When Martyrdom Doesn’t Matter
Shortly after I became a follower of Jesus, somebody in a group Bible study said something that was kind of like theological shock therapy for me. “You know,” he said, “not all the martyrs in Christian history are going to be in heaven.”
I thought to myself, “Of course they will be. That’s a crazy idea. Why would you say such a thing?” At that point in my rather young faith, I couldn’t imagine a more absolute evidence of a person’s commitment to Christ than to allow themselves to be burned at the stake rather than deny Him. Then the fella with the aggravating idea quoted a line from the apostle Paul: “Though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
That’s when a sense of shock jolted through my theology and woke me up to a deeper sense of need for Jesus.
…love is the one thing that gives meaning to everything else…
In that moment, a light flipped on in my mind: it is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason, which means that the standard to which I’m called is far higher than I’ve imagined. I immediately remembered that Peter, in a fit of religious zeal, was willing to defend Jesus with violence and die for Him, but then turned around and denied Him when circumstances required that he live for Him (Matthew 26:51, 69-75). I have since realized, over and over again, that religion is probably the best place in the world to hide from God.
Apparently, this thing the Bible calls “love” is a really big deal. In fact, according to Paul, love is the one thing that gives meaning to everything else, and in the absence of which any given thing becomes meaningless. The standard is so high that we simply cannot meet it if left to ourselves. This is why we need a Savior.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
For the rest of this year, this monthly devotional will explore eleven attributes of genuine love in 1 Corinthians 13.