Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
but have not love,
“Love,” in this chapter, is agape love. A definition of agape love is love that is divine, self-sacrificing, one-way, and free to relate. I give this definition as a summary of its usage in the New Testament. This love is not romantic, saccharine, or sentimental love. Paul does not use the stronger romantic term for love (phile – friendship, rapport) because it is not an emotion but an attitude.
Agape love is “divine” because this love comes from God. This love is self-sacrificing and not selfish. Self-sacrificing love is willing to place others above self. It is one-way in that it does not depend on the other person to love us back. Moreover, it is free to relate to others and does not carry soul-kinks such as bitterness, resentment, and hostility toward others. It is free from those attitudinal sins. This love does not trifle. It is unconditional, for it loves in the face of faults and failures. It is a choice to love the unworthy in our perception.
I have become
Note the structure of verses 1-3. First, Paul says, “I have become,” then, “I am,” and finally, “It profits me nothing.”
The word “become” means to become something that you were not previously. When we use the gift of speaking in languages without studying for them and have not to love, we become so much noise. By exercising a gift without love, Paul becomes something he was not previously – a noisy speaker.
sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
Large gongs and cymbals hung at the entrance of pagan temples. People banged these instruments to gain the attention of worshipers. “Sounding brass” was bronze or copper, the alloy of copper and tin. “Clanging cymbal” was two half-globes of metal stuck together. “Clanging” is better translated as “clashing” of cymbals.
Presuming that one can speak in “tongues of men and of angels” but does not have love, that person is just a lot of noise – gongs and cymbals. A gong has its best function in concert with other instruments of music, not in solo. Cymbals are not solo instruments either but sound best in performance with other instruments of music.
Without love, our gifts are just a lot of noise.
Self-sacrificing love is the love God bestowed on us in Christ (Jn 3:16). Christians operating with biblical love are willing to sacrifice themselves for others, even for those who dislike us. God loved us while we were enemies with Him (Ro 5:10), so we should love our enemies. Jesus loved His disciples to “the end” (Jn 13:1). He never gave up on His disciples. The hallmark of true Christianity is tenacious love:
Jn 13:34, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”