If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
—1 Corinthians 13:3
In the early church some extremely gifted Christians were trapped in slavery. Because their lives were not their own, they were restricted in what they could do and how they could serve. Sometimes, one of their fellow Christians, observing this travesty, would exchange themselves for their gifted friends. They would become a slave in their place so these gifted people would be free to serve the church more effectively. When that happened, the mark of the branding iron was put on the new slave’s hand and his body was subjected to severe hardship.
We know it’s impossible to love without giving, but Paul reminds us that it is possible to give without loving. Paul describes a person who gets completely involved in social concerns. He gives of his purse and his person. And yet, without love, he gains nothing.
In a sense, that’s what Paul is saying about our gifts and sacrifices. Apart from love our gifts accomplish nothing, make us nothing, and gain us nothing. The essential ingredient in following Jesus, in using our gifts, and in any sacrifice—what the church and our neighborhoods need most—is love.
All this raises an important question: If love is the essential ingredient in life, what do we mean by love? We need to learn what love is, and what love does.
Father, make us generous, far more than we can imagine. And make our generosity an act of your love. Amen.
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