If I were to ask you what you think is the finest and most admirable character trait for a person to have, what would your answer be? Perhaps you would think of faithfulness, humility or holiness. However, in our reading today in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul spells out very clearly what is the highest level of Christian character that should permeate all areas of our lives. That trait is charity.
In today’s day and age, about the only time we use the word “charity” is in reference to donations we may give to the Salvation Army or a similar establishment. Perhaps you were asked by an accountant recently when you did your taxes what your “charitable donations” were. That usage of the word does a good job carrying with it the idea of charity in the Bible. I have read that the KJV translators translated the Greek word “agape” love (a selfless love committed to the well-being of others) when it was used in a vertical reference, i.e God to man and vice versa, but translated it charity when used in a horizontal sense, i.e man to man.
Paul reminds us in chapter 13 that this kind of love is the highest order of Christian living and needs to permeate everything we do. No matter what spiritual gift we may have, if we do not use it in love it is essentially worthless. Verse 2 stands out particularly to me as Paul says that even if he has enough faith that he “could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” Really Paul? Nothing? And even if he were to “bestow all of my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
These verses cause us to reflect on why we do what we do. Is even the good things that we do for others truly out of a heart of selfless love, totally committed to the well-being of others? Or is our motive perhaps partially out of a heart of selfishness that seeks the acknowledgement and recognition of others. May we view this chapter as more than just a nice passage to read at a wedding but instead something that causes us to make sure our motives and hearts are truly in tune with the God who “is love” (1 John 4:8).