Benevolence Without Love

“If I give all my possessions to feed the poor . . . but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).

Love is characterized by self-sacrifice, but not all self-sacrifice is an act of love.

If you’ve ever donated to your church or another charitable organization out of obligation, peer pressure, legalism, guilt, a desire for recognition, or simply a tax deduction, you know what it means to give without love. In our society it’s easy to fall prey to that kind of giving because the needs are so great and fund raisers appeal to every conceivable motive. In addition, many cults and false religions encourage the giving up of possessions and other sacrificial gestures as a supposed means of earning God’s favor. But God is more interested in why you give than what you give.

Paul’s hypothetical illustration in 1 Corinthians 13:3 is of someone who sacrificed everything he had to feed the poor. The Greek word translated “to feed” means “to dole out in small quantities.” Apparently this guy didn’t simply write out a check for a food distribution program; he was personally involved in a long-term, systematic program that would eventually consume every resource he had.

Paul doesn’t mention motives—only that this person lacked love. Consequently, the benefits of his benevolence were limited to the physical realm. Any spiritual benefits were forfeited.

Jesus, making a similar point, said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). If your motive for giving is to gain the approval of men, their accolades will be your only reward. If you’re motivated by love for God, He will reward you abundantly (vv. 2-4).

When you give to the Lord, what is your motive? Do you want others to think more highly of you? Do you feel obligated? Those are subtle influences, so be sure to guard your motives carefully. Remember, the only acceptable motive is love.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you sensitive to the needs of others, enabling you always to give out of genuine love.

For Further Study
Read Luke 18:9-14.
• How did the Pharisee’s prayer differ from the tax-gatherer’s?
• How did God respond to each prayer?


From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187

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