Saturday, April 1, 2017

Charity ends, but love (agape) never ends

Yung Suk Kim

My colleague, Dr. Boykin Sanders, here at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, gave a powerful sermon this morning at the regular chapel of the school. The title of his sermon was "Charity or love." I was greatly touched by his passionate and critical reading of the Corinthian text. I write my own reflection in the following.

          Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor 13 that love never ends. True love is based on the need of others. It is other-centered love and action. It is an expression of love for God and others. It is a humbling attitude that no one can live without others. But this other-centered love does not simply mean that one must sacrifice himself/herself for others. The love must be authentic and voluntary. There must be a good balance between the following three loves: "love of the self, love of neighbor, and love of God."

          While love does not end, charity ends. It is often not an expression of true love. It may be selfish love. It may be a way out of personal guilt. A giver may feel good about it and expects others to be like him/her. In addition, charity often works with binary constructions between the haves and the have-nots, between the rich and the poor, between the poor and not-so-poor, and between the abled and the disabled. Here people ask questions like "who is my neighbor?" or "who is worthy to be loved?" But love breaks down all these binary constructions and asks the issue of justice for all. It is like the justice found in the parable of the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). God's vineyard needs full employment and adequate pay for all.

          Gifted people such as those who speak in the tongues or prophesy or have charity organizations may fall into the trap of self-promotion. That is why Paul wants to show "a more excellent way," which is agape. Before doing anything or giving anything, one needs to check his/her motivations.

"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of the angels, but do not have love (agape), I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1).

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