If I speak in the tongue of a national, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I wear the national dress and understand the culture and all forms of etiquette, and if I copy all mannerisms so that I could pass for a national but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor, and if I spend my energy without reserve, but I have not love, I gain nothing.
Love endures long hours of language study, and is kind to those who mock his accent; love does not envy those who stayed home; love does not exalt his home culture, is not proud of his national superiority, does not boast about the way we do it back home, does not seek his own ways, is not easily provoked into telling about the beauty of his home country, does not think evil about this new culture. Love bears all criticism about his home culture, believe all good things about this new culture, confidently anticipates being at home in this place, endures all inconveniences. Love never fails: but where there is cultural anthropology, it will fail; where there is contextualisation it will lead to syncretism; where there is linguistics, it will change. For we know only part of this culture and we minister to only part. But when Christ is reproduced in this culture, then our inadequacies will be insignificant.
When I was North American I spoke as a North American, I understood as a North American, I thought as a North American; but when I left the United States I put away North American things. Now we adapt to this culture awkwardly; but He will live in it intimately: now I speak with a strange accent, but He will speak to the heart. And now these three remain; cultural adaptation, language study and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13 made personal