1 Corinthians 13:3
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 profits me nothing.
I. "THOUGH I BESTOW ALL MY GOODS TO FEED THE POOR." Literally, "bestow all my substance in food": turn it all into charitable doles. Well, all this lavish benevolence will bring no profit if unaccompanied with love.
1. A man may be liberal from the mere bent of his natural disposition.
(1) "But is it not a blessed thing to have such a disposition? "Yes; but the brightest lamp leaves many corners dark and cheerless, while the bright day spring flows into every nook. So it is with the human character, according as natural liberality, or Divine love, prompts it to action. Under the first, much may be bright and lovely, but there will ever be left lurking spots of darkness — enmities, prejudices, partialities, etc.; whereas, if lighted up by Divine love, all these will be resisted and vanish by degrees, and the man will become just and large-hearted. The naturally liberal may give to satisfy his wish and ease his desire of giving; true Christian charity gives in self-denial, often withholding where nature prompts to give; often giving where nature would fain withhold.
(2) Of those who bestow largely without the spirit of love, the indiscriminate almsgiver is one of the chief examples. Not one of the characteristics of love here described is in operation upon him. The indolent giving way to an amiable propensity, the hypocritical getting rid of a troublesome duty, must not for an instant be confounded with the yearning and painstaking self-denial of Christian love.
2. A man may bestow all his goods to feed the poor, out of motives of mere display.
(1) "But is it not a laudable thing to give as befits a man's station and income?" That depends on the motive. One man bestows up to the mark which is required of him. If he goes further than this, he expects, and gets, no small share of credit. But in this I can see nothing laudable. But another man bestows as responsible to God. He acts not up to, but down upon his earthly position; not as sparing that which is his own, but administering that which is not his own. Now, love is set free, and in that alone is capable of working great and lasting good.
(2) But such is the infirmity of our nature, that the existence of a motive is by no means a guarantee for its full operation. There may be conscientious bestowal in a hard, rigid spirit of duty, without kindliness of heart or manner, just as the seed may appear in the plant, but after all be nipped by unkindly skies and winds. And of a bestowal so defective, what our text says is true. Note how true it is found to be in our public legal provision for the poor. Not that we could in our present state of society do without such a provision. But no one thanks us for it, no one is softened by it: all look to it as a sort of right, and feel no gratitude to its bestowers.
II. "IF I GIVE MY BODY TO BE BURNED, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing" — i.e., all toil, all sacrifice, etc. How different would have been the history of the world and the Church, if this had been borne in mind by Christians!
1. How many lamentable instances have we seen of self-denial on a vast scale, followed by rule and prescription, where every sign of the spirit of love was wanting; nay, where hatred and rancour not only burned in men's breasts, but led on to wars and massacres, nominally for the truth's sake! On what is the greatest amount of self-denying labour spent among men? What answer could be given, but that it is but after all for ulterior objects?
2. And then rise to a higher kind of sacrifice. How often do we see men earnestly devoting themselves, even without any prospect beyond, to the interest or advancement of some favourite scheme, the maintenance of one side of some debated question? Sometimes substance, and family, and peace of mind, are offered generously up; many a man is a wreck of some hopeless voyage, but evermore fitting himself out again for undertaking it afresh. Then again, as in the former case, but here even more, there is temptation, from the very glory of self-sacrifice, to make it unworthily. Often have the words of our text been literally verified. The body has been burned, but no flame of love was lit up in the soul: the martyr has met death with smiles perhaps on his persecutors, but with unsubdued polemical hatred. And many who have not reached this consummation have stripped themselves of all they had, and have gone forth into deserts, there to become renowned in the eyes of the Church, and thence to launch their anathemas upon others, wiser perhaps and better than themselves. Well indeed might it be written, that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. And just in proportion to this character of our hearts is the necessity of constant and unwearied watchfulness, that in our own case neither our bestowals nor our self-denials may be without love, but indeed all prompted and regulated by it. And how may this be? Now as at the first, by the Spirit of God.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.