1Corinthians 13 - Outline of 1Corinthians (MENU page)
In chapters 12-14, Paul provides instruction concerning spiritual gifts or enablements. In ch.12, he spoke of the variety of enablements, given by (and at the discretion of) the Holy Spirit, to every believer in Christ. Each believer is uniquely endowed for the Lord's service, and placed in the position which He has determined. For His body (the church) to function as designed, each believer must fill his or her part, in the power provided by God's Spirit. While many serve humbly, hidden from view, some have been given prominent roles.
     In the closing verse of ch.12 (1Cor 12:31), Paul urged the Corinthians to "covet earnestly the best gifts" (which he will identify in ch.14). But knowing the pride of the human heart, he precedes that by saying: "yet shew I unto you a more excellent way," which is the way of love, described in the chapter before us.
     Throughout this chapter, the word 'charity' {GK=agape} refers to the highest form of love, which gives itself for the benefit another.
1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, {1Cor 12:10,28}
and have not charity,
I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 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,
{1Cor 12:8-10}
and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor],
and though I give my body to be burned,
and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
...though I speak with tongues... as sounding {ringing} brass, or tinkling {clanging} cymbal...
The gift of speaking in other tongues {GK=glossa} was highly regarded by the Corinthian church. They were familiar with the 'glossolalia' practised by the heathen religions, where language-like (but meaningless) sounds were uttered by a person in a state of religious ecstasy.
     At Pentecost, the early disciples spoke with the tongues of men, in delivering the Gospel message to a multitude of foreigners, who heard the message in their own languages (Acts 2:4-12). There is no biblical record of men speaking in the tongues of angels, since angels are able to communicate in the languages of men. (However, this was the explanation given for unintelligible ecstatic speech.)
     Paul's words (in v.1) may be paraphrased: 'Whether preaching in the languages of men or with the eloquence of angels, without love, I voice a volume of hollow noise (like a hollow brass bell), which merely draws attention to myself.'
...though I have... prophecy... understand all mysteries... all knowledge...
...though I have all faith... so that I could remove mountains...
The understanding of doctrinal truth, the ability to teach it, and the faith to obey it regardless of all obstacles, are essential to the health of the church (See 1Cor 4:1; Mat 13:11; 17:20; 21:21). Teachers of doctrine are to be honored (1Tim 5:17). But a man can be overcome with pride, over what he 'knows' (1Cor 8:1).
     Even, as a veritable repository of truth and faith, without love, I am nothing. See Gal 6:3.
...though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor]... {The [bracketed] words are not in the GK text.}
(or, ...though I give away everything I own...) cp. Luk 18:22; Mat 6:1-4
...though I give my body to be burned...
Lacking love, even large humanitarian donations and martyrdom for a cause, return a reward of 'nothing.' cp. Mat 7:22,23
     Thus, whatever I do must be properly motivated, if it is going to count for anything. Love for Christ is the prerequisite for ministry (Joh 21:15-17). The Lord asked Peter (in v.15,16) "Do you love {GK=agape} me?" {ie., 'with the kind of love that I demonstrated when I gave Myself for you?'}. Peter, knowing his failure, could not bring himself to use that word, and replied "You know that I love {GK=phileo} you." {ie., I am 'fond' of you, I 'regard you as a friend.'}. Peter had learned that he was incapable of anything higher than 'phileo' love.
     'Agape' love is not natural to the self-seeking human heart. It is gift, or more accurately, a 'fruit' which only the Holy Spirit can produce within the believer (Gal 5:22). When He does so, true love for Christ will overflow with love for His people (1Joh 4:19-21).
What does 'Holy Spirit supplied' love look like?
('Charity' is GK=agape, selfless love.)
4. Charity suffereth long,
[and] is kind;
Love is long-suffering {slow to lose temper, patiently enduring}. When opposed and hated, love responds with kindness (benevolence) toward its enemies. 2Pet 3:9; Eph 4:1,2; Col 3:12; 2Tim 2:25
charity envieth not;Love is not jealous of another's possessions or position. Rom 13:13; 1Cor 3:3; Jam 3:14-17; 4:5
charity vaunteth not itself,
is not puffed up,
Love does not promote itself, and is not inflated with self-importance. 1Cor 4:6; 8:1; Gal 5:26; Php 2:3
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly,Love does not behave inappropriately, indecently, or shamefully. eg., Rom 1:27; 1Cor 11:18,21-22; cp. Php 4:8; 2The 3:7
seeketh not her own,Love is not self-serving. Rom 15:1,2; 1Cor 10:24,33; Php 2:4,20-21
is not easily provoked,Love is not irritable. Love is slow to anger. Psa 145:8; Jer 25:3-7; Prov 15:18; Jam 1:19
thinketh no evil;Love neither keeps account of wrongs committed against it, nor considers ways of harmful vengeance. 1The 5:15; 1Pet 3:10,11
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity,
but rejoiceth in the truth;
Love finds no pleasure in unrighteousness or injustice (cf. Psa 10:3; Rom 1:32). Rather, Love rejoices in the truth {GK=aletheia, the unconcealed reality of what is right and just}. eg., Psa 119:136; 2Tim 2:19; 2Joh 1:4
7 Beareth all things,Love 'covers' whatever needs covering. Here, 'bear' {GK=stego, lit., to roof over} refers to covering a need silently (translated 'suffer' in 1Cor 9:12; 'forbear' in 1The 3:1,5). Elsewhere, other similar words refer to covering the failures of others (1Pet 2:24; 4:8), carrying a brother's load, or bearing up under stress (eg., Gal 6:2,5).
