When preparing for this series on the second half of verse 3, I was struck by some interesting observation. Sometimes details of a language seem to be meaningful and trigger off various thoughts and ideas. I was looking at some Greek words in this part of the verse.
The Greek word ‘soma’ meaning ‘body’ is related to or derived from ‘sozo’ meaning ‘to save’. This detail seems to suggest, that your own body is what you are instinctively trying to save. More idiomatic in English we would speak of individuals seeking to save their own skin.
Keeping this in mind the very idea of giving one’s own body to the flames seems absurd. The body is that which we are seeking to care for and to save. Our life and existence depends on our body.
What could move us to act in contrast to this instinct so deeply engrained in our lives? If I were to brainstorm this question I might suggest the following: despair; being compelled by somebody; a strong sense of guilt; a determination to achieve some goal apparently possible to attain unto in doing so; religious or ideological views.
“… and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3b/KJV).
Really I do not know why St. Paul here is referring to giving one’s own body to the flames. I have no idea what practice he would have had in mind.
Also I wonder if he is actually speaking of suicide or some activity leading to death. Would this giving one’s body to the flames necessarily have a fatal end?
I have been looking at the Greek word translated ‘burned’ in the King James Version. According to James Strong this word means to set on fire, or to kindle. By implication it can mean ‘to consume’.
This Greek word seems not to primarily speak of something being burned altogether. The emphasis is on the fact of burning or lighting. If something should burn and then be saved from fire the same word could be used.
This analysis really makes me feel more comfortable with St. Paul’s words here. As I said my theological worldview does not include a practice of religious suicide. I prefer to imagine that Paul really was speaking of something less than actual suicide.
Practical Christian living may at times call for personal sacrifice. We have to set our priorities right. Jesus called for his disciples to deny themselves in order to be able to follow him. (cf. Luke 9:23).
Now here we learn that our attitudes matter, when we think of giving up some possession or prospect in order to be good Christians. Is love leading us to do so or is some lesser motivation at the heart of our consideration?
If we don’t have love in making some personal sacrifice, we will make our own lives more difficult. Yet we may not be able to achieve our desired goals. Being harsh with ourselves – in God’s eyes – may not be profitable to us, if we are short of love.