1Co 13:1-13. Charity or Love
Superior to All Gifts.
The New Testament psalm of love, as the forty-fifth
Psalm (see Ps 45:1,
title) and the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament.
1. tongues—from these he ascends to
"prophecy" (1Co 13:2);
then, to "faith"; then to benevolent and self-sacrificing deeds: a
climax. He does not except even himself, and so passes from addressing
them ("unto you," 1Co 12:31)
to putting the case in his own person, "Though I," &c.
speak with the tongues—with the
eloquence which was so much admired at Corinth (for example, Apollos,
18:24; compare 1Co 1:12; 3:21,
22), and with the command of
various languages, which some at Corinth abused to purposes of mere
ostentation (1Co 14:2,
of angels—higher than men, and
therefore, it is to be supposed, speaking a more exalted language.
charity—the principle of the ordinary
and more important gifts of the Spirit, as contrasted with the
extraordinary gifts (1Co 12:1-31).
sounding … tinkling—sound
without soul or feeling: such are "tongues" without charity.
cymbal—Two kinds are noticed (Ps 150:5), the loud or clear, and
the high-sounding one: hand cymbals and finger cymbals, or
castanets. The sound is sharp and piercing.
2. mysteries—(Ro 11:25;
refer to the deep counsels of God hitherto secret, but now revealed to
His saints. Knowledge, to truths long known.
faith … remove mountains—(Mt 17:20;
21:21). The practical power
of the will elevated by faith [Neander];
confidence in God that the miraculous result will surely follow the
exercise of the will at the secret impulse of His Spirit. Without
"love" prophecy, knowledge, and faith, are not what they seem (compare
1Co 8:1, 2; Mt 7:22; Jas 2:14; compare 1Co 13:8), and so fail of the heavenly reward
(Mt 6:2). Thus Paul, who teaches
justification by faith only (Ro 3:4, 5; Ga 2:16; 3:7-14), is shown to agree with James, who
teaches (Jas 2:24) "by
works" (that is, by LOVE, which is the
"spirit" of faith, Jas 2:26) a
man is justified, "and not by faith only."
3. bestow … goods …
poor—literally, "dole out in food" all my goods; one of the
highest functions of the "helps" (1Co 12:28).
give … body to be
burned—literally, "to such a degree as that I should be
burned." As the three youths did (Da 3:28), "yielded their bodies" (compare 2Co 12:15). These are most noble
exemplifications of love in giving and in suffering. Yet they may be
without love; in which case the "goods" and "body" are given, but not
the soul, which is the sphere of love. Without the soul God
rejects all else, and so rejects the man, who is therefore "profited"
nothing (Mt 16:26; Lu 9:23-25). Men will fight for Christianity, and
die for Christianity, but not live in its spirit, which is
4. suffereth long—under provocations of
evil from others. The negative side of love.
is kind—the positive side. Extending
good to others. Compare with love's features here those of the
"wisdom from above" (Jas 3:17).
envieth—The Greek includes also
vaunteth not—in words, even of gifts
which it really possesses; an indirect rebuke of those at Corinth who
used the gift of tongues for mere display.
not puffed up—with party zeal, as some
at Corinth were (1Co 4:6).
5. not … unseemly—is not
uncourteous, or inattentive to civility and propriety.
thinketh no evil—imputeth not
evil [Alford]; literally,
"the evil" which actually is there (Pr 10:12; 1Pe
4:8). Love makes allowances
for the falls of others, and is ready to put on them a charitable
construction. Love, so far from devising evil against another, excuses
"the evil" which another inflicts on her [Estius]; doth not meditate upon evil
inflicted by another [Bengel]; and in
doubtful cases, takes the more charitable view [Grotius].
6. rejoiceth in the truth—rather,
"rejoiceth with the truth." Exults not at the perpetration of
iniquity (unrighteousness) by others (compare Ge 9:22, 23), but rejoices when the truth
rejoices; sympathizes with it in its triumphs (2Jo 4). See the opposite (2Ti 3:8), "Resist the truth." So "the truth" and
"unrighteousness" are contrasted (Ro 2:8). "The truth" is the Gospel truth, the
inseparable ally of love (Eph 4:15; 2Jo 12). The false charity which compromises
"the truth" by glossing over "iniquity" or unrighteousness is thus
tacitly condemned (Pr 17:15).
