If I give away all I have,
and if I deliver up my body to be burned,
but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:3
(Forgive me, Jonathan Edwards, as I’m about to adapt your 1738 words into my 2010 ones)
So how much have you donated to Haiti so far?
$15? $200? $1,000?
Even thinking about going there yourself?
Because you want to help, right? Good.
But why do you want to help?
Because you get a good feeling when you help?
Because you feel guilty otherwise?
Because they need your help?
Because you have the capability to?
All sweet answers.
But is the ultimate right answer:
Because you’re so in love with God that you want to love others, too?
Face it—without a love for God, your help is for naught, along with any suffering that you experience for the cause. That’s what Paul was inspired to say in 1 Corinthians 13:3. Believe it?
You can do all you want and suffer all you want, but it will never make up for a lack of Christian love in your heart.
However, you still can give some amazing performances and even endure some great sufferings without Christian love.
Saul (pre-Paul) did. The Pharisees did. Ananias and Saphira did. People do it every day. Even in the name of religion. Think penances and voluntary inflictions. Wearisome pilgrimages. Um, even perfect church attendance?
But without love, it’s all still worth nothing.
- God doesn’t need your works or your sufferings.
He’s all-sufficient. What he wants from you is your attitude. Don’t think you’re pleasing him with your super-sized gifts if they’re from wrong motives, without good purposes.
- You’ve got nothing to give God except your heart anyway.
What is the great end in your giving? “It is the aim of the heart that makes the reality of the gift.” And if that aim isn’t God, then regardless of the gift, he receives nothing.
- There is no substitute gift for your heart.
- Showing love only in outward actions is like lying to the Holy One.
And if you think God is buying it, you’re deceiving yourself, not him.
- If it isn’t from a heart of love for God, you’re offering to an idol.
Can a wife give love to just any man, and have it count as loving her husband? No, that’s adultery. The same is true for your gifts given in the name of God, but not out of a heart of love for God.
[At this point, I’m pretty overwhelmed by my own pathetic heart. How about you? I wonder how I can ever have a pure heart of love for God!…)
So what do you do about it?
A. Remember that a little is better than none.
Take solace that God accepts “even a little sincere love. Though there be a great deal of imperfection, yet, if there be any true sincerity in our love, that little shall not be rejected because there is some hypocrisy with it.” [Whew!]
Instead of condemning yourself, search yourself to root out any insincerities. Ask yourself:
1. Truth. How much does your heart match your outward appearances of giving?
2. Freedom. Are you giving freely and with delight, or rather like a forced slave?
3. Integrity. Are you giving with your whole heart and whole soul? Or do you hold back a piece of your heart?
4. Purity. How mixed are your motives?
B. Encourage others [and yourself!] to seek God’s grace to change their hearts.
Character isn’t changed by what you do or how much you suffer. Good deeds won’t atone for your sins or give you God’s favor. “Rest, then, on nothing that you have done or suffered, or that you can do or suffer; but rest on Christ. Let your heart be filled with sincere love to him.”
It is beyond your own doings; throw yourself on God’s mercy.
C. Above all else, seek to develop a sincere Christian heart of love.
If this is so important, and it is, let it be the one great thing that you seek. “Seek it with diligence and prayer; and seek it of God, and not of yourself. He only can bestow it.”
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Lecture IV: Love is patient