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1st Corinthians Chapter 13

This chapter is a continuation of the subject commenced in chapter 12. In that chapter Paul had introduced the subject of the various endowments which the Holy Spirit confers on Christians, and had shown that these endowments, however various they were, were conferred in such a manner as best to promote the edification and welfare of the church. In the close of that chapter (1 Co 12:31) he had said that it was lawful for them to desire the most eminent of the gifts conferred by the Spirit; and yet says that there was one endowment that was more valuable than all others, and that might be obtained by all, and that he proposed to recommend to them. That was Love; sold to illustrate its nature, excellency, and power, is the design of this exquisitely beautiful and tender chapter. In doing this, he dwells particularly on three points or views of the excellency of love; and the chapter may be regarded as consisting of three portions.

I. The excellency of love above the power of speaking the languages of men and of angels; above the power of understanding all mysteries; above all faith, even of the highest kind; and above the virtue of giving all one's goods to feed the poor, or one's body to be burned. All these endowments would be valueless without love, 1 Co 13:1-3.

II. A statement of the characteristics of love; or its happy influences on the mind and heart, 1 Co 13:4-7.

III. A comparison of love with the gift of prophecy, and with the power of speaking foreign languages, and with knowledge, 1 Co 13:8-13. In this portion of the chapter, Paul shows that love is superior to them all. It will live in heaven; and will constitute the chief glory of that world of bliss.

Verse 1. Though I speak with the tongues of men. Though I should be able to speak all the languages which are spoken by men. To speak foreign languages was regarded then, as it is now, as a rare and valuable endowment. Comp. Virg. AEn. vi. 625, seq. The word I, here, is used in a popular sense; and the apostle designs to illustrate, as he often does, his idea by a reference to himself, which, it is evident, he wishes to be understood as applying to those whom he addressed. It is evident that among the Corinthians the power of speaking a foreign language was regarded as a signally valuable endowment; and there can be no doubt that some of the leaders in that church valued themselves especially on it. See chapter 14. To correct this, and to show them that all this would be vain without love, and to induce them, therefore, to seek for love as a more valuable endowment, was the design of the apostle in this passage. Of this verse Dr. Bloomfield, than whom perhaps there is no living man better qualified to give such an opinion, remarks, that "it would be difficult to find a finer passage than this in the writings of Demosthenes himself."

And of angels. The language of angels; such as they speak. Were I endowed with the faculty of eloquence and persuasion which we attribute to them; and the power of speaking to any of the human family with the power which they have. The language of angels here seems to be used to denote the highest power of using language, or of the most elevated faculty of eloquence and speech. It is evidently derived from the idea that the angels are superior, in all respects, to men; that they must have endowments in advance of all which man can have. It may possible have reference to the idea that they must have some mode of communicating their ideas one to another, and that this dialect or mode must be far superior to that which is employed by man. Man is imperfect. All his modes of communication are defective. We attribute to the angels the idea of perfection; sold the idea here is, that even though a man had a far higher faculty of speaking languages than would be included in the endowment of speaking all the languages of men, as men speak them, and even had the higher and more perfect mode of utterance which the angels have, and yet were destitute of love, all would be nothing. It is possible that Paul may have some allusion here to what he refers to in 2 Co 12:4, where he says that when he was caught up into Paradise, he heard unspeakable words, which it was not possible for a man to utter. To this higher, purer language of heaven he may refer here by the language of the angels. It was not with him mere conjecture of what that language might be; it was language which he had been permitted himself to hear. Of that scene he would retain a most deep and tender recollection; and to that language he now refers, by saying that even that elevated language would be valueless to a creature if there were not love.

