What does 1 Corinthians 13:3 mean?
ESV: If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
NIV: If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
NASB: And if I give away all my possessions to charity, and if I surrender my body so that I may glory, but do not have love, it does me no good.
CSB: And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
NLT: If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
KJV: 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.
Verse Commentary:
The Corinthians, apparently, had decided that some among them were "spiritual" while others were not. Or, that some were less spiritual on the basis of having less-prestigious spiritual gifts. Paul has shown that to exercise even the most powerful and impressive spiritual gifts without love makes those gifts meaningless and the one using them "nothing." Paul uses one of several Greek terms for love here: agape, referring to a godly love that puts others first.

Now Paul moves beyond spiritual gifts to the most profound acts of spiritual self-sacrifice a Christian may make. Jesus told a rich young ruler to sell all he had and give the money to the poor (Mark 10:17–22). Surely anyone who would actually do such a thing would have reached the height of Christian spirituality. And yet, Paul insists, to do so without love for others gains the giver nothing at all.

Then he moves to the ultimate sacrifice. What if a person gives his own body to be burned to death for the Lord? Again, Paul describes this sacrifice as meaningless if made without love for others.

Paul is not describing burning oneself to death in a kind of religious suicide to make a point. Instead, he seems to be referring to those who refuse to reject faith in Christ even to avoid the most painful death imaginable. Paul had made—and survived—such choices, as had others in the early days of the church.

Why would someone give away all their money or even their life if not out of love for Christ and others? Perhaps a person might do such a thing for pride or glory or in a foolish attempt to earn God's favor. Love, though, is the only motive that makes such sacrifices worthwhile.
Verse Context:
First Corinthians 13:1–13 is one of the most loved and well-known passages in the Bible, but Paul places it after his teaching on the spiritual gifts for a specific reason. Some of the gifts may seem impressive, but if attempted without self-sacrificing love for others, they become meaningless, even destructive. Paul uses 14 verbs to describe what love does and does not do. Love is the foundation for Paul's teaching in the following chapter on prophecy, tongues, and even orderly worship. While this section is often quoted in romantic settings, such as a wedding, the concept in mind is that of agape: a self-sacrificing, godly love.
Chapter Summary:
Paul responds to the Corinthians' over-emphasis on certain spiritual gifts by showing them that all gifts are worthless if not practiced through godly love. Paul provides 14 descriptors of love, all action verbs, all choices made out of a commitment to set self aside and serve others. Choosing to love each other in this way would solve many of the problems Paul has confronted in this letter. The spiritual gifts provide a glimpse of what is knowable, but when the perfect comes, we will know all. Love is the greatest of all the virtues.
Chapter Context:
Paul's teaching on love fits firmly into the context of 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14. These sentences have a somewhat different style than the surrounding words, suggesting Paul might have inserted something he'd written previously into this section. These are not meant to be a diversion, however. Lack of love was at the heart of most of the Corinthians' problems and divisions. As Paul describes it, God's kind of love sets self aside, over and over, endlessly, for the good of others. Spiritual gifts exist for the building up of the church now, but believers will live in love for eternity. Christ-like love is the greatest of all the virtues, and it should be the priority of every Christian.
Book Summary:
First Corinthians is one of the more practical books of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church immersed in a city associated with trade, but also with corruption and immorality. These believers are struggling to properly apply spiritual gifts and to resist the ungodly practices of the surrounding culture. Paul's letter gives instructions for real-life concerns such as marriage and spirituality. He also deals with the importance of unity and gives one of the Bible's more well-known descriptions of love in chapter 13.
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