Divine Mathematics

I hated math. I remember getting a “D” in Mr. Donnelly’s seventh grade class when the “New Math” came out – whatever that was. My overachiever, get-all-A’s world crumbled then and there. It never recovered. In college I did everything I could to stay away from anything mathematics related. Wasn’t I surprised when I signed up for Astronomy 101 that it was a math class in disguise. I just wanted to know about the stars. Took every extra-help Saturday class to survive that one.

Now, divine mathematics is an altogether different thing. That’s what D. A. Carson calls the equation formulated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (ESV).

The equation? Five minus one equals zero. Or to put it George Sweeting’s way “gifts, minus love, equals zero.” Paul goes to great lengths in the first part of the Bible’s famous love chapter to describe supernatural gifts, extraordinary faith, and even heroic gestures like martyrdom, only to obliterate their significance before God if they lack love. Even the big five taken all together in this text, minus love, amount to absolutely nothing. Auth0r Jerry Bridges brings home the importance of God’s way of doing math:

Write down, either in your imagination or on a sheet of paper, a row of zeros. Keep adding zeros until you have filled the whole line on the page. What do they add up to? Exactly nothing! Even if you were to write a thousand of them, they would still be nothing. But put a positive number in front of them and immediately they have value. This is the way it is with our gifts and faith and zeal. They are the zeros on the page. Without love, they count for nothing. But put love in front of them and immediately they have value. And just as the number two gives more value to a row of zeros than the number one does, so more and more love can add exponentially greater value to our gifts (quoted in Leading with Love, Alexander Strauch, p. 15-16).

I can live with a “D” from 7th grade, but I want to excel far better in spiritual mathematics. No Christian leader should aspire to anything less. For that matter, nor should any follower of Jesus.