And have not charity. agaphn de mh ecw. And have not LOVE. This is the proper and usual meaning of the Greek word. The English word charity is used in a great variety of senses; and some of them cannot be included in the meaning of the word here. It means,

(1.) in a general sense, love, benevolence, good-will;

(2.) in theology, it includes supreme love to God, and universal good-will to men;

(3.) in a more particular sense, it denotes the love and kindness which springs from the natural relations, as the charities of father, son, brother;

(4.) liberality to the poor, to the needy, and to objects of beneficence, as we speak commonly of charity, meaning almsgiving, and of charitable societies;

(5.) candour, liberality in judging of men's actions; indulgence to their opinions; attributing to them good motives and intentions; a disposition to judge of them favourably, and to put on their words and actions the best construction. This is a very common signification of the word in our language now; and this is one modification of the word love, as all such charity is supposed to proceed from love to our neighbour, and a desire that he should have a right to his opinions, as well as we to ours. The Greek word agaph means, properly, love, affection, regard, good-will, benevolence. It is applied,

(a.) to love in general;

(b.) to the love of God and of Christ;

(c.) the love which God or Christ exercises towards Christians, Rom 5:5; Eph 2:4; 2 Th 3:5;

(d.) the effect or proof of beneficence, favour conferred, Eph 1:15; 2 Th 2:10; 1 Jo 3:1.

Rob. Lex. In the English word charity, therefore, there are now some ideas which are not found in the Greek word, and especially the idea of almsgiving, and the common use of the word among us in the sense of candour, or liberality in judging. Neither of these ideas, perhaps, are to be found in the use of the word in the chapter before us; and the more proper translation would have been, in accordance with the usual mode of translation in the New Testament, LOVE. Tindal, in his translation, renders it by the word love. The love which is referred to in this chapter, and illustrated, is mainly love to man, (1 Co 13:4-7;) though there is no reason to doubt that the apostle meant also to include in the general term love to God, or love in general. His illustrations, however, are chiefly drawn from the effects of love towards men. It properly means love to the whole church; love to the whole world; love to all creatures, which arises from true piety, and which centres ultimately in God.—Doddridge. It is this love whose importance Paul, in this beautiful chapter, illustrates as being more valuable than the highest possible endowments without it. It is not necessary to suppose that any one had these endowments, or had the power of speaking with the tongues of men and angels, or had the gift of prophecy, or had the highest degree of faith, who had no love. The apostle supposes a case; and says that if it were so, if all these were possessed without love, they would be comparatively valueless; or that love was a more valuable endowment than all the others would be without it.

I am become. I am. I shall be.

As sounding brass. Probably a trumpet. The word properly means brass; then that which is made of brass; a trumpet, or wind instrument of any kind, made of brass or copper. The sense is that of a sounding or resounding instrument, making a great noise, apparently of great importance, and yet without vitality; a mere instrument; a base metal that merely makes a sound. Thus noisy, valueless, empty, and without vitality, would be the power of speaking all languages without love.

Or a tinkling cymbal. A cymbal giving a clanging, clattering sound. The word rendered "tinkling," (alalazon) from alalh or alala, a war-cry,) properly denotes a loud cry, or shout, such as is used in battle; and then also a loud cry or mourning, cries of lamentation or grief; the loud shriek of sorrow: Mr 5:38, "Them that wept, and wailed greatly." It then means a clanging or clattering sound, such as was made on a cymbal. The cymbal is a well-known instrument, made of two pieces of brass or other metal, which, being struck together, gives a tinkling or clattering sound. Cymbals are commonly used in connexion with other music. They make a tinkling, or clanging, with very little variety of sound. The music is little adapted to produce emotion, or to excite feeling. There is no melody, and no harmony. They were therefore well adapted to express, the idea which the apostle wished to convey. The sense is, "If I could speak all languages, yet if I had not love, the faculty would be like the clattering, clanging sound of the cymbal, that contributes nothing to the welfare of others. It would all be hollow, vain, useless. It could neither save me nor others, any more than the notes of the trumpet, or the jingling of the cymbal, would promote salvation. Love is the vital principle; it is that without which all other endowments are useless and vain."

{*} "tongues" "In the languages" {a} "angels" 2 Co 12:4 {+} "charity" "Love" {b} "I am become" 1 Pe 4:8

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