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” (NIV).
Observation: Paul opened the chapter by saying, “Now I will show you the most excellent way,” and in the first three verses he offered profoundly troubling images describing love. He said he would be no more than a resounding gong or clanging cymbal if he spoke even in the language of angels but did not have love. He then said that if he possessed all prophetic knowledge, even if accompanied by faith sufficient to move mountains but didn’t have love, he was worthless. Finally, giving all his possessions to the poor or surrendering his life for the faith by being burned at the stake, if not motivated by love, would be for naught.
Application: The danger in such familiarity with a chapter like this one is that I may read it casually, missing its deepest meanings. In the first three verses, Paul considered motivations of the heart … outward actions and inner condition. Paul may be dealing in hyperbole. Surely no one could speak with tongues of angels; who has any idea what that would sound like, anyway? But if I could, would I benefit from it? Or, if I had such an awesome gift of prophetic revelation that I could pray perfectly over every need, wouldn’t credit for that abound to my account in God’s eyes?
It isn’t likely I would ever volunteer for martyrdom, but if I were to follow Him even in death, surely it would produce great favor with Him. No, Paul is saying that exactly the opposite is true.
A billionaire may pledge a fortune to charity while continuing to blaspheme God. Will his checkbook overcome his heart in God’s eyes? What about my own gifts of service or money given while I know full well I have a cranky spirit about someone? Does not the suspicion arise that my gift is no more beneficial to me than that of the pagan billionaire?
God never condemns me for immaturity; like every earthly father, He delights in my efforts to grow in my Christian walk. He does, though, judge the motives of my heart, and where He finds pretense or disobedience, the result will be brutal. At the end of the age when He returns as King and Judge, many will say, “Lord, Lord, did I not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then He will say, “I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:22–23). Only a heart passionate to tear down every wall, to pursue Him wholeheartedly, can avoid that judgment. In that day, even my best efforts become as dust, the very source of my condemnation.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, try me, search me, and see if there is any wicked way in my heart. Cause it to surface, Lord; I urgently desire to yield it to You.