If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. I Cor. 13:3, NRSV
Lent has arrived, and all kinds of people are giving up alcohol, chocolate, online gaming, and other treasured activities they consider possible vices. All kinds of people are taking on volunteer projects, daily prayer, and exercise – not-so-treasured activities they consider virtues. I have a couple of things in mind myself – ‘Tis the season, right?
It’s so easy to miss the point of these activities, to take them on as some sort of punishment or correction for past mistakes or bad behavior. Even sadder, to imagine that such acts will slide a few of our beads from the negative to the positive side in God’s mighty morality measuring abacus.
The point of these activities is not to diminish ourselves, or to exhaust our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls. It’s the exact opposite: such things can enlarge who we are, granting us a glimpse of God’s transforming love in the face we see in the mirror each morning. But only if we do them as a means to bring about good things, not as a means to hurt ourselves or an attempt to prove that our faith is bigger and better than someone else’s.
So as we begin such things, let’s ask ourselves a simple question: Is this a way to love ourselves, others, and God? If it is, dive right in. If it isn’t, consider this: without love, we gain nothing.
(PS. There is no mighty morality measuring abacus…)
[Paul understood such things, because he did all kinds of these things when he was called Saul – acts without love for others, seeking to correct nonconforming worship practices and punish their practitioners. So he did his best to keep others from making the same mistake. It’s why he wrote this love letter. For the full text, click I Corinthians 13 above.]