"I may have the gift of prophecy, I may fathom all mysteries, know all things, have all faith — enough to move mountains; but if I lack love, I am nothing."
- I Corinthians 13:2
Seminary, a school devoted to training pastors and ministry workers, kind of turned me into a jerk.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I shouldn’t blame the seminary. I was already a jerk when I showed up. Seminary study just afforded me the time and resources to perfect it, and with God’s blessing. Or so I thought.
During seminary, I learned a lot about the Bible, theology, church history, and ministry. I learned some biblical Greek and Hebrew. What I didn’t learn, at least early on, was humility and gentleness.
I remember going to a family dinner over the holidays. One of my extended relatives, a member of the United States military, attended. It was a special honor and opportunity to have him there. He was usually far away, selflessly defending our nation and its interests around the globe. However, that holiday season, he was back home to enjoy family - or so he thought. Cue pompous, newly-enrolled seminary student.
You see, my extended family member wasn’t a Reformed Presbyterian like me. He lived on another branch of the family tree. You know, the wrong one. So, of course, it was the perfect setting and time to share with him the gift of my Calvinism.
And man, did I share. I wrapped it up in a bow. Over eggnog and ham, I pulled him into debates about the doctrines of justification, adoption, and sanctification. Over dessert, I followed him around the room, talking about the presence of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Honestly, given his military training, I’m surprised he didn’t validate my credentials as a member of the Frozen Chosen by knocking me out cold.
You know, when I look back on that, I’m more than embarrassed. I'm grieved. I’m grieved by my arrogance. I’m grieved by my selfishness. I’m grieved by my lack of compassion. I didn’t care about him. I didn’t love him. I used him. Putting him down was a vile attempt to lift myself up.
Thankfully, an early ministry mentor later pointed me to sign on his office wall. It said “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” His purpose wasn’t to shame me; it was to save me - and my ministry.
That’s the way he ministered, too. He led with love. He didn’t shrink back from sharing the truth. However, he prioritized it. The first truth he communicated in his relationships was the simple fact that he loved - genuinely loved - the ones with whom he shared. People didn’t always love what he said, but they usually loved the one who said it - because they knew he loved them.
Holidays can occasion notoriously difficult times around the dinner table. We rub elbows with family members with whom we disagree, and often hear ideas and opinions with which we don’t agree. Our adrenaline flows. Our heart rate rises. We want to confront and correct. All too often we do it in anger, not in love.
Child of God: It really is true: nobody cares how much we know until they know how much we care. Even if we fathom all mysteries and comprehend all knowledge, but yet don’t have love, we’re nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).
So, let’s lead with love. Let others know this first to be true: that we love them, and that we desire the very best - God’s best - for them this holiday season. That truth will make all other truths much, much more attractive.
You’re loved. Don’t forget it.
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