There are all sorts of reasons to care for the poor, but only one matters in the end: Love.
Taking care of the needy in our world is one of the highest callings of Christians. The poor are close to the heart of God, and He has commanded His people to look out for them since the days of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus gave His followers a mandate: It is our responsibility to care for the world’s poor. And later on, James told the church that caring for the poor is evidence of a living faith.
There’s one more ingredient to this recipe, though, and that is love. If our treatment of the poor is motivated by anything less than love, we’re falling short of the standard that God has set for us.
The Supremacy of Love
Today’s lesson is short and simple, but it’s absolutely vital. There can be all sorts of things that motivate us to care for the poor: Political agendas, a sense of civic duty or even personal pity. But God says that none of it matters if it’s not motivated by love. The proof comes in I Corinthians 13:3, part of a text that you may be familiar with:
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
This verse is found in one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, Paul’s soliloquy about the supremacy of love in the life of the believer. It comes at the end of a list of religious activities that we often associate with spiritual maturity. Paul is making the point that none of these things — not speaking in tongues or prophesying or doing miracles or dying as a martyr — is meaningful if it is not motivated by love.
This short verse tells us a lot about how we should approach caring for the poor. We can go to extremes, selling everything we own and giving all of the proceeds to to the poor. But if that action isn’t motivated by love, we gain nothing in the end.
Love Gets the Job Done
The motivation of love is really important when we talk about caring for the poor. Why? Because only love will ultimately get the job done right.
Think about all of the other motivations that people might have in caring for the poor. Political agendas, civic duty and pity might motivate you to give for a while. But in the end, these things are all human ideas and attitudes. They will all break down. They will all give way. They will all fail. Noble intentions may start a person down the path of caring for the poor. But they will never get the job done, because the resources only go as deep as the emotions of the person that has them.
Love, on the other hand, is eternal. Love is sacrificial. Love sees a need and fills it. Love doesn’t stop when it’s tired. Love doesn’t give up when it is challenged. Love doesn’t quit when the work gets hard or when the recipients are ungrateful. Love keeps going.
Paul sums it up nicely in verses 7 and 8: “[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
If we want to do real good in society by caring for the poor, our actions must be motivated by love. And if we want God to receive these sacrifices as worship, they must be motivated by love.
If our giving comes from any other motivation, it’s just selfishness. When we give with worldly motives, we receive our reward in this world. But when our care for the poor comes from a heart that is full of God’s love, it makes an eternal difference, for them and for us.
Photo by Kevin White. Used under Creative Commons License.