But the Greatest of These Is Charity
Although I use several different translations for my Bible studies, my primary source is the KJV accompanied by my handy dandy dictionary. In reading 1 Corinthians 13:3-13, several things jumped out at me immediately. The first thing I noticed is that the KJV used ‘charity’ instead of the word ‘love’, so I turned to my dictionary for a little clarification as to why these two words were seemingly interchangeable.
Charity: the quality of sympathetic understanding.
Understanding: mental apprehension or appreciation; sympathy.
Sympathy: fellow feeling or compassion.
1 Corinthians 13 has one goal; to emphasize the importance of charity, the greatest gift of all. Paul begins the chapter by saying that even if you’re speaking in tongues and prophesying, you are nothing. Many people associated charity with doing good deeds namely to those who are less fortunate. Paul is quick to dispel this by stating outright in verse 3 “and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (KJV)”
Within the chapter we learn much more about the definition of charity than is included in any of the above definitions. Yet, each verse lends itself to the ideas of understanding, sympathy and compassion.
Charity sufferth long and is kind.
Charity envieth not.
Charity is not puffed up or vain.
Charity is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.
Charity rejoices in truth.
Charity never fails although prophesies fail, tongues cease and knowledge fades away.
Verse 11 is (in my opinion) the highlight of this chapter. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (KJV)” To follow up the very definition of charity with this verse only leads me to one conclusion. Love, charity, sympathy, understanding, compassion…these are not childish emotions. To truly walk in love, to truly live these verses we have to grow up! We have to speak out of charity and sympathy, every action has to be dripping with pure, unabashed love for others. This is no light task either, this is work!
When reading these verses from the standpoint of charity, it only further emphasizes the way we should treat others. I feel like so many of us reading 1 Corinthians 13 through the eyes of romance; this is how I should love my spouse. What if we really took these verses and applied them to every and anyone in our lives?
As I really read and prayed over these verses, I realized that charity…these verses, exemplify God’s love for us. God was compassionate towards us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us. He is a kind and loving God who rejoices in His children. Above all, though everything else will fade away, God’s love is forever. He is forever!
I challenge us all (myself included) to really love others, to live these verses out daily. These verses aren’t just for the people in our lives who we care about and are close to. These verses apply to the homeless man on the corner begging for change. They apply to the mother of 3 in the parking lot struggling to load her groceries in the car and tend to her children. These verses apply to our bosses who give us seemingly impossible tasks with an even more impossible deadline.
Commit to love.
Commit to charity.
Commit to understanding.