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choose the right. It rejoices in the way of truth. So Micah 6:8 is not a strained parallel at all: We must “love kindness”!
But if love rejoices in the choices it makes, it cannot be disinterested. It cannot be indifferent to its own joy! To rejoice in an act is to get joy from it. And this joy is “gain.” It may be that there is much more gain than this, or that this joy is in fact the firstfruits of an indestructible and eternal joy. At this point, though, the least we can say is that Paul does not think the moral value of an act of love is ruined when we are motivated to do it by the anticipation of our own joy in it and from it. If it were, then a bad man who hated the prospect of loving could engage in pure love, since he would take no joy in it; while a good man who delighted in the prospect of loving could not love, since he would “gain” joy from it and thus ruin it.
Therefore, 1 Corinthians 13:5 (“Love seeks not its own”) does not stand in the way of the thesis that the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. In fact, surprisingly, the context supports it by saying that “love rejoices with the truth” and by implying that one should be vigilant in love so as not to lose one’s “gain”—the gain of joy that comes in being a loving person, both now and forever.
If this is Paul’s intention in 1 Corinthians 13:5, the same thing can be said of 10:24 and 33. These are simply specific instances of the basic principle laid down in 13:5: “Love seeks not its own.” When Paul says we should not seek our own advantage, but that of our neighbors so that they may be saved, he does not mean we should not delight in the salvation of our neighbors.
In fact, Paul said of his converts, “You are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:20). In another place he said, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
This is not the voice of disinterested benevolence. The salvation of others was the joy and passion of his life! When he denied himself comforts for this, he was a Christian Hedonist, not a dutiful stoic. So the point of 1 Corinthians 10:24 and 33 is that we should not count any private comfort a greater joy than the joy of seeing our labor lead to another’s salvation.
This is also the point of Romans 15:1–3, where Paul says we should not
please ourselves, but instead should please our neighbor for his good, to edify him. This too is an application of the principle “Love seeks not its own.” He does not mean we shouldn’t seek the joy of edifying others, but that we should let this joy free us from bondage to private pleasures that make us indifferent to the good of others. Love does not seek its own private, limited joy, but instead seeks its own joy in the good—the salvation and edification— of others.3 In this way, we begin to love the way God loves. He loves because He delights to love. He does not seek to hide from Himself the reward of love lest His act be ruined by the anticipated joy that comes from it.
“I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:24)
LOVE IS MORE DEEDSTHAN We turn now from defense to offense. There are texts that seem to be a problem, but many others point positively to the truth of Christian Hedonism. We can take 1 Corinthians 13:3 as a starting point: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” This is a startling text. For Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). How can Paul say that laying down your life may in fact be a loveless act?
One thing is for sure: Love cannot be equated with sacrificial action! It cannot be equated with any action! This is a powerful antidote to the common teaching that love is not what you feel, but what you do. The good in this popular teaching is the twofold intention to show (1) that mere warm feelings can never replace actual deeds of love (James 2:16; 1 John 3:18) and (2) that efforts of love must be made even in the absence of the joy that one might wish were present. But it is careless and inaccurate to support these two truths by saying
3. This passage in Romans includes the sentence “For Christ did not please himself, but, as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’” (15:3). Concerning this, see the discussion of Hebrews 12:1–2 under the heading “Love Suffers for Joy” later in this chapter.
that love is simply what you do, and not what you feel.4 (See Epilogue, Reason Four, for a further discussion of how to obey when you don’t feel like it.) The very definition of love in 1 Corinthians refutes this narrow conception of love. For example, Paul says love is not jealous and not easily provoked and that it rejoices in the truth and hopes all things (13:4–7). All these are feelings! If you feel things like unholy jealousy and irritation, you are not loving. And if you do not feel things like joy in the truth and hope, you are not loving. In other words, yes, love is more than feelings; but, no, love is not less than feelings.
This may help account for the startling statement that it is possible to give your body to be burned and yet not have love. Evidently, an act does not qualify as love unless it involves right motives. But isn’t the willingness to die a sign of good motives? You would think so if the essence of love were disinterestedness. But someone might say that what ruined the self-sacrificing act of apparent love was the intention to inherit reward after death or to leave a noble memory on earth.
That may be part of the answer. But it is not complete. It does not distinguish what sort of reward after death might be appropriate to aim at in an act of love (if any!). Nor does it describe what feelings, if any, must accompany an outward “act” of love for it to be truly loving.
In answering these questions, we need to ask another: What does love to man have to do with our love for God and His grace toward us? Could it be that the reason a person could give his body to be burned and not have love is that his act had no connection to a genuine love for God? Could it be that Paul’s conception of horizontal love between people is such that it is authentic only when it is the extension of a vertical love for God? It would be strange indeed if the apostle who said “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) could define genuine love without reference to God.
