I love old Bibles. There is something very intimate about reading them and seeing what’s been highlighted, the notes in the margin. When I read a Bible from those who came before me, I feel I know them better.
Last week, I was reading a King James Bible from 1964, and one passage in particular struck me. They’d changed one word. One simple word, and the effect was so powerful that it weighs heavy on my heart even now, a week after I’ve read the passage.
Dear readers, whether you are a christian or not, whatever your faith, please read on with an open heart.
It’s a common passage, a favorite at weddings. Here it is in the NIV version:
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.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
Now here it is, King James style.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
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, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1 Corinthians 13 (KJV)
Don’t get me wrong - the passage is beautiful as it’s commonly known. But I think the use of the word charity is pivotal to understanding love. The definition of charity in this context is “kindness and tolerance in judging others.”
It doesn’t matter what we do, what wisdom we think we hold, the acts of “charity” we perform, if we do not show kindness and tolerance in judging others, we are a sounding brass, a resounding gong, a clanging cymbal.
Imagine the chaos of a middle school brass band. That’s a pretty good visual for modern day Christianity on Facebook.
For some reason, I felt compelled to read the book of Amos last week. I couldn’t fathom why. I tried to ignore the urge as I sat down, intending to re-read the book of Romans. But I literally opened my Bible directly to Amos chapter 1. It felt like God really wanted me to read Amos, so I did.
And when I got to Amos 5:23-24, I knew why: Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
As I thumbed through my Bible some more, I came to James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
And then I thought of Micah 6:8: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
There are nuances in the Bible, things that we could spend our entire lives searching out and not know the answer to on this side of eternity. But in some things, God is abundantly clear.
In Matthew 28:19, we’re given what is known as the great commission. We’re not told to elect a particular candidate or further a cause on Facebook, we’re told, “Go and make disciples of all nations…”
When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus was incredibly clear: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)
I’ve had these words bumping around my brain for the past week, intending to write them and never quite getting around to it because I was sidetracked with life and pandemics and such. But then, this morning, my sister posted a well-reasoned article. She even said she rarely talked politics on Facebook because it never went well, but thought the article was worth the read. Her commentary was reasonable. Two non-Christians debated with her on a political level, one with more intellect than the other, but still civil.
And then came the woman wrapped in piousness, spewing hate and vitriol as she viciously attacked my sister, repeatedly. It reminded me of a viper from a horror film, striking again and again without remorse or mercy. There was such hate and ignorance spilling from this woman’s mouth that I was literally shaking with rage. This woman said these things in the name of Jesus.
Just because someone invokes the name of Jesus in their argument does not mean they do so with his approval.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV)
To my non-Christian friends who see this kind of behavior running rampant, please hear me: the hate these people spew is not of God. It is not of Christ. I love God. I follow Christ, but I do not condone the actions of others who claim to do the same. I have read the Bible in its entirety multiple times and nowhere in it do I see words that condone this type of behavior.
For my christian friends: it is vitally important that we remember we are what people see of Christ. If we choose to bear his name, we must also bear his witness. The words from our mouths and from our fingertips will draw people to his light and love or they will turn them away.
If we do not embrace love, mercy, justice - charity, we will not only fail in the great commission, we will keep others from seeking God, let alone ever finding him. If we believe what we say we do - that sentence should hold serious weight.
And for every Christian out there who is saddened by the vitriol spewed by the modern Western church, speak up. Speak truth. Speak love. The world so desperately needs both.