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London, England - My old upright piano served not only as the place where I wrote songs, but also as the place where I taught many kids piano in the neighborhood. It was there in Nashville in 1990 that I wrote down the first notes of “Without Love… We Have Nothing,” a song that has been made famous by the Korean Christians who have recorded “Without Love” on well over a 125 different CDs.
I remember writing the first two lines and the last line of the song using a pencil and a notebook with beige staff paper and green staves. The lyrics were based on the 1 Corinthians 13. Although I felt strongly about the opening melody and lyrics that I had started and sensed God’s inspiration, I could not to finish it.
In the summer of that year, my friend Joseph M. Martin (now with Shawnee Press) came to visit me from his home in Austin, TX. We spent a good deal of time showing each other our most recent songs while giving our best critiques and encouragements. I pulled out my notebook and asked Joe if he would help me work on “Without Love.” He immediately adjusted a note in the first line of the melody. We worked together to finish the song and sketched out a lead sheet. Joseph then took “Without Love… We Have Nothing” back to Texas and wrote a masterpiece of an arrangement.
CPP/Belwin in Miami, FL released “Without Love” in 1991 as a choral anthem. It did fairly well, but after a few years went out of print. Over the last couple of years, we have discovered that it has become very popular in Korea and is being sung by the Korean Christians all over the world. The song has been used in every musical genre imaginable. It has been featured at churches such as Dr. David Cho’s Church in Seoul and sung by the Seoul National University Choir. One of the most well known CCM versions is a duet featuring Kim Myoung Shik in Korea. This year, Shawnee Press re-released the original anthem with a brand new orchestration by Brant Adams.
The success of “Without Love… We Have Nothing” came as a complete surprise to us, yet we thank God for how He has used our song. It shows how God can use music to transcend international borders, languages, denominations, and people to reach places where the gospel might not be welcome. I think of North Korea and wonder if people there have heard our song from the airwaves of South Korea. It is amazing to think about.
How does a song begin on an old, beat up piano in a very humble setting and become loved around the world? The truth is I have no idea how it happened. But God does! Just this week, I was reminded in an unusual way that God is awesome and can take small things and make them great. When Christians use the artistic talents that God has given them there is no telling what the end result will be as seen in our song “Without Love… We Have Nothing.” With God, there are no boundaries to His love.
James M. Stevens
Senior Music and Culture Advisor
Dr. James Michael Stevens is a prolific musician and published composer of over 200 songs. Winner of numerous ASCAP Standard Awards for Composition, he has formally served as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), and currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee as Chairman of the Music Department at Free Will Baptist Bible College.