Usually, someone who acts generously is showing love. However, Paul shows us that this may not always be so.
He describes someone who carries out a very generous act. In fact, it is the most generous act that anyone can imagine. This person gives away all his possessions to poor people. However, for this person, that act is not generous enough. So he gives even more; he gives his own life. We do not know why; he gives it for something that he believes in. He accepts a terrible death. It is so terrible that nothing remains of his body for anyone to bury. People would consider that an awful way to die. Paul then tells us that this person was acting without love.
Paul does not explain why anyone would do such a thing. Perhaps the person wanted to do something that was truly great and noble. Perhaps he thought that by these completely generous and unselfish acts, he would achieve something good by his life. However, he failed because he did not act in love.
Clearly, Paul cannot mean love for anything whatever. He means a particular kind of love which would make the person’s actions worthwhile. That would be clear to the Christians in Corinth who read this book in its original language, Greek. In the Greek language, Paul’s word for ‘love’ in this chapter is AGAPE. It is the word that Christians use for the love of God. In John 21:15-17, Peter did not want to use that word to describe his love for Christ, which seemed too weak.
However, Christians can show that kind of love when they first receive it from God (1 John 4:19). It is a wonderful fact that Christians can show that kind of love to the world. It is that kind of love that makes their actions worthwhile.
Next part: The nature of true love (1 Corinthians 13:4)
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© 2014, Keith Simons.