“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3/NIV).
Today I want to refer to one important aspect of this verse that remained unnoticed in my previous posts. So far I have been sharing some general thoughts about giving and about love.
Really St. Paul here is not speaking of giving away some excess money. He says: “If I give all I possess to the poor…” That means after that you will be poor yourself.
You may feel that the two activities mentioned in this verse are somewhat similar. Giving away all your possessions is not that far from laying down your life. In fact this verse might trigger me off to write some general remarks about suicide. Many contemporaries might say, what Paul is writing about here must be something similar to suicide: There must be some psychological disposition leading to the activities mentioned similar to what leads others to kill themselves.
I intend to write about “giving your body to the flames” later on. Today I want to consider implications of extreme giving. The major question is, when you give away all you have, what are you going to live on after that?
One possible answer could be joining a monastery where you do some work every day and basic needs are provided for. This has been a socially acceptable practice within the Western Church for centuries.
Anybody who gives away all his private property may at difficult times tend to regret this decision. Being poor has never been easy. Especially those, who did previously know more affluent days, will likely experience considerable emotional turmoil at times.
You may recall the Lord’s conversation with the rich young ruler who honestly said he had kept all the commandments so far. Jesus proposed him to sell all his possessions and to give to the poor. (cf. Mark 10:17-27).
A rich and socially respected individual will probably not find it too difficult not to steal or not to lie. Yet after becoming poor himself he may experience temptations so far unknown to him. It is poor and needy people that may desire an easy way out by steeling. I imagine the rich young ruler become poor would then more likely notice sinful inclinations of his own human nature.
It is poor people who tend to envy. Observing the comforts of the rich makes them painfully aware of their own needs.
Now obviously giving away everything to the poor was known as a religious act in Jesus’ and St. Paul’s days. Some might even marvel at a person having done that.
The apostle here says that everything depends on the attitude of the giver. If someone should give room to envy and hatred having distributed his possessions to the poor, he may thereby forfeit a possible reward from God.
“If I give all I possess to the poor … but have not love …” In the next verse Paul stresses that “love is kind” and “it does not envy…”