We continue with my meditations on 1 Cor 13, Pauls love chapter. See also part I and II.
The next verse is the last of the first part of this chapter, and goes on in the same way as verse 1 and 2 which we’ve already read:
If I give away everything I own,
and if I give over my body
in order to boast,
but do not have love,
I receive no benefit.
(I recommend you to read this several times and think about it in all its implications and everything else that comes up when you read this. Asking the Holy Spirit for guidance before you do this is not a bad idea either.)
Paul still talks about all we can have and do without having love. This time he says we can sacrifice all we have including our own body, but without love we will not benefit from it.
The interesting thing is that when we compare the 3 first verses, the first verse says that without love we will just be meaningless, the second verse says that we are nothing, and the third verse says we won’t get any benefit. We can’t bypass love as a Christian. Not with knowledge, nor with strong faith, nor with any sacrifice we could make.
In medieval times we did have places called ‘godshuizen’ (god-houses) in this part of Europe, in which poor people were given housing and food. Sounds very good, but in fact the whole idea was that the (rich) people who founded such things just did it because they wanted to be sure they would go to heaven after they died. If this was indeed the reason why they built those houses and took care of the poor without really caring for them, we can doubt that it did really work. Paul here seems to assume otherwise…
Without love we are nothing!
There is some ambiguity in the original meaning of the second part, so some translations speak about giving over the body in order to boast, while others speaking in giving over the body to be burned, but the principle stays the same. Modern people don’t bother much with giving up their body anyway, so I don’t know if this particular sentence is that relevant for us. We do seem to revere our body more than that we are willing to sacrifice it.
But what Paul says here is very important. We can give and sacrifice everything we have and more, if it isn’t out of love (or at least creates love in us in the process), it will not do any good to us.
I must think of one more thing here: Jesus quoting the prophet Hosea to the pharisees in saying “Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13). Let that sink in, here is the Living bible version:
‘It isn’t your sacrifices and your gifts I want—I want you to be merciful.’
We need to be merciful. We need to be loving. Sacrifices of any kind are meaningless without love…
Without love nothing can ever mean anything at all…
So what is love? What characteristics does it have? That’s something for next time. (you can cheat by opening your bible though…)