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1 Corinthians 13:3 (ESV):

3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Matthew 25:41-46 (ESV):

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Paul appears to be saying that doing good deeds for others is useless without love, but in Matthew 25:41-46 Jesus appeals to the lack of good deeds for others as the reason for the damnation of many. Does this mean that both love and good deeds are required? Should we focus on developing love first and good deeds for others will naturally follow later (as a "by-product")? How can we reconcile the two passages?

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  • The Cor13 verse is kinda paradox and hyperbole; moreover the sense shows that the donation of every possession including the corpse is being done dispassionately. Imagine an eccentric suicidal rich man donates all his property to some charitable trusts, just to disinherit his family of it. His charity was purely incidental to some other purpose. This act won't be counted righteousness for HIM or credited to him. The point of love is obeying the commands in both passages. The only way one can do charity without love is when the purpose is not righteous.
    – Michael16
    Feb 1, 2022 at 18:26
  • I always found Luke 11:40-42 covers this well. Jesus contrasts the Pharisees fixed rule based tiething with heartfelt giving of arms to help those in need. He states the act of selfless giving with the will and desire and help others - with love - is spiritually purifying. That doing it literally cleans a person "inside".
    – Marshall
    Feb 6, 2022 at 15:50

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The messages of Paul & Jesus agree - Paul is building his case for why charity is essential. We could likewise ask if laying down one's life for the Christian cause is a good thing. Or, in the prior verses (from Paul), if prophecy or moving mountains or faith or knowledge are good things.

Jesus taught of the blessings that come to those who make sacrifices in His name (e.g. Mark 10:29-30) and praised great faith (e.g. Matthew 8:10).

But both Jesus & Paul teach that real intent & commitment matters. From Mark 12:

41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

Giving something that is easy to give is not a sacrifice--the kind of love Paul speaks of--sincere, Christ-like love, motivates people to do things that are not easy. If I only do what is easy, "I gain nothing".

The refiner's fire Paul knew (from personal experience) stretches and develops a person requires a motivation greater than convenience or showing off. Charity can sustain our motivation when anything else would fall short. Charity is essential for us to become what the master craftsman is making us:

But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. (Isaiah 64:8)

Conclusion

The good deeds without real intent may benefit the recipient, but Paul speaks of the effect they will (or won't) have on the giver as well.


Addendum--thoughts from the comments

I have found instructive the analogy of the "pyramid of obedience". Why do we obey?

  1. At the base of the pyramid is obedience out of fear (of what will happen if we don't)
  2. Next up is obedience because we want a reward
  3. Next is obedience out of duty--I made a commitment and I want to make good on it
  4. At the top of the pyramid is obedience out of love--this is the kind of motivation that God has and wants us to develop. This is the motivation that explains the actions of the Good Shepherd & Savior of the world (see John 10:10-15, John 13:34)
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    "but Paul speaks of the effect they will (or won't) have on the giver as well." Huh, interesting. So what you mean is that Paul is saying that "giving is better than receiving" only works when you give out of love and generosity; there is no genuine benefit for you if you do it, say, unwillingly, or out of the desire for the pleasure of your flesh/eyes. In the end, no matter how much you may "gain" materially or how much you appease your fleshly desires, you will always feel empty(or at least as though you didn't really gain anything) on the inside if love is not what motivates you. +1
    – Rajesh
    Feb 1, 2022 at 18:38
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[Matthew 25:42-43] directly repeats [Isaiah 58:7] to describe Righteous Fasting : "Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and moaning poor you shall bring home; when you see a naked one, you shall clothe him, and from your flesh you shall not hide." (הֲלוֹא פָרֹ֚ס לָֽרָעֵב לַחְמֶ֔ךָ וַֽעֲנִיִּ֥ים מְרוּדִ֖ים תָּבִיא בָיִת כִּֽי־תִרְאֶ֚ה עָרֹם֙ וְכִסִּית֔וֹ וּמִבְּשָׂרְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִתְעַלָּֽם)