believeth all things,Love is convinced that all that God has spoken is true (Psa 119:66). Thus, the Love, which is of God, discerns and clings to the Truth, while rejecting the world's philosophies (Joh 14:21-24; 1Cor 1:18; 2:12,13; 1Joh 4:14-18). Love believes God's Word that there is only one way of salvation (1Joh 5:9-12). Love believes that God is faithful, able to answer prayer, and powerful to change sinners into new creatures (1Joh 5:13-16).
hopeth all things,Love waits in confident expectation that all of God's promises will be fulfilled, in His time (Rom 8:24,25; Titus 2:13,14; 1Pet 1:3-9). Love is optimistic for the growth of those loved (eg., 2Cor 1:7; Php 1:6,7).
endureth all things.Love 'endures' {GK=hupomeno, lit., abides under, bears up courageously under} hardship and persecution for the sake of the loved one(s). 2Tim 2:10; Heb 12:2-3,7; Jam 1:12; 5:11
Consider the following comments from Dr. Harry A. Ironside:
In verses 4-7 we have the character of love. What is this love of which he is speaking? How may we know it? How may we recognize it when we see it? ... If the apostle Paul had tried to give us a pen portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ, he could not have done better than to use the words that we have here. As you read these verses you can see the blessed Savior of men moving about in this world on His mission of love. So true is this that you could substitute the word Christ for the word love, or charity here. Let me show you.
    "Christ suffereth long, and is kind; Christ envieth not; Christ vaunteth not himself, is not puffed up, doth not behave himself unseemly, seeketh not his own, is not easily provoked."
   Was He ever provoked? Oh, yes. About what? About the wickedness, the sin, the hypocrisy of men. When they would have hindered His healing the poor woman in the synagogue because of their pretended regard for the sanctity of the Sabbath, Jesus looked round about upon them and was angry. There is an anger that is divine, but, "[love] is not easily provoked."
    "Christ thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
    This is indeed a character sketch of the Lord Jesus Christ. It tells me that it is only as Christ dwells in me that I will manifest these characteristics, and then I can truly say with Paul, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
    If I take this as a divine picture of what every man ought to be, if I dare to say that not until this is true of me am I really fit for a place with God in heaven, I might sink into utter despair if it depended upon me, for I never could measure up to this. There is so much in my heart of self, of evil, of unholiness, but as I receive Christ as my personal Savior, as I put my trust in Him, the One who died because of man's selfishness, sin, and unholiness, I am born again of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, and Christ comes to dwell in my heart by faith. Now in the measure in which I yield myself to Him, He lives out His wonderful life through me, and thus I am able to manifest the love that is revealed in this chapter.
    [H.A.Ironside; Paragraph indentations were added by the editor]
Consider also these passages concerning the love of Christ, rooted and growing within His own:
Eph 3:17-21; Eph 5:2; 2Cor 5:14,15; 1Joh 4:7-13
8. Charity never faileth: {God's Love, like His Word, is unfailing. Luk 16:17}
but whether [there be] prophecies, they shall fail
{ie., become useless};
whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease
{ie., come to an end};
whether [there be] knowledge, it shall vanish away
{ie., become useless}.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect
{ie., complete} is come,
then that which is in part shall be done away.
Love, being an attribute of God, is intrinsically eternal. 1Joh 4:7-10
Prophecy, tongues, and knowledge (whatever we think we know, today) will become obsolete, when they are no longer needed to proclaim the Gospel message to a lost world.
  • Prophecy, in the dual senses of foretelling and forth-telling God's purposes, will no longer be needed when the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord. Isa 11:9
  • The ability to speak in foreign tongues (for proclaiming the Gospel to all nations in languages that they can understand) will no longer be needed, when the redeemed of all nations worship the Lord in one common language. Zeph 3:9
  • Our present limited Knowledge, even of God and His written Word (1Cor 8:2), will be swallowed up by full knowledge when Christ returns for His own (1Joh 3:2).
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child,
I understood as a child, I thought
{ie., reasoned} as a child:
but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
In this verse, every occurrence of 'child' or 'childish' is GK=nepios {lit., 'not speaking'} implying an infant-like state of relative inability to comprehend or communicate the things of God.
     The word 'man' {GK=aner, adult male, husband} refers to a relative state of maturity. Yet, today, the most mature believer cannot see as God sees (Isa 55:9).
12 For now we see through a glass {a primitive mirror}, darkly {in obscurity};
but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
We presently understand the things of God 'darkly' {GK=ainigma, enigma}. There are many eternal matters that are puzzling to us, now. But all will be clear, when we see Him (Rev 22:3-5).
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three;
but the greatest of these [is] charity.
Now, while we remain in this earthly realm, we look forward to the fulfilment of God's promises, by faith, and in hope (confident expectation), and we are to live with love toward God and His children. Faith and hope will be set aside when 'the things hoped for' are realized. Love, being an eternal element of God's glory, is the greatest of these three.
     Thus, the importance of living in love cannot be over-emphasized. 1Cor 16:14; Joh 13:34,35

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