“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
I Corinthians 13:1
Why do we do what we do? This can be a very probing and thought-provoking question. It gets to the heart of our motives or ambitions, and it speaks of that area of our lives that God is most interested in, our hearts. Our text reminds us of the importance of having, at the center of our activities, motives that are pure. Though our words may be eloquent and impressive, if they are not spoken in the spirit of charity or love, they are described as being just empty sounds.
This is part of a larger passage that describes attributes of genuine love or charity in a language that is both illuminating and convicting. Charity, or love, is needed in all of our activities and relationships. Anything and everything we do in the realm of Christian service is worthless if charity, or love, is not involved in it. God uses Paul to draw attention to the kinds of things we consider noble activities and virtues, things such as our words, our preaching and teaching, the matter of wisdom and knowledge, our faith, acts of benevolence, and even martyrdom. Then he tells us that none of them are acceptable unless they are done out of love.
We see in this wonderful passage how God is interested in more than just activity itself. He is obviously concerned about what we do, but the Lord is also interested in how we do it. Furthermore, He is particular about the reasons we do what we do. There can be numerous motivations for Christian service. Some may serve the Lord to gain the recognition, approval, or acceptance of others. Some may be involved in the Lord’s work in an attempt to merit divine favor. However, the most noble motivation for our service is doing what we do out of a heart of love, both for God and for others.
God has not established these expectations to be difficult or hard on us; He simply wants what is best for us. He is primarily concerned about our hearts. God’s Word reminds us that His reaching out to us is a manifestation of His love, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The purest motive for all that we say or do in the name of the Lord is that it be done in charity.