Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is Timothy Dudley-Smith’s “Not for tongues of Heaven’s angels” which is based on St Paul’s famous description of true (Godly) love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. The tune, “Bridegroom” is more familiar to me set to the words “Like the murmur of the dove’s song” which we will come to in a month’s time at Pentecost, but these seem to be its original words.
It’s suggested as a hymn for a marriage service, but the love of which Paul writes is not that of romance. It is a love that expresses commitment, but commitment to serving other people at whatever cost. This love, in one of the most often quoted verses of the Bible, goes along with faith and hope, but is the greatest of the three, and all of those are greater than the “tongues of angels”. The final line or refrain of each verse is “May love be ours, O Lord”.
Verse 1 takes the idea from the Bible passage of contrasting this love with the more spectacular spiritual gifts of tongues (a special language given by God to some people with which to pray and praise), discernment (a form of prophecy that can see people’s hidden thoughts and feelings) and ‘the faith that masters mountains’. That last refers to a saying of Jesus that even a tiny amount of faith ‘like a mustard seed’ can move mountains.
The second and third verses list the qualities of this true Godly love: humble, gentle, tender, kind, gracious, patient, generous; never jealous, selfish, boasting or resentful but long-suffering. These qualities, some of which are sometimes called ‘fruits of the Spirit’, will indeed help make for a happy and stable marriage, but the real challenge is to allow God’s Spirit to make us loving like this to everyone we meet.
The last verse reminds us that the effort we make in this life to be loving will not go unnoticed in the next, and can perhaps be seen as a rehearsal for the real thing. “in the day this world is fading faith and hope will play their part, but when Christ is seen in glory love shall reign in every heart”. If we are used to loving like Christ now, we will not find his second coming as much of an upheaval as those who have not discovered this true love.