(adapted from my first book All the Law, available here:)
Valentine’s Day. The moment of truth for every man in America. A day of anticipation for every lady in America. A profitable day for every flower vendor in America. The people at Hershey’s and Hallmark rub their mitts with satisfaction at their fortune; men shake their heads with sorrow at their finances; women have mixed reactions. Flowers are good, jewelry is great, but anything used to clean the house puts the man in the doghouse.
Valentine’s Day. Some dating couples will split up as a result of it. Some couples will draw closer because of it. Some get engaged on it. Guys wish it weren’t on the calendar; gals wish it were on the calendar 365 1⁄4 times a year. No matter how you may view the day, it is the one day a year that people are expected to show love.
The only problem with Valentine’s Day is that people tend to only focus on showing love to one person. Every day should be Valentine’s Day for you and your spouse, and love should be shown to everyone all year long. I miss the days of my elementary school where we all made Valentine’s Day mailboxes so we could give and receive cards and candy with every student in the class. Everyone from the bully who picked on kids to the kids who got picked on by the bully took part; there was no person left unloved on Valentine’s Day.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian believers he tells them to go back to their childhood Valentine’s Day parties. Break out the mailboxes; get your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cards out; unwrap the chocolate kisses. It’s time to love! In chapter twelve of 1 Corinthians Paul makes it clear that the Corinthian church was lacking in love, and as he goes into the thirteenth chapter he shows them what real love looks like.
If you read from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible you will find the word charity instead of love. The KJV translators used the word charity because that word meant love at the time of their translation. Since that time newer translations have updated the word charity to say love. The use of the word charity in the KJV should serve as a reminder that any act of charity or a charitable donation should be done for no reason other than pure love. Charity work should not be done as a PR stunt or simply for a tax write off; that is not pure love.
Paul starts off the thirteenth chapter by showing the importance of love. No matter how eloquent a speaker might be, or no matter how many thousands of people may flock to hear him preach, he is worthless if he is not speaking from love. Eloquent words not spoken out of love are as majestic as a gong or as clanging symbols. Why would thousands of people pack out a mega church to hear someone beat a gong? That would not make any sense but I fear along with Paul that it happens too often.
The first admonition of chapter thirteen is to the leadership of the church to have love. It starts at the top, and more often than not churches that are not known for showing love do not have a pastor that shows love. Of course, the opposite is also true of loving churches. Pastors and leaders, make sure you first have love in your life before you try to lead others.
In the second verse Paul speaks to the faithful. Jesus had earlier told His disciples that if they had faith they could tell a mountain to move and it would (Matthew 17:20), and Paul used that bit of instruction as a building block. He said that even if he had enough faith so that he could move any mountain, he was still nothing if he did not have love.
Similarly if he (or we) gave everything that he had to feed the poor but did not love he would not do any good. This goes back to what I said earlier about doing charity work for a tax write off. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with writing off some charitable donations, but that should not be your driving factor for giving those donations. Charity work is great: march for the cure, buy Girl Scout cookies, volunteer; we need those things. But Paul is saying, “I got news for you; if you only buy Girl Scout cookies because it is hard to say no to a cute little girl on your doorstep, you are not doing any good.”
Charity as a result of guilt is not charity. Charity must be a result of love.