More than Self-Denial and Self-Sacrifice

Reading: Matthew 6.1-4
In days when there was no government-provided social security system, it was an important and sacred duty to give to the poor.

Jesus talked about some who gave without real thought or care for the welfare of the person receiving the gift. They gave in order to build up their own image and reputation.

Jesus was quite emphatic that, while such giving may well make a fine impression on people, it had no final worth in the eyes of our Father God.

Jesus didn't mean that we had better stop helping the poor if our motives are wrong! What he was saying is that we need to consider our motives and give in the true spirit of our Father.

A taper lay in a drawer. Then one day its owner took it and climbed a winding stair in a tower. "Where are you taking me?" the taper complained. "I am going to show the big ships their way over the sea," answered the owner. "Why, no ship could see me or my little light," said the taper. "Leave that to me," added the owner as he lit the big lantern and then blew the taper out.

There is something in us that has failed to see that the joy and meaning of life are found in giving, that wants to be the centre of attention all the time, that gives in order to receive… This is a contradiction of love. It spoils the act of kindness.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the old King James Version used the word "charity". Based on the Latin word charitas used in the Vulgate (late 4th century), it was a good translation in 1611, speaking of warm compassionate outgoing love. It is no longer a suitable translation in today's world. For us "charity" has unfortunately come to suggest an act that is devoid of compassion - it is "as cold as charity", we say.

In spite of our mixed concepts of "love", this word still expresses best what Paul is saying. He writes, "If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13.3).

Even the ultimate in self-denial and self-sacrifice count for nothing - without love. But with love, no act of service is too great - all is done for the other person, not for self-glory.

As an example of oriental humour, the story is told of a little Chinese girl who was carrying her brother on her back. "Is he heavy?" she was asked. "No," she replied, "he is my brother."

Love is the key factor that makes all the difference between cold charity and genuine caring help.

So Paul has reminded us that love is more than fine talk, that without love the most eloquent words are pointless. He has emphasised the tragedy of knowledge and insight without love. He has stressed that even acts of charity without love are of no final worth.

There is so much practical need all around us, so much to be done. We cannot live in isolation or expect the world to come to our beck and call. We are meant to notice this need and to play our part. May God help us to answer the call of need - with love.

PRAYER: You made this world good, Lord, but we humans have chosen those ways that are not good. We see in your world sadness, suffering and need. Something has to be done, Lord. Give me ears to hear, eyes to see, a heart to love and understand, a mouth to speak and hands to do. For Jesus' sake, Amen.

The Cup of Water

The cup of water
in the name of Christ
revives the body
and the soul.

Without the cup
the water
cannot be given.

Without the water
the cup
is empty mockery.

Without Christ
the body's thirst alone
is quenched.

In Christ's name
the sharing is of love.

Just as the water
needs the cup,
so the giving needs to be
contained and borne
in Christian love.

Just as the cup
needs the water,
so there is
unreality and emptiness
to our loving -
it cannot reach the soul -
unless it sees
the body's need.

Lord, help me
to give the cup of water
in your name.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin Blue Care devotions, 2000
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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