“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”
(1 Corinthians 13:3).
The key Greek word in this passage is psoomizoo (NT:5595), which is translated to feed the poor. It signifies to divide into morsels, and put into the mouth. This in turn implies carefulness and tenderness in the way in which it is administered. The picture of a bird feeding its young may come to mind or the picture of a mother feeding her child. This may also be applicable to distributing property in small portions. During New Testament times, charity (alms to the poor) was usually distributed at a rich man’s gate (Luke 16:20) or in some public place.
To make the case as strong as possible, Paul says that if ALL that a man had were dealt out in this way, in small portions, so as to benefit as many as possible, and yet were not done because of true love for God and man, it would all be false, hollow, hypocritical, and really of no value to his salvation. It would profit nothing. Though good might be done to others, yet where the “motive” was wrong, it could not meet with God”™s approval or gain his favor. Wealthy individuals like Bill and Melinda Gates or Warren Buffett often desire praise for being benevolent, and so we read grandiose accounts of their giving billions to “charity.” It was against such a desire for praise and renown that Jesus directed some of his most severe reproofs (Matt 6:1-4).
A second phrase, “Though I give my body to be burned”¦” (evidently as a martyr, or a witness to the truth) seems to be saying, “Though I should be willing to lay down my life in the most painful manner”¦,” and have not charity (love), it would profit me nothing. Ancient prophets were often called to suffer martyrdom. These all died in faith (Heb 11:34; Heb 11:13). Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace, because they were worshippers of the true God; but by God”™s miracle they were not consumed in the flame (Dan 3:19-26; Daniel 3:28).
We know from historical accounts that Christians were persecuted and tortured for their faith (Acts 15:26), and burning became the common way in which Christians suffered. This was true under Nero and during the Inquisition. It was also true in the persecutions in England in the time of Mary. However, many modern day “martyrs” have not been a glory to God. During the Vietnam War, protesters oftentimes immolated themselves in order to force the US to get out of that conflict. Today the suicide bombers are willing to die to force the world to submit to their false religion. Is this mode of death endured because the individual loved the Lord and wanted to glorify Him in his death? Certainly not. Men may desire to be martyrs for various causes. Not a few have been willing to give themselves to the flames who never knew anything of love for the true God of heaven.
If I have no true love for God, I will perish, after all. Love is more valuable and precious than all the offerings and sacrifices by themselves. Nothing can take its place; nothing can be connected to salvation without it. The bottom line is motive. If we have no love for God or His people, all our sacrifices and good works are in vain.
“According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death” (Philippians 1:20).