There is something of a Saturday morning tradition in our home involving me, Dad, making pancakes. Or at least there was until my 10-year-old daughter (with the family’s full support, by the way), decided she would do a better job of making Saturday morning breakfast than me. She was right.
I’m not sure everything that led to this transition of power, but I do recall one incident that undoubtedly had something to do with it. See, when I made the pancakes, I didn’t use the stuff from the box. No siree. I made them from scratch following the same recipe on the same index card that has been in our pantry for years. On one particular occasion, I had the flour, I had the eggs, I had the sugar, and I was looking for the baking powder.
Emphasis on powder.
What I instead pulled out of the pantry was the baking soda. Which, as it turns out, gives the pancakes a distinctively rancid flavor when they come out. It was a bad batch, so bad that no amount of syrup could cover the mistake in the end.
Amazing that in cooking – even a relatively simple recipe – that you can have most every ingredient correct, and yet that one mistake ruins the otherwise perfect batch. To put it another way, I can have the finest cage-free eggs, the best ground flour, and the most organic of organic milk – but if I have not the baking powder, then I have nothing.
The experience came to mind as I recently read Paul’s opening verses of 1 Corinthians 13 – the “love” chapter:
If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. It’s been read at countless weddings, for believers and non-believers alike, because of the way Paul would go onto describe love in the following verses. But Paul’s direct application of these verses about love wasn’t intended for wedding fodder – it is set in the broader context of his instruction to this church in Corinth about spiritual gifts and their place in the church.
The church in Corinth knew a thing or two about spiritual gifts; it seems as though this body of believers had them in spades. And yet despite their giftedness, they had failed to grasp the overall purpose of these gifts from the Holy Spirit. As he would later say in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “everything is to be done for building up.” These gifts were given not for the showmanship of the one exercising them, but for the building up of the church.
And that’s where love comes in. Without love, the recipe falters. You can have the right gifts, the right personalities, the right environment, the right whatever – and it still goes bad. The most gifted Christian in all the world leaves the environment rancid when he or she pollutes it with their unloving exercise. This passage, then, is more than a simple introduction to Paul’s famous description of love – it’s a warning. Remember how quickly something as great and helpful and edifying as spiritual gifts can go south. Remember that, as in the case of pancakes, it only takes one ingredient to spoil the outcome.