By Dr. Harold Sala
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. 1 Corinthians 13:3, Message
“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” wrote Paul to the Corinthians long ago. Another translation puts it, “I am nothing…” Talk about strong words!
There are very few people in the world who are willing to give away what they have. Luke tells the story of a young man who came to Jesus, bowing in the dusty road, looking up to Him as he asked, “What must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus answer was short but not sweet. He told him to give what he had to the poor, then come and follow him, but the young man walked away very sad. Too great a price to pay.
Some have given away what they have. Now if you have nothing to give away, that’s not difficult, but when William Borden renounced the wealth of a family inheritance and distributed his money to the poor, going to Egypt to work, he moved into the very small circle of those who have given away everything.
Paul used a second picture. He talked about the tough kind of commitment that would lead to a martyr’s death, but, even so, he contended, without love, you die in vain.
John Huss was the greatly loved pastor of the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. For 17 years he pastored the most sophisticated church in the city. People waited for hours to hear the Gospel and it revolutionized the city. But Huss made enemies when he attacked the corruption of the aristocratic land owners and the abuses of the church. He preached in his native Bohemian tongue and the masses loved him. The message of Huss was “Every saint is a priest but every priest is not a saint.”
John Huss’s enemies came together in common cause. “Get rid of him,” they cried. The king, wanting to be on the good side of the two power brokers, agreed to give John Huss safe passage from Prague to Constance where the church wanted to try him as a heretic. He reneged on his promise and Huss was sentenced to death. His crime? Preaching to the masses.
When I visited the Cathedral in Constance in Switzerland, in broken communication I asked one of the attendants where that spot was that John Huss stood when he was finally condemned death. It was sobering to stand in that place and realize that Huss was a man who was willing to die for his convictions. Huss gave his body to be burned rather than recant what he had said and done. As the flames licked at his body, Huss said, “I have said the truth according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so I’ll choose to die–and gladly.”
Have you the convictions of a John Huss? If you have, and you would even be willing to die for what you believe and join the ranks of the martyrs, and still have no love in your life, Paul says you are still nothing! This great quality that Paul talks about is not an ethereal, “pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-by-and-by” kind of love. It is a grass roots, tough, visceral kind of love that causes us to put each other first rather than live “me first.”
When it’s all said and done, the great need of the world is not more powerful armament or even better communication. It is not bringing about a zero population growth, or more food for the world. It is to begin to love each other with a simple but pure love that puts the welfare of the other first—whether it be a member of your family or the most insignificant person anywhere.
“Without love,” wrote Pitirim Sorokin, “no armament, no war, no diplomatic machinations, no coercive police force, no school education, no economic or political measures, not even hydrogen bombs can prevent the coming catastrophe. Only love can accomplish this miracle, providing, however, we know the nature of love.”
Resource Reading: 1 Corinthians 13.