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.
Of all the comparisons between love and other qualities, gifts, or practices, this is the one which sounds most strange to our ears. For in our minds charity and almsgiving are so closely associated that it scarcely seems possible that they should be placed in contrast one with the other. Yet so it is; and every observer of human nature and society can recognize both the insight and the foresight of the apostle in this striking, almost startling comparison.
I. ALMSGIVING MAY ORIGINATE IN INFERIOR AND UNWORTHY MOTIVES. The apostle supposes an extreme case, viz. that one should give away all his substance in doles to the poor; and he gives his judgment that such a course of action may be loveless, and, if loveless, then worthless. For it may proceed from:
1. Ostentation. That this is the explanation of many of the handsome and even munificent gifts of the wealthy, we are obliged to believe. A rich man sometimes likes his name to figure in a subscription list for an amount which no man of moderate means can afford. The publication of such a gift gratifies his vanity and self importance. His name may figure side by side with that of a well known millionaire.
2. Custom. A commentator has illustrated this passage by reference to the crowds of beggars who gather in the court of a great bishop's palace in Spain or Sicily, to each of whom a coin is given, in so-called charity. Such pernicious and indiscriminate almsgiving is expected of those in a high position in the Church, and they give from custom. The same principle explains probably much of our eleemosynary bestowment.
3. Love of power. As in the feudal days a great lord had his retinue and his retainers, multitudes depending upon his bounty, so there can be no question that individuals and Churches often give generously for the sake of the hold they thus gain upon the dependent, who become in turn in many ways their adherents and supporters.
II. ALMSGIVING MAY IN SOME CASES BE INJURIOUS. In fact, it often is so.
1. To the recipient. The wretch who lives in idleness on rich men's doles is degraded in the process, and becomes lost to all self respect, and habituated to an ignominious and base contentedness with his position.
2. To society generally. When it is known that the man who begs is as well supported as the man who works, how can it be otherwise than that demoralization should ensue? The system of indiscriminate almsgiving is a wrong to the industrious poor.
3. To the giver. For such gifts as are supposed, instead of calling forth the finer qualities of the nature, awaken in the breast of the bestower a cynical contempt of mankind.
III. NEVERTHELESS, TRUE CHARITY MAY EXPRESS ITSELF IN GIFTS. The man who doles away his substance in almsgiving, and has all the while no charity, is nothing; but if there be love, that love sanctifieth both the giver and the gift. For he who loves and gives resembles that Divine Being whose heart is ever filled with love, whose hands are ever filled with gifts. - T.
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.