If I ‘do so make covenant’ * before men and angels, but have not love, I am missing the point of the promises I am making. And if I live in community, and understand all the mysteries of the common purse, and if I attend every meeting, arriving punctually and staying till the end, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away every chance of romance I have, and if I deliver up my life to celibacy, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Our inspirations have a limited shelf life; our words will pass their ‘use by’ date; our certainties will be swallowed up. For our certainties are uncertain, our inspirations are uninspiring, compared to what we’re heading for. When perfection comes, my inspirations, words, and certainties will seem to me like that collection of stickers I prized when I was five: I’ll smile at them and let them go. At present these things are the binoculars through which I glimpse God, but when God arrives I’ll drop them without a thought (and realise I was looking through them the wrong way anyway). Then I’ll realise it was never about how much I knew God, but how much God knew me.
For now we need faith; then we’ll see. For now we need hope; then we’ll receive. For now we need love; and so we will forever, when only love remains.
* For those not familiar with the Jesus Army, my reference in the first paragraph of this paraphrase to 'covenant', 'community' and 'celibacy' are three of our church's key distinctives. Covenant refers to the promise of lifelong discipleship that our committed members make to God and each other; community refers to our intentional Christian community houses (with their common purse arrangements); celibacy refers to the promise that some have made to remain single in order to serve God more freely. These things are important ways in which we've sought to put the New Testament into practice over the years.
These things matter to us. But as with the issues that mattered to the Corinthians - tongues, prophecy, faith, knowledge and so on - if we forget that they're actually all about love, we've forgotten what they're for.