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1 Corinthians 13 Part 3: Charity and Martyrdom without Love
1 Corinthians 13:3; Matthew 6:2-4, Mark 12:41-44. Giving without love profits no one.
“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:3 NASB1995
Paul moves on in this passage to caution the church at Corinth about charity and surrender to persecution. If charity and giving is done, even to the point of giving all, or you surrender yourself to suffering and martyrdom, and these acts are not done in love, then it profits you nothing. This seems strange, as sacrificial giving and willful submission to persecution (even to death) for your faith would appear at first glance to be incredibly selfless acts.
Let’s think about charitable giving: When I was working, we were “strongly encouraged” (pressured is a more appropriate term) to give some of our income to a popular charity bundler known as United Way (I’m sure most of you have heard of them). United Way is relatively efficient and widely praised and endorsed organization (the NFL is a partner), but they have also had their Share of controversy and scandals, as you can see at the link.
My company prided itself on how many donors they had at certain levels of giving (they targeted 100% participation) and the process was essentially painless; at one point in my career, I was in the Tocqueville society, requiring $10,000 or more a year to be donated. You signed up for a certain amount to be deducted from your paycheck each pay period, it was forwarded to United Way for their distribution to their various charities within the organization, and you received a statement at the end of the year delineating your total contribution for use as a federal and local tax deduction. “Win-win” all around! This giving required that you went to a “dog and pony” show once or twice a year to hear about all of the good a recipient charity was doing for something (poor children, teenage employment, homeless, abuse victims, early education, etc.). If you were so inclined, you could designate your donation to a few groups or a single organization.
This was SO easy and I can attest that there is absolutely NO love involved and no soul-searching or research or visits to charities to see what they were actually doing. Most of the giving was done to add little brownie points to your performance reviews or swell with pride when given an annual certificate in front of a group for being a “high level donor”. It was giving out of a surplus, not making a dent in our “fun” money. United Way itself would have fun events for big donors, like free concerts with open bars, golf tournaments, and limited edition swag that they gave away; we were also invited to special events for the single charity that we supported for the last few years that I gave. We later found out that particular charity was discreetly supporting abortion rights (through “family resource planning”), gender “affirmation”, and other social pet causes that we disagreed with; they were affiliated with a mainstream church denomination that has since gone completely off the rails promoting many heretical positions (the same denomination we left a few years ago).
Giving just to get tax deductions, perks, and recognition runs counter to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that I examined here on Heaven on Wheels:
““So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
Matthew 6:2-4 NASB1995
Charitable giving in our modern times is replete with examples like my own. Foundations, non-profits and causes overflow with money from those who have a surplus; many of those groups do good work, it must be granted. Most of the givers probably ask these questions: What can I get out of the giving experience? Can I safely give a portion of my income and change my mind at a later time? Can I maximize my tax deductions with this giving? Can I get publicity for my giving? When we came back to faith, passages like this slam you in the face:
“And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.””
Mark 12:41-44 NASB1995
Everything we own belongs to God. Giving should not be done out of duty or fear or pride. It should be done out of abiding love and gratitude. It should be sacrificial (give even though it may result in you having to sacrifice something in your life), requiring you to trust God that He will pour out an abundance upon you. His Grace is sufficient!
Now, let’s look at the second part of this verse: Are there truly martyrs for the faith who sacrificed all but did not do it out of love? David Guzik from Enduring Word commentary has some interesting observations about this:
Though I give my body to be burned: Even if I lay my life down in dramatic martyrdom, apart from love, it is of no profit. Normally, no one would doubt the spiritual credentials of someone who gave away everything they had, and gave up their life in dramatic martyrdom. But those are not the best measures of someone’s true spiritual credentials. Love is the best measure.
There were some early Christians so arrogant as to think that the blood of martyrdom would wash away any sin. They were so proud about their ability to endure suffering for Jesus, they thought it was the most important thing in the Christian life. It is important, but not the most important. Without love, it profits me nothing. Even if it is done willingly (Poole notes “and not be dragged to the stake, but freely give up myself to that cruel kind of death”), without love, it profits me nothing.
Some believe the burning referred to here is not execution, but branding as a criminal or as a slave for the sake of the gospel. The more likely sense is execution, but it really matters little, because the essential meaning is the same – great personal sacrifice.
As well, some ancient Greek manuscripts have if I give up my body that I may glory instead of though I give my body to be burned. Again, the meaning is the same, and the difference is really minor.
Many Christians believe the Christian life is all about sacrifice – sacrificing your money, your life, for the cause of Jesus Christ. Sacrifice is important, but without love it is useless, it profits me nothing.
Your spiritual “brownie points” are not derived from a sacrifice that is done with sighs (oh, ok…I guess I’ll give a little bit more) or from grumbling and reluctantly giving a little but only when asked or from an ego-centric perspective just to be recognized by your peers and bosses or from a martyr complex that screams “look at my ultimate sacrifice”. Love (true agape love) is the essential ingredient, otherwise it is nothing!
My next devotional dives into the first phrase of 1 Corinthians 4: Love is Patient.
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord, please give me a heart that cheerfully gives sacrificially, loving those in need. Please shelter me in your Grace so that I know that the ultimate gift of my life for you is a blessed thing. Pour out your abundance upon me in your Grace. Amen
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary by David Guzik on Enduring Word is used with written permission.