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  • Writer's picturetimothy martiny

1 Corinthians 13…For Missionaries.


Valentine's Day is celebrated in Guatemala, as in many Latin American countries. However, what is different here is that besides being a romantic holiday, it's also a day to celebrate friendship and love for those who are important to you.

In Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, Valentine's Day is celebrated as el "Día del Amor y la Amistad" or "The Day of Love and Friendship." In Guatemala and other countries, it is called "Día del Cariño" or "The Day of Caring." In all these countries, it's common to do something not just for your romantic partner but also for friends, family, or coworkers, giving them something special like candies, balloons, or flowers.

This focus on love toward others reminded me of the famous "love chapter" in the Bible. While reading it, I began to ponder how the things mentioned might apply to me, specifically to my calling as a missionary.

In rereading it, I found that some things hit quite close to home for me personally. Paul talks specifically about so many things that are central to my everyday life as a missionary. Day in and day out, my literal job is to serve the orphaned, fatherless, and vulnerable, yet like anything else I do, if I do not demonstrate the love of God in what I do, its effect is muted.

Although it's been done many times by many different people, here is my personal adaption of 1 Corinthians 13…for missionaries.

  1. If I speak the languages of the people I serve but have no love, then I am nothing more than a noise in their ears and a sound to be forgotten.

  2. If I know so much more than them based on my knowledge, studies, and experiences, and though my theology is great enough to make me feel like a spiritual giant but have no love, I am nothing.

  3. If I give up all I have to come to be a missionary, say goodbye to family, friends, and career to die or contract sickness in a strange land, but have no love, I gain nothing.

  4. Love must be patient in understanding their culture and kind in serving. Love does not envy other missionaries or boast when my ministry is doing well; it is not arrogant when it succeeds.

  5. Love is not rude in the way it engages with local culture. It does not insist on serving others in the way it thinks is best; it is not irritable when it doesn't get its way in ministry or resentful when others do.

  6. It does not rejoice when others fail but rejoices in the truth of God's word.

  7. The steadfast love a missionary has will bear all things; it will believe the best in people. It places its hope in a sovereign God; it endures through all things, no matter how hard.

  8. The love it has for others never ends. As for the plans of the missionary, they will cease, as for their spiritual gifts, they will fail at times, as for the great knowledge they have, it also shall pass away.

  9. For a missionary knows only part of all things.

  10. But when Christ is come again, only then will his knowledge be complete.

  11. When I was a new missionary, I spoke as a new missionary, thought like a new missionary, and reasoned like a new missionary, but as I gained maturity in ministry, I gave less importance to how I thought things should be done.

  12. As missionaries, we see those we serve dimly, but we will encounter them face to face with time. In the beginning, we know only part of what it means to serve, but with time, we can come to know them more fully, though never as well as Christ knows us.

  13. So now abide faith, hope, and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.

It's an imperfect adaption, as any adaption of already perfect scripture will be. But for me, it drives home like a knife to my heart.

I have worked hard at many good things in my 16 years as a missionary, yet if I am honest with myself and with you, I have to admit that, at times, my works have lacked in love. Not so much to those I serve but to those I worked with and with others I saw attempting to serve.

My intentions have been good, yet like Cain, I offered my works and fruits of my labors to God while failing to realize that the lack of love in my heart sometimes diminished my offerings.

The longer I spend in ministry and the closer I walk with God, the more I become aware of my faults and failings in all the things I do.

Perhaps that is part of our journey to God. The better we truly understand His righteousness, the greater we understand our own sins, and the more we realize our need for His saving grace through Jesus's death on the cross.

In John 13:35, Jesus clearly said to His disciples, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

It was one of the defining traits that led to Christianity's remarkable growth in the centuries following Jesus's crucifixion.

So, if the early church clearly understood this as they spread the Gospel, why is it so hard for us to grasp it today?

I know that it's my desire to serve often gets in the way. I forget that God didn't just didn't to serve orphans and vulnerable kids; he called me to serve everyone He puts in my path—a hug, a smile, a prayer, a friendly conversation with those with whom I engage. To paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge, "Mankind is my "ministry."

Much like the Levite and Priest in the parable Jesus told about "The Good Samaritan," I can get so "caught up in one particular aspect of my ministry that I forget that it is not just important who I serve or how I serve, but that I serve with love.

Thinking, meditating, and then putting these things into writing have been challenging, but putting pen to paper gives life to my thoughts far more meaningfully than merely thinking. Taking the time to not just think these things through but to articulate them in an understandable fashion and then to share them with you, in some way, makes my admissions more real and makes me more accountable, not just to myself but to you and to God.

Please keep me in your prayers as I continue to do the work that God has called me to do with the love that He desires of me.

I pray that one day I may be known as a follower of Christ, by the metric that He Himself deemed most valuable; my love for others.

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