LET THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION OF MY HEART, BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN THY SIGHT
O LORD MY STRENGTH AND MY REDEEMER
WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
In today’s Epistle reading from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian’s he is dealing with the ongoing problems of worship within the Corinthian Church. Those within the Church with gifts such as prophesying, teaching and interpreting had been using these gifts without regard to the value or helpfulness of their efforts to their fellow worshipers. St. Paul writes to them and explains that all these gifts he or they have are worthless unless they are motivated by selfless concern for the good of others. But if I “have not charity, I am nothing” says Paul. So what is this charity Paul is talking about? The English word charity, is ultimately derived from the Latin word caritas meaning "generous love". Paul is therefore telling the Corinthians that unless they use their gifts out of love for others expecting nothing in return for themselves “they shall fail”.
Some distribute their goods or give their money to the poor as a grim duty, giving with a certain contempt, taking the moral high ground as if throwing scraps to a dog. Giving with a strong moral lecture or a crushing rebuke is not giving out of generous love, it is pride and pride is always cruel for it knows no love.
Pride is an exaggeration of our self-worth and power, a feeling of superiority over others, an excessive and inordinate love of one’s self, even to the point of seeking to play God. One entity that personifies these qualities almost perfectly is Satan. It is Satan, who, through the sin of Pride, didn’t only want to be like God, but to be God himself and was cast out of Heaven for his sin of Pride. It is Satan who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden and caused both Adam and Eve to sin by eating the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. For this the original sin, they were cast out of the Garden of Eden damming mankind to death on earth forever. If we look to Pride as a form of rebellion against God, then it is our refusal to accept our relationship towards God as a son or daughter that gets us into trouble in the first place. It is a refusal on our part of the power that God offers us to be our true selves before Him and other people. “Wretched are the proud in spirit, for they shall never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Wretched are the opinionated, with minds closed to the Truth, proud in their own strength and smartness; for they shall not inherit the earth. Wretched are the double-minded, desiring many things in their own way; for they shall never see God. Wretched are they who hunger after their own self-goals and thirst after self-exaltation and self-pleasing; for they shall be unsatisfied.”
St. Paul insists that even the highest spiritual powers or heroic acts of devotion are worthless unless motivated by selfless concern for the good of others. In the first three verses of today’s Epistle reading he states this principle categorically. He tells us that some may have the gift of tougues. St. Luke tells us in Acts 2:1-15 that on the feast of Pentecost following the Ascension of Christ into heaven that one hundred and twenty disciples were heard speaking "with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak." A Crowd of approximately three thousand were quickly drawn together from fifteen distinct lands so as to represent "every nation under heaven". All were "confounded in mind" because every man heard the disciples speaking the "wonderful things of God" in his own tongue, namely, that in which he was born.
Some may have the gift of prophecy which is most closely associated with preaching. There are two kinds of preachers, those whose aim is to save souls and who woo people with an emphasis on love and those preachers whose message is about hell and damnation not realizing that preaching which is all threat and has no love, may terrify, but will not save.
Some may have the gift of intellectual knowledge. People who have great knowledge run the grave danger of developing the spirit of contempt. As William Barclay wrote “Only a knowledge whose cold detachment has been set alight by the fire of love can really save men and women.”
Some may give their bodies to be burned. Here St. Paul’s thoughts are possibly going back to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the burning fiery furnace in Daniel 3. Many actions which look sacrificial have been the product of pride and not of devotion.
St Paul has three final things to say about Christian love. It’s absolute permanency – when all the things in which people take pride and delight have gone away, love will stand; it’s absolute completeness – the way of love will lead us in the end to a day when the veil is drawn aside and we are face to face with God. We cannot ever reach that day without love, because God is love, and only those who love can see him; and love’s absolute supremacy – as great as faith and hope are, love is still greater. Faith without love is cold, and hope without love is grim. Love is the fire which gives the spark to faith, and it is the light which turns hope into certainty.
There is likely no other passage in Scripture that demands such self-examination as this from those who consider themselves to be good. As we enter Lent meditate and think about your gifts and how you use them. Do you give them with charity, out of generous love for others expecting nothing in return? The 40 days of Lent provides us with an opportunity to use the gifts God has bestowed upon us to perhaps do some random act for someone else. This is called grace from the Latin word gratia meaning a favor, an act or instance of kindness or courtesy. It is also something our Lord has commanded us to do “Love thy neighbor as thy self”.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed all might, majesty, power and dominion as is most justly due this day; world without end. AMEN