Encouragement for your daily walk with God
We walked out of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on our 2015 trip to Israel as I have done many times before. But that day was different. As some of us turned around for a final look at the church, a large banner had been strung across the sidewalk picturing 21 Christians martyred in Libya. It was a sobering moment to say the least.
Paul made a remarkable statement about martyrdom in his letter to the Christ followers in Corinth: martyrdom without love is useless!
In Paul's time, a common practice was the branding of slaves with a hot iron for identification. Some think that is what he referred to when speaking about giving your body “to be burned” [1 Corinthians 13:3]. Others think he referred to being “burned at the stake,” a death suffered by many Christ followers.
Death by burning wasn’t the most common form of persecution in Paul’s day, but I think that is what he had in mind because he often used extremes to make a point. Just look at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 to see that: speaking an angelic language, understanding all mysteries, knowing everything, mountain moving faith, giving away every possession you own—death by fire is consistent with those extremes.
Even though Jesus said that martyrdom was the greatest expression of love [John 15:13], Paul indicates it isn’t always a godly or loving thing to do. Why is that, you ask? Because you can be a martyr for lessor reasons. How about Kamikaze pilots in World War II, or someone who sets himself on fire in protest of an injustice?
Christ followers aren’t exempt from doing things with a wrong motive. Historians report that many people in the early church developed a “martyr complex,” desirous of death to become famous like martyrs before them. In those cases, their deed, though looking sacrificial, was anything but that. Why? They were acts of pride.
Paul’s point is clear, sacrifice without love is useless, but love sanctifies everything. Wrong motives rob even the greatest sacrifice of its spiritual benefit.
If I surrender my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:3b