By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
Many present a split between emotions and actions. In this way we tell ourselves that we are not able to change our feelings but that is acceptable as long as we do not act on them. Examples would be fear, anger, or desire. So acting right becomes more important. Similarly, if one does not feel enough joy, hope, or love, one may put more emphasis on actions, focusing instead on doing what is right instead of what they are feeling.
Using love as an example, is it possible, to act right but not actually love? In this verse the writer supposes that actions could be good, but inadequate. “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Love appears to be more than just actions.
Some focus on doing what is right and leave the emotion out of it, though the Bible indicates that right emotions are important along with doing right. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13). The risk is that too much emphasis on acting without feeling may leave one feeling empty inside, or may even lead to more negative emotions like guilt. Or, acting and finding one’s worth in one’s actions can lead to hypocrisy and self-righteousness. What is God’s view of the self-righteous? “They say to each other, ‘Don’t come too close or you will defile me! I am holier than you!’ These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away” (Isaiah 65:5). Instead, God may be looking for a change of heart. For example Jesus told the religious Pharisees “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:26).