We read 1 Corinthians 13 last night as a group. Probably the most popular, famous, quoted passage in the New Testament. And for good reason. God used Paul to pen a beautiful passage there in the middle of a letter to an immature church (and in the middle of a teaching or set of instructions on Spirit-given gifts, of which the greatest is love).
But the beautiful phrasing and the passage’s wide-reaching impact (I’ve heard it quoted on How I Met Your Mother and on The Office) aren’t what I’m thinking about right now. I’m thinking about how it sticks the spiritual finger on what a “hypocrite” truly is. What the Bible and Jesus actually refer to as hypocrisy.
Nowadays that word seems to mean “a person who doesn’t live out what he says he believes.” So if I am a jerk at my job even though I claim Jesus Christ, the contemporary world would slap that label on me. Now, I am sinning if I am a jerk at my place of employment, but that isn’t what the word “hypocrite,” a Greek word that is in the New Testament, means. It actually means “pretender.”
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that if he gave everything away but didn’t actually love, love with the Holy Spirit-given, God-activated posture of the heart he calls “love,” then it was nothing. Doesn’t matter. And he says the same for being burned alive as a martyr without the Spirit’s gift of love. Or doing miracles. They’re meaningless without it. Nothing. Without love they’re the actions of a pretender. The clanging of an irritating cymbal that hasn’t ever actually heard music.
So I could die as a martyr and still be separated from God for eternity. I could give away everything in the name of Jesus and still be lost. I could be a hypocrite. A Pharisee. A pretender. I could be someone who claims to know God, claims to love Jesus, claims to be a Christian, but has not been truly changed. Doesn’t truly love.
We don’t, primarily, need to muster up good actions. We don’t need to sweat out some charitable works. We don’t need to try to impress God and humans with how sweet and wonderful we are. We don’t need to be clanging cymbals or annoying gongs. We need to plead with God for new hearts. We need to ask God to make us new creations. We need the sort of love that only He can give, so that we can in turn give it to others.
We need to be genuinely changed, so that we aren’t pretending we have been.