Without love, absolutely nothing is of any significance. Paul made this point when he wrote:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
These are some impressive religious activities: speaking in tongues, prophetic powers, understanding mysteries, having all knowledge, mountain-moving faith, giving away possessions, sacrificing one’s life. Christians are often impressed by miraculous powers, supernatural gifts, and altruism. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with these acts.
Yet they are all devoid of any real value if they are not done with love and in love. They’re nothing more than religious noise. Paul was saying that the only criteria that matters when assessing the value of any activity is this: Does it ascribe and promote the unsurpassable worth of God’s people?
Today it is quite common for Christians to be impressed with inspiring worship music, eloquent sermons, awe-inspiring church structures, and rapidly growing congregations. Paul is telling us that, if such things do not flow from and contribute to love, they are nothing more than an irritating clashing cymbal. They are “nothing,” and we are just wasting our time.
Even more, we may actually be doing something worse. By engaging in all these wonderful activities without love while making all this “religious noise,” we are actually providing a distracting counterfeit to the one thing that is needful. It is quite easy not to notice that we are unloving when our religious activities are going so well! Our religious noise drowns out the cry of God’s heart.
“God is love” (1 John 4:16). And as Peter instructed: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8). God calls us to fill every aspect of our life with love, for love ultimately defines every aspect of God’s life.
—Adapted from Repenting of Religion, pages 53-57.