4. For example, one popular book says, “Love isn’t something you necessarily feel; it’s something you do.
Good feelings may accompany loving deeds, but we are commanded to love whether we feel like it or not. Jesus didn’t feel like giving His life to redeem humankind (Matthew 26:38–39).” Josh McDowell and Norman Geisler, Love Is Always Right: A Defense of the One Moral Absolute (Dallas: Word, 1996),
73. It is an oversimplification to say that Jesus did not feel like giving His life to redeem mankind. Yes, He knew it would be excruciating, and, yes, He shrank back from the pain. But Hebrews 12:2 says it was “for the joy set before” Him that He endured the cross. The joy of the future flowed back into the present in Gethsemane, and the taste of it sustained Him. Yes, there are acts of love that are more pleasant than others. But that does not mean that there is no painful joy in the hard ones.
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints.… I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. (NASB) The reason Paul wants the Corinthians to know about this remarkable work of grace among the Macedonians is that he hopes the same will prove true among them. He is traveling among the churches collecting funds for the poor saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1–4). He writes 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 to motivate the Corinthians to be generous. For our purpose, the crucial thing to notice is that in 8:8 he says this is a test of their love: “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” The clear implication of 8:8 (especially the word also) is that the Macedonians’ generosity is a model of love that the Corinthians “also” should copy. By recounting the earnest love of the Macedonians, Paul aims to stir up the Corinthians also to genuine love. So here we have a test case to see just what the love of 1 Corinthians 13 looks like in real life. The Macedonians have given away their possessions, just as 1 Corinthians 13:3 says (“If I give away all I have”). But here it is real love, while there it was not love at all. What makes the Macedonian generosity a genuine act of love?
The nature of genuine love can be seen in four things.
First, it is a work of divine grace: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of
Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1). The generosity of the Macedonians was not of human origin. Even though verse 3 says they gave “of their own accord,” the willingness was a gift of God—a work of grace.
You can see this same combination of God’s sovereign grace resulting in
man’s willingness in verses 16–17:
Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he…is going to you of his own accord.
God put it in his heart. So he goes of his own accord. The willingness is a gift—a work of divine grace.
Second, this experience of God’s grace filled the Macedonians with joy: “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (v. 2). Note that their joy was not owing to the fact that God had prospered them financially. He hadn’t! In “extreme poverty” they had joy. Therefore, the joy was a joy in God—in the experience of His grace.
Third, their joy in God’s grace overflowed in generosity to meet the needs of others: “Their abundance of joy…overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (v. 2).
Therefore, the generosity expressed horizontally toward men was an overflow of joy in God’s grace.
Fourth, the Macedonians begged for the opportunity to sacrifice their meager possessions for the saints in Jerusalem: “Beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints” (8:3–4, NASB). In other words, the way their joy in God overflowed was in the joy of giving. They wanted to give. It was their joy!
Now we can give a definition of love that takes God into account and also includes the feelings that should accompany the outward acts of love: Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.
Paul does not set up the Macedonians as a model of love just because they sacrificed in order to meet the needs of others. What he stresses is how they loved doing this (remember Micah 6:8!). It was the overflow of joy! They
“begged earnestly” to give. They found their pleasure in channeling the grace of God through their poverty to the poverty in Jerusalem. It is simply astonishing!
This is why a person can give his body to be burned and not have love.
Love is the overflow of joy—in God! It is not duty for duty’s sake or right for right’s sake. It is not a resolute abandoning of one’s own good with a view solely to the good of the other person. It is first a deeply satisfying experience of the fullness of God’s grace, and then a doubly satisfying experience of sharing that grace with another person.
When poverty-stricken Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving money to other poor saints, we may assume that this is not just what they ought to do or have to do, but what they really long to do. It is their joy—an extension of their joy in God. To be sure, they are “denying themselves” whatever pleasures or comforts they could have from the money they give away, but the joy of extending God’s grace to others is a far better reward than anything money could buy. The Macedonians have discovered the labor of Christian Hedonism: love! It is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
I take this to mean that God is not pleased when people act benevolently but don’t do it gladly. When people don’t find pleasure (Paul’s word is cheer) in their acts of service, God doesn’t find pleasure in them. He loves cheerful givers, cheerful servants. What sort of cheer? Surely the safest way to answer LOV E that question is to remember what sort of cheer moved the Macedonians to be generous. It was the overflow of joy in the grace of God. Therefore, the giver God loves is the one whose joy in Him overflows “cheerfully” in generosity to others.
Perhaps it is becoming clear why part of the thesis of this chapter is that if you try to abandon the pursuit of your full and lasting joy, you cannot love people or please God. If love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others, then to abandon the pursuit of this joy is to abandon the pursuit of love. And if God is pleased by cheerful givers, then to abandon the pursuit of this cheerfulness sets you on a course in which God takes no delight. If we are indifferent to whether we do a good deed cheerfully, we are indifferent to what pleases God. For God loves a cheerful giver.