Then in [Matthew 25:45] we hear the misuse of [Proverbs 19:17] : "He who is gracious to a poor man lends to YHVH, and He will repay him his reward." (מַלְוֵ֣ה יְ֖הוָה ח֣וֹנֵֽן דָּ֑ל וּ֜גְמֻל֗וֹ יְשַׁלֶּם־לֽוֹ) - Yet the Israeli prophet Jesus the Nazarene in [Matthew 25:45] states : "Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch [as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me]" (25:45 τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ἐφ᾽ ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε)

Matthew's Gospel narrative now interests readers that Jesus of Nazareth is reusing prophetic verses about YHVH but making those prophecies about himself.

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The passage of Matthew 25 is best put in contrast with:

22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; leave Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Some people will do all these spiritual things out of self seeking.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You as a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me.’

See that the ones who enter the kingdom were the ones who did it out of love for other people and didn't even notice they were doing it for Jesus. (They ask 'when').

Is there ultimate use? Yes. For you and for others. If you are hungry, there is a lot of use in getting food, if sick, someone paying you a visit, etc. So there is good to others, and there is ultimate use for you because:

27 For the Son of Man will come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will repay each one according to what he has done. Matthew 16

6 God “will repay each one according to his deeds.”a 7To those who by perseverance in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, He will give eternal life. Romans 2

9So we aspire to please Him, whether we are here in this body or away from it. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive his due for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians.

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Let me illustrate the distinction required with a specific example:

If (say) a person with highly suspect motives based entirely on selfishness gives a large donation to a shelter that feeds the homeless, then the person has done good but has done nothing to advance his/her own spiritual journey.

Such an act is commendable despite the sinful motives! However, this is not the sort of behavior that Jesus wanted to encourage because such a person is also capable, with exactly the same motives, of doing great harm and evil under slightly different circumstances.

In both 1 Cor 13 and Matt 25, Jesus wants us to be motivated entirely by love to God and man (Matt 22:34-40, John 13:34, 35, etc) because such people will ALWAYS do what is best under all circumstances.

It was very self-centered people who, over the last several decades, have been exposed as senor church people who have been doing great good and great evil at the same time, such as managing wonderful charities and abusing children frequently.

James 3:9-12 - With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be! Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree grow olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Thus, Jesus wanted our motives to be pure at all times.

Now, let me makes this very clear - our good works do not buy us any favor or love from God - we have that at all times anyway! Our good deeds (especially those that people do not see, Matt 6:3) display the type of character we developing as James is at paints to pint out in James 1:14-26 etc.

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OP: "Paul appears to be saying that doing good deeds for others is useless without love, but in Matthew 25:41-46 Jesus appeals to the lack of good deeds for others as the reason for the damnation of many. Does this mean that both love and good deeds are required?"

Gifts are an external expression of love or caring, without which they lose meaning. The value of a gift or service is not in how great it is or how much is given, but in the love that lies behind it. Thus Paul says, “If I give away all I have, … but have not love, I gain nothing.” Conversely, even if it were only “a cup of cold water,” if it were given out of love for Christ, then its value is immeasurable because he receives it as though it were for him (Mt 10:42).

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. – Mt 25:40

OP: “Should we focus on developing love first and good deeds for others will naturally follow later?”

According to 1 Cor 12:31, the answer is yes. But rather than something to be developed, love itself is a "higher gift" that must first be received before it can be given.

But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way… If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. – 1 Cor 12:31 to 1 Cor 13:1-3

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:10

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  • About love being a higher gift, see Is love a spiritual gift or a spiritual fruit?
    – user38524
    Feb 6, 2022 at 15:03
  • We are the branches that can only produce fruit from that which we receive (Jn 15:4). When love is “poured into our hearts,” it is a gift (Rom 5:5). When it is poured forth from our hearts, it is fruit. I believe love is “the greatest” of the gifts that are given through the one gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 13:13, 1 Cor 12:4-6).
    – Nhi
    Feb 7, 2022 at 14:35

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