7. Beareth all things—without speaking
of what it has to bear. The same Greek verb as in 1Co 9:12. It endures without divulging to
the world personal distress. Literally said of holding fast like
a watertight vessel; so the charitable man contains himself in
silence from giving vent to what selfishness would prompt under
believeth all things—unsuspiciously
believes all that is not palpably false, all that it can with a good
conscience believe to the credit of another. Compare Jas 3:17, "easy to be entreated"; Greek,
hopeth—what is good of another, even
when others have ceased to hope.
endureth—persecutions in a patient and
8. never faileth—never is to be out of
use; it always holds its place.
shall fail … vanish away—The
same Greek verb is used for both; and that different from the
Greek verb for "faileth." Translate, "Shall be done away with,"
that is, shall be dispensed with at the Lord's coming, being superseded
by their more perfect heavenly analogues; for instance,
knowledge by intuition. Of "tongues," which are still
more temporary, the verb is "shall cease." A primary fulfilment
of Paul's statement took place when the Church attained its maturity;
then "tongues" entirely "ceased," and "prophesyings" and "knowledge,"
so far as they were supernatural gifts of the Spirit, were superseded
as no longer required when the ordinary preaching of the word, and the
Scriptures of the New Testament collected together, had become
9, 10. in part—partially and
imperfectly. Compare a similar contrast to the "perfect man," "the
measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph 4:11-13).
10. that which is in part—fragmentary
11. When … a child—(1Co 3:1;
I spake—alluding to "tongues."
understood—or, "had the sentiments
of." Alluding to "prophecy."
I thought—Greek "reasoned" or
"judged"; alluding to "knowledge."
when I became … I put
away—rather, "now that I am become a man, I have done away
with the things of the child."
12. now—in our present state.
see—an appropriate expression, in
connection with the "prophets" of seers (1Sa 9:9).
through a glass—that is, in a mirror;
the reflection seeming to the eye to be behind the mirror, so
that we see it through the mirror. Ancient mirrors were made of
polished brass or other metals. The contrast is between the inadequate
knowledge of an object gained by seeing it reflected in a dim mirror
(such as ancient mirrors were), compared with the perfect idea we have
of it by seeing itself directly.
darkly—literally, "in enigma." As a
"mirror" conveys an image to the eye, so an "enigma" to the
ear. But neither "eye nor ear" can fully represent (though the
believer's soul gets a small revelation now of) "the things which God
hath prepared for them that love Him" (1Co 2:9). Paul alludes to Nu 12:8, "not in dark speeches"; the
Septuagint, "not in enigmas." Compared with the
visions and dreams vouchsafed to other prophets, God's
communications with Moses were "not in enigmas." But compared with the
intuitive and direct vision of God hereafter, even the revealed word
now is "a dark discourse," or a shadowing forth by enigma of
God's reflected likeness. Compare 2Pe 1:19, where the "light" or candle in a
dark place stands in contrast with the "day" dawning. God's word is
called a glass or mirror also in 2Co 3:18.
then—"when that which is perfect is
face to face—not merely "mouth to
12:8). Ge 32:30 was a type (Joh 1:50, 51).
know … known—rather as
Greek, "fully know … fully known." Now we
are known by, rather than know, God (1Co 8:3; Ga
13. And now—Translate, "But now."
"In this present state" [Henderson]. Or,
"now" does not express time, but opposition, as in 1Co 5:11, "the case being so" [Grotius]; whereas it is the case that the
three gifts, "prophecy," "tongues," and "knowledge" (cited as
specimens of the whole class of gifts) "fail" (1Co 13:8), there abide permanently only
these three—faith, hope, charity. In one sense
faith and hope shall be done away, faith being superseded
by sight, and hope by actual fruition (Ro 8:24; 2Co 5:7); and charity, or love, alone never
faileth (1Co 13:8).
But in another sense, "faith and hope," as well as "charity," ABIDE; namely, after the extraordinary gifts
have ceased; for those three are necessary and sufficient for
salvation at all times, whereas the extraordinary gifts are not at
all so; compare the use of "abide," 1Co 3:14. Charity, or love, is connected
specially with the Holy Spirit, who is the bond of the loving union
between the brethren (Ro 15:30; Col 1:8). Faith is towards God.
Hope is in behalf of ourselves. Charity is love to God
creating in us love towards our neighbor. In an unbeliever there is
more or less of the three opposites—unbelief, despair, hatred.
Even hereafter faith in the sense of trust in God
"abideth"; also "hope," in relation to ever new joys in prospect, and
at the anticipation of ever increasing blessedness, sure never to be
disappointed. But love alone in every sense "abideth"; it is therefore
"the greatest" of the three, as also because it presupposes "faith,"
which without "love" and its consequent "works" is dead (Ga 5:6; Jas
but—rather, "and"; as there is not so
strong opposition between charity and the other two, faith and hope,
which like it also "abide."