“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)
For the purpose of this devotion, we focus on verse 3 of 1 Corinthians 13. However, it is suggested that the entire chapter be read as a background passage. The focus of this chapter in the Apostle Paul’s discourse to the Church is the superiority, even the preeminence, of charity as the defining quality of Christianity.
Now don’t get that wrong: there is more to charity than just being generous, as our text clearly points out.
“Charity” is used in the King James Version to translate the Greek word “agape.” This same word is translated as “love” in numerous other places, most notably in John 3:16, “For God so loved [agape] the world…” Agape then is best described as a God-type love; it is a self-sacrificing love. The Bible tells us, “Beloved, if God so loved [agape] us, we ought also to love [agape] one another” (1 John 4:11). The love of God (agape, charity) is expressed in its sacrificial giving of oneself.
We should be mindful that God is not a creature like we are; carried about by external influences and internal urgings. God is immutable, which means that He is unchanging (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8); and so He is not given to flights of emotional fancies. Rather than interpreting God’s attributes according to our human example, we have to understand them according to His unchanging nature. If “…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) – then God has a purpose for all things. His love then is a love of purpose.
We are better able to understand “The Love Chapter” when we know that “charity” is a love of purpose. It is active in the giving of oneself for the purpose of meeting the need of another. So often we fix an emotional attachment on something and say that we ‘love’ it. The contradiction in this is seen when our emotions change and we find that we no longer ‘love’ the thing or person we once loved. Our love was not a love of purpose; it was not a God-type love.
I like to use the relationship between a mother wolf and her pups as an illustration of natural love. A mother wolf will kill in order to defend her pups. She will also kill her pups in order to preserve her own life. She does not love them. The purpose of protecting her pups is outweighed by the purpose of preserving herself. She is not able to sacrifice her own need in order to meet the needs of her offspring. She does not have a God-type love.
In the ultimate expression of God’s love, Christ laid down His life for us. And He commands that we do the same for one another. There is no emotional foundation to this action: we were unlovable when He loved us – and so we are to love the unlovable. Our purpose should be that we will show the love of God (agape) to others because we have experienced this same love. As Christians, we are called to be witnesses of God’s grace. We do this by our love toward others (John 13:35).
In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul tells us that none of our outer garments of religion mean anything at all if they do not proceed from a heart of love. The very core of the Christian Faith has to be the experience and expression of the love of God. James expresses this thought well when he calls us to action with “pure religion” (James 1:27). When we strip ourselves of the outer garments, Paul tells us, we are left with the fundamentals of faith, hope, and charity – “…but the greatest of these is charity [agape; love]” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
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