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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 13 - Verse 3
Verse 3. And though I bestow. The Greek word here used (qwmizw), from qaw, to break off) meant, properly, to break off, and distribute in small portions; to feed by morsels; and may be applicable here to distributing one's property in small portions. Charity, or alms to the poor, was usually distributed at one's gate, (Lu 16:20,) or in some public place. Of course, if property was distributed in this manner, many more would be benefited than if all were given to one person. There would be many more to be thankful, and to celebrate one's praises. This was regarded as a great virtue; and was often performed in a most ostentatious manner. It was a gratification to wealthy men who desired the praise of being benevolent, that many of the poor flocked daily to their houses to be fed; and against this desire of distinction the Saviour directed some of his severest reproofs. See Mt 6:1-4. TO make the case as strong as possible, Paul says that if ALL that a man had were dealt out in this way, in small portions, so as to benefit as many as possible, and yet were not attended with true love towards God and towards man, it would be all false, hollow, hypocritical, and really of no value in regard to his own salvation. It would profit nothing. It would not be such an act as God would approve; it would be no evidence that the soul would be saved. Though good might be done to others, yet where the motive was wrong, it could not meet with the Divine approbation, or be connected with his favour.
And though I give my body to be burned. Evidently as a martyr, or a witness to the truth of religion. Though I should be willing to lay down my life in the most painful manner, and have not charity, it would profit me nothing. Many of the ancient prophets were called to suffer martyrdom, though there is no evidence that any of them were burned to death as martyrs. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were indeed thrown into a fiery furnace, because they were worshippers of the true God; but they were not consumed in the flame, Da 3:19-26. Comp. Heb 11:34. Though Christians were early persecuted, yet there is no evidence that they were burned as martyrs as early as this epistle was written. Nero is the first who is believed to have committed this horrible act; and under his reign, and during the persecution which he excited, Christians were covered With pitch, and set on fire to illuminate his gardens. It is possible that some Christians had been put to death in this manner when Paul wrote this epistle; but it is more probable that he refers to this as the most awful kind of death, rather than as anything which had really happened. Subsequently, however, as all know, this was often done; and thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of Christians have been called to evince their attachment to religion in the flames.
And have not charity. Have no love to God or to men; have no true piety. If I do it from any selfish or sinister motive; if I do it from fanaticism, obstinacy, or vain-glory; if I am deceived in regard to my character, and have never been born again. It is not necessary to an explanation of this passage to suppose that this ever had been done, for the apostle only puts a supposable case. There is reason, however, to think that it has been done frequently; and that when the desire of martyrdom became the popular passion, and was believed to be connected infallibly with heaven, not a few have been willing to give themselves to the flames, who never knew anything of love to God or true piety. Grotius mentions the instance of Calanus, and of Peregrinus the philosopher, who did it. Although this was not the common mode of martyrdom in the time of Paul, and although it was then perhaps unknown, it is remarkable that he should have referred to that which in subsequent times became the common mode of death on account of religion. In his time, and before the common mode was by stoning, by the sword, or by crucifixion. Subsequently, however, all these were laid aside, and burning became the common way in which martyrs suffered. So it was, extensively, under Nero; and so it was, exclusively, under the Inquisition; and so it was in the persecutions in England in the time of Mary. Paul seems to have been directed to specify this rather than stoning, the sword, or crucifixion, in order that, in subsequent times, martyrs might be led to examine themselves, and to see whether they were actuated by true love to God in being willing to be consumed in the flames.
It profiteth me nothing. If there is no true piety, there can be no benefit in this to my soul. It will not save me. If I have no true love to God, I must perish, after all. Love, therefore, is more valuable and precious than all these endowments. Nothing can supply its place; nothing can be connected with salvation without it.
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