11. Loving actions are defined by selfless motives.

If I gave everything I have to poor people, and if I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn’t love others, it would be of no value whatever. {1 Corinthians 13:3}

At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul lays out in explicit detail that none of our good words or deeds matter if we “don’t have love.” Rock-solid faith, vast amounts of knowledge, kind speech, extreme generosity, even giving up your life as a martyr—all of these good and useful things amount to nothing, Paul says, if we don’t love.

Since selfless-ness is the essence of love, what Paul is saying is that it doesn’t matter what we say or do, if we are doing it in any way to act in self-interest, then it’s worthless. It’s actually not love. He goes on to say that love is not self-seeking, which means that anything we do—good or bad—with a selfish agenda doesn’t qualify as love.

This means that loving actions are defined by a selfless motive, not by the action itself or its outcome. Thus, the very same action may be deemed “loving” in one situation and “unloving” in another. Administering a narcotic for the purpose of relieving extreme physical pain may be considered loving, while giving it to a teenager in the hopes of turning them into a junkie who will purchase your supply would be considered terribly unloving. The motivation defines the nature of the act.

Thus, when God acts not in self-interest, but in the interest of others, whatever He does is loving, no matter how it may appear at the time. Since His motives are always selfless, His actions are always loving.

If you want to dig deeper—
Matthew 5:27-28
1 Corinthians 5:1-5
1 Corinthians 16:14
Galatians 5:13