The Missing Ingredient
Do you remember the character Elly May from the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies? Elly May was the gal who struck fear in people's hearts as she went to the kitchen to cook. Her father, Jed, the patriarch of the home, was the only one who dared to eat her cooking. In one episode, she tried to bake biscuits, and she had all the ingredients except baking soda. Guess what happened? The biscuits came out hard as a rock.
There's a principle there for us: with the church, you can have all the right ingredients—leadership, programs, activities, people, buildings—but love is the one ingredient that brings cohesion and meaning. Love makes the difference between a mediocre church and a great one.
The early church at Corinth seemed to have all of the ingredients for growth, but they were turning out rocks rather than biscuits. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, the missing ingredient was agape: self-sacrificing, consistent, giving love. Looking at the first three verses of this chapter, let's examine the hypothetical case of a person who is incredibly gifted, but lacks love—the missing ingredient.
First, there's speech without love: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal" (v. 1). The Greek word for tongue can mean the organ of speech, your mother tongue, or the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. Paul could have been referring to that spiritual gift, or he could have simply been referring to exalted speech. If you say the greatest things about loving mankind but don't love the people in your life, you "become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal."
Next, there's sensation without love: "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, but have not love, I am nothing" (v. 2). Now, prophets were regarded as being very important people. But Paul's point was that if you're a spokesperson for God—whether you teach in a Sunday school class or a lay ministry of some kind—you ought to have love, because you're representing the God of love.
The description continues: "And understand all mysteries and all knowledge." Imagine if you knew the Bible so well that every mystery was solved. You could have all of that knowledge, but if you didn't have love, you've missed the most important ingredient. "And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (v. 2). I think most of us as believers have prayed for more faith. But when was the last time you prayed for more love? You can have great spiritual faith, but if you don't have love, you're nothing.
The third part is sacrifice without love: "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing" (v. 3). Is that possible? Could you go to the martyr's stake and say, "I'm willing to die," and not have any love? Well, church history has some interesting stories about the persecution of the church: some believers actually sought martyrdom in order to become famous, so that their names would be kept in the annals of church historians.
But this is God's equation: great speech, great faith, beautiful eloquence, and all knowledge and sacrifice minus love equals zero. Is love missing in your life, your marriage, your service toward people? It's that one single ingredient that makes all the difference between biscuits and rocks—something that is nourishing and life-giving, and something that nobody but Jed would eat.