the supremacy of love over everything else, even our faith and hope for the future (v13). And whilst some of the distinctly spiritual gifts Paul has been outlining are exclusive to the Christian, love as he describes it here (vv4-7) assuredly is not. All (bar a certain category of human – see below) possess this Quality to a degree. And wherever true charity and love are to be found, God is there. All who love are born of God, know Him and are responding positively to that knowledge (cf. 1Jn4:7; Jn1:9KJV). God and His Son before whom they shall be judged delight in their acts of kindness and shall receive them into His Kingdom (Mt25:40). All who love and show compassion to others are justified in God’s sight – not in view of the works themselves which, as in the case of the Mt25 “sheep” are bound to be inconsistent and incomplete, but because of the “faith” from which they spring. For faith works through love (Greek;: πίστις δι’ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη – Gal5:6). Love stems from faith; there cannot be the one without the other.

At the universal level, utilizing the language of second century Clement of Alexandria “it is that COMMON FAITH which lies beneath as a foundation that is built upon and consummated in those who come to faith in Christ”[note 1]. Such concepts of natural law were later set aside by the Catholic Church [note 2], especially through the influence of 5th century Augustine, and rejected altogether by the 16th century Protestant Reformers. Thereby has the breadth of God’s benign providence and the scope of Christ’s saving work been diminished. For as I have frequently pointed out, “natural law” is something of a misnomer for it pertains to innate spiritual faculties and to Christ’s identity as Logos and His activity as Savior of the world [note 3]. [No doubt to the displeasure of some readers, I have frequently had to return to this subject for it is an essential piece of the providential jigsaw].

The supremacy of love

 But I make no apology for returning to the subject of “ἀγάπη” – the supremacy of love and the essence of God (1Jn4:8); the defining marker for the bulk of humanity who have retained His image in their hearts – and the relative few who have not, being devoid of a functioning conscience to prompt or motivate them, they lack any caring compassion or empathy towards the rest of humanity – especially the weakest, aka Christ (Mt25:37-40). As for the equally substantial distinction between the many (Mt25 “sheep”) who through their acts of compassion show that they are born of God, and the proportional few incorporated into the body of Christ (previous post), it is only the latter who can receive the necessary preparation for betrothal to the Lord of Glory and share His domain through eternity (Rev19:7).

Prophecy and words of knowledge, including any I have proffered, shall pass away. For they are at best incomplete: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known” (v12). What remains and endures at the individual level is faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love.


[1] Clement of Alexandria (A.D.153-217) The Stromata Book V chap. 1

2] The Catholic Church has subsequently and formally incorporated dogma regarding God’s gracious dealings with those outside the Church at its Second Vatican Council (1960s). The constitutions were framed in such a way as to try to avoid conflicting with earlier conciliar pronouncements, especially those which had warned of the perilous state of those outside the Catholic Church, Christian or otherwise. Though much to be welcomed, the about-face presents something of a problem for the Church whilst she continues to insist upon the immutability or infallibility of all earlier conciliar/papal decrees. And in the context of this exercise, statements such as “Divine providence shall not deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who without any fault of theirs have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life [Lumen Gentium 16]” will cut little ice with Evangelicals who rightly demand such decrees be clearly underpinned from Scripture. Regrettably, this cannot be achieved without some substantial deconstruction – particularly with respect to some of 5th century Augustine’s distinctive biblical interpretations, many of which became foundational to Western theology. Hence “The Little Book of Providence” and the measure of vexation it must unavoidably cause to some Christian traditions if God’s intelligible goodness and boundless benevolence is to be proclaimed and explained by the Church to the world – especially in anticipation of the imminent return of the One whom heaven has received until the period of the restoration of all things” (Acts3:21).

[3] Earlier posts most relevant to this subject:

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