1 Corinthians 13:3 “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Natural disasters often remind us how urgently our charity is needed. Our aid makes a difference for those who receive it. For some it becomes, literally, a matter of life and death. Can it reach those who need it in time to prevent starvation and disease?
But what about our reasons for giving it? Are we just buying off a guilty conscience? Henry Drummond once commented, “We purchase relief from the sympathetic feelings roused by the spectacle of misery, at the copper (coin)’s cost. It is too cheap–too cheap for us, and often too dear for the beggar. If we really loved him we would either do more for him, or less” (less if our gift only reinforces some bad habits that got him into this situation in the first place).
Or might we be purchasing the praise of others, like the Pharisees once did? Jesus warns, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
What if we give, not just our last penny, but our very lives for the gospel, or to rescue someone from earthly peril? Even the ultimate sacrifice can be driven by false motives. You don’t have to be an Islamic suicide bomber for that to be true. An overdeveloped sense of duty, dreams of glory, visions of being declared a hero, the prospect of occupying a prominent and respected place in the annals of history, the idea that long into the future people will be telling stories about you and your courage and your sacrifice–all these have inspired people to let go of life itself for a cause, to save others, even to promote the gospel. Still, if I “have not love, I gain nothing.”
Nothing! Love is more than all of these and everything else we might do. Everything of value hinges on it. First our Salvation–that God loves us so much he chose not to condemn us but to forgive our sins. He loves us so much that he gave his Son, and his blood, and new life, and a place in his family, and a place in heaven.
And second, our entire life of response– not that we do what we do for ourselves, but that we love, that we freely, with no thought of personal gain, live to serve each other and bring glory to God. That is why we are still here. With salvation secured and eternal life as a free gift, love is all there is left for us to do.