For many of us, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books are among our most treasured experiences with literature. Several English children are transported into a fantasy land where they have to confront evil and learn to love a lion “savior” named Aslan. The escapades are gripping as they see the land of Narnia sung into existence by Aslan, damaged by pride and envy and greed, and then ultimately redeemed by Aslan’s loving voluntary martyrdom and resurrection.
In one of the books, “The Magician’s Nephew,” Aslan returns to Narnia after an absence to find the land dormant. He calls it to life. “Awake, O Narnia. Love. Think. Speak.” I loved that succinct summary of the essence of life. Love. Think. Speak. Lewis is echoing the priorities of 1 Corinthians 13 in his choice of terms.
Unfortunately, we all too often reverse the order of Aslan’s exhortation. We speak before we think and create damage by our injudicious words. Then we think about how to do damage control. Only after the speech and thought have wreaked havoc, we try to love. Often the relationships are so injured by that point that love is not received by the victims of our inverse process. Starting with loving someone can open their minds and heart to our thoughts and our words. Reversing the order can harden their hearts and minds so attempts at loving expression do not penetrate with the intended healing effect.
The Apostle Paul starts his exposition on love in 1 Corinthians 13 with the statement that eloquence, even heavenly eloquence, without love is “only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (verse 1). Speaking our opinions without regard to the recipient of our opinion qualifies us to lose on the Gong Show. Before we open our mouths, we must consider what is best for the one with whom we are speaking. Will our “pearls of wisdom” draw them closer to truth and healthy living or drive them further away from those outcomes? Do they need a hug, encouragement, a helping hand more than our “truth” statements? Do they need to know our commitment to their well-being before they will hear our words of advice? As Christians, we believe God’s Word is true, wise and helpful, but its misapplication or mistiming can leave wounds instead of being a balm to a broken spirit.
Paul then moves on to the thinking part of this discussion in verse 2. “If I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.” I can be uber-MENSA with an IQ of 200. I can have a PhD in Christian apologetics. I can read Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic fluently. But, if I do not have love for the one with whom I am having a conversation, I am nothing. I have rarely seen someone argued into the Kingdom of God. Non-Christians often have legitimate intellectual questions about the Christian faith. Their concerns should be answered carefully and thoroughly, but if it is a matter of winning debate points instead of lovingly introducing the non-believer to cogent truth, it is doomed to failure.
Years ago, a noted evangelical theologian debated the originator of situational ethics. The evangelical was absolutely brilliant in his arguments, but he was ruthless and bent on humiliating his opponent. The moral relativist was poor in his intellectual defense of his position but was gracious, kind and gentle. At the end, the audience gave the ethicist a standing ovation. An unloving winning argument was far less effective than mere kindness.
In short, loving concern for the person with whom we have contact is the necessary starting point for any healthy relationship. Paul urges us to be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). He tells us that “he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law… All the commandments may be summed up in this one rule: ‘love your neighbor as yourself’” (Romans 13:8-9). Book learning or brilliant argumentation are powerless unless they start from this premise.
Christians must develop spiritual muscle memory. Our default setting must be, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to identify the love issues at the start of any interaction with our fellow man. Then we must think through how to express that love in the best manner. Only then should we speak wisely to further the love objective. Paul says, “Let your speech be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). Salt enhances flavor and preserves food from putrefaction. Our speech should make our relationships more pleasant, less rotten.
Are you willing to join me in setting our hearts on following Aslan’s instructions, “Love. Think. Speak?” This is the secret to avoid sleepwalking through life and to come fully awake to the world around us.
Doug Kiesewetter is a serial start-up business and social entrepreneur, having launched 13 for-profit ventures and many non-profits over the past four decades. He is currently CEO of a Montrose-based solar manufacturer and chairman of Waterstone, a public Christian foundation in Colorado Springs. Doug is a member of Cedar Creek Church. He and his wife Deborah have two adult children and four grandchildren.