"And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor...and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." 1 Cor. 13:3
Being here in Haiti, I am struck by this verse. It is not the bestowing of goods that counts, but love. I believe we could accurately say that even God, if He had not love, could bestow all His goods to feed the poor (which would result in the immediate alleviation of all poverty, since God has infinite resources), and it would be worth nothing. In other words, it would be preferable to have a world with poverty and a God of love, than to have a world without a God of love and no poverty. Our grief in seeing poverty everywhere around us in Haiti should be outweighed by the rejoicing that we have and serve a God of love.
It is an eye-opening concept that I could continually give away to the poor all the way to my last possession, and it would be worth nothing if I had not agape; and it surprises me that anything but love could motivate me to do such a thing.
However, on the other hand, if love did motivate me to do this, then it would be worth something. Bestowing all my goods to feed the poor appears in a list of of quite the pinnacle of Christian activities.
- Speaking in tongues (vs 1)
- Prophesying (vs. 2)
- Understanding ally mysteries (vs. 2)
- Having all knowledge (vs. 2)
- Faith that can move mountains (vs. 2)
- Giving my body to be burned (vs. 3)
These things evoke a certain wide-eyed wonder in the world. They catch people's attention. One could say, "Whoa, he just foretold the future," or "Look at that! He prayed and that mountain moved." In the same awestruck (yet not comprehending) tone, someone could say, "Whoa! That guy just gave away all his goods to feed the poor. Wonder what he is going to eat now? Let's watch and see what becomes of him." It can be a tremendous, tremendous testimony when motivated out of love (just as it can be nothing when motivated otherwise).
What does love look like in the person who gives all his goods to feed the poor?
1. Love for God
God's love has so transformed this person that he says, "God, I trust you." When God asks him to give up something precious for the sake of a poor person who is going to consume it, perhaps ungratefully, and then still need more, he does not resent the fact, but looks with glowing love at the Savior, and cheerfully gives it up for Him who gave up His life for him. When God asks him to give again, he doesn't get tired of it, but trusts God as he further reduces his own possessions. And when God asks him to give up his last cent, his last thread (imagine if you had given up your house, but you had two sets of clothes, and then God asked you to give one set up), he still says, "Lord, I trust you," and commits the keeping of body and soul to his faithful Creator.
2. Love for the Poor
There is a kind of giving to the poor that demoralizes him, keeps him aware of the shame of his neediness, and perpetuates his poverty. Many books have been written and many great minds have bent themselves to figuring out this problem, but the answer is simply love. If the person who loves God goes on a mission by God to the poor person to give him something, then God's love in His servant will overflow and spill onto the poor person. The poor person will feel loved, cherished, valued, and treasured. The shame of his poverty will begin to be healed, not exacerbated. Love will win him and set him on his feet in a way that money never can.
How far am I from this level of agape love? I barely give to the poor, much less give sacrificially, much less give "all my goods." How much do I love? Do I trust God enough to go all the way through with something like this if He called me to it?
I do not think God calls everyone to give away all their possessions--but I do think that whether God ever calls us to do that or not, we ought to be ready and willing to lose all our worldly goods, and even our life, for His sake.
I claim that I would give up my life to God. I tell Him so in prayer. But what if He asked me to give up my computer? I cringe at the thought. If I would not be willing to give up my stuff, would I really be ready to give up my life?
And what does God want me to do tomorrow, and the next day, and in the coming week, with the vast poverty that surrounds me? Are my goods fully at His disposal? Do I fully love? Do I love Him? Do I love the poor?