1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Observation

  • Even if you speak eloquently without love it is just noise.
  • I am nothing without love.
  • Knowledge and wisdom without love is nothing
  • Faith without love is nothing.
  • Power without love is nothing.
  • Doing good work without love does not gain me anything.
  • Sacrifice without love does not gain me anything.
  • Here are attributes of love
    • patient
    • kind
    • does not envy
    • does not boast
    • is not arrogant
    • is not rude
    • does not insist on its own way
    • is not irritable
    • is not resentful
    • is not happy with wrongdoing
    • rejoices with truth
    • bears everything
    • believes all things
    • hopes for all things
  • There is no end to love.
  • Prophecies will end
  • Tongue will end
  • Knowledge will come to an end.
  • Right now we only have partial knowledge.
  • Right now we only have partial prophesy
  • When that which is perfect comes, everything that is only partial will pass away.
  • Children behaved as a children
  • Children think like children
  • Grown men do not act like children.
  • Currently we only see a poor reflection of truth.
  • When that which is perfect comes we will see clearly.
  • Currently we only have partial understanding.
  • When that which is perfect comes we will know fully
  • We are currently known completely.
  • We will know like we are known.
  • Faith, hope and love last.
  • Love is greater than faith or hope.

Interpretation

The chapter division actually is not helpful understanding and interpreting this passage. Paul connects love to the gifts. Paul has just said that regard should be given to edification. Now he shows the Corinthians something that is all about edification, everything should be regulated according to the rule of love.

Paul starts with the gift of eloquence. When the apostle talks about tongues of angels he is, of course, using hyperbolic language to illustrate that no matter how gifted we may be in eloquence If our speech is not bathed in love it has no value. In this Paul speaks directly to those of us who may speak harshly and justify it with, “But it’s the truth.”

To further illustrate how the rule of love should regulate everything, Paul says even charity and martyrdom have no value without love. Charity is worthy of high praise. But when charity has ulterior motives or comes out of ambition of any type it loses all value. Even martyrdom has no value when it is destitute of love. Some view martyrdom as the highest virtue. As such, it is a way to insure entry into heaven. In such cases, martyrdom is not out of love. It is out of a selfish ambition, trying to gain something. It has only oneself in mind not others.

The main point the apostle is making is this – love is the only rule of our actions. Only love regulates the correct use of God’s gifts. God does not approve of anything that is absent of love regardless of how wonderful men think it may be.

Having explained that God values nothing without love, Paul gives the characteristics of love. The first thing he says about love is that it promotes peace and harmony in the Church. The next thing Paul says is similar to the first. Love is gentle and lenient. Thirdly, love counteracts jealousy. Envy rules where everyone wants to be first. Everyone wants to be number one. Where the attitude is second place is merely the first looser, love is absent. Love has no place where there is the need to be first or at least appear to be first.

Love is a moderator. It restrains men. When Paul says, love does not insist on its own way, he sharply points out how far we are from having love ingrained in us. By nature we want our own way. By nature we love ourselves and look out for number one.

The definition Paul gives for love resolves the question how a Christian should behave in business or the athletic field or any other enterprise. Paul does not prohibit or condemn every kind of concern for ourselves. Rather Paul addresses excesses, over indulging ourselves. But how do we know if we are over indulging? By nature we abuse every liberty we are given.

If we think of ourselves so as to neglect others or if the desire of our own advantage inhibits our concern for others, which God command us to have, we are over indulging.

By nature we are spiteful. By nature we are suspicious and judge everything under the assumption “they” are out to take advantage of me. Love, on the other hand, calls us to be kind, so we think favorably and candidly about our neighbors.

When Paul says love bears and believes all things we understand him to mean that love endures what ought to be endured. We are not to endure injustice or believe that which is false. When we believe all things, this does not mean we are to divest ourselves of judgment and prudence. How Paul applies this is, a Christian would rather be imposed upon by his own kindness and easy temper than to wrong his neighbor with unfriendly suspicion.

Love is a lasting virtue and therefore is to be preferred over temporary and perishable gifts. Paul shows that gifts such as prophecy are temporary. They are granted because of our weaknesses and imperfections. One day our imperfections will be gone. Once these are gone, gifts such as prophecy will no longer be needed.

Most understand Paul to mean that we only have an imperfect partial knowledge when he says, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part…” While it is true that our knowledge is incomplete and imperfect, I do not think that is Paul’s point. Paul is intending to emphasize is that our knowledge is limited because of our imperfection. Thus the phrase, “we know in part…” means, “because of we are not yet perfect.”

“Perfection,” Paul says “when it arrives, will put an end to everything we need as an aid to our imperfection.” But when will that perfection come? It begins at death. At death we put off, along with the body, our many weaknesses. But it will not be completely manifested until the Day of Judgment.

There are many things that are suitable to children that are inappropriate when we grow up. Many things are excusable for children but for which adults are held accountable. We educate children. Education is necessary during childhood. But when all is known there is no longer a need for education. So long as we live in this world, we require, in some sense, education. We remain little children until we are grown up in Christ.

The measure of knowledge that we now have, is suitable to our imperfection and childhood. We do not as yet see or understand clearly the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom.

Preaching and ministry of the word is like looking into a poor mirror. The angels do not need preaching or any other help to see God. They do not need the sacraments. They enjoy a direct vision of God.

Therefore, we understand Paul to mean the knowledge of God, which we obtain from His word, is certainly true. It is consistent and coherent. It is clear. However, it is comparatively obscure when compared to the clear vision and knowledge we will have when we see God face to face.

This passage is not in conflict with the doctrine of the clarity of scripture. We have in the scripture a naked and open revelation of God so far as is good for us. Therefore, only in a relative sense is it obscure.

To say that faith, hope and love remain conveys the idea that in balancing accounts after everything has been deducted what remains are faith, hope and love. However after death there is no need for faith or hope. Faith and hope belong in a state of imperfection. Love, however, persists even in a state of perfection. That is why the greatest is love.

An Application

The Corinthians measured everything by ambition rather than by the fruits. We can do many things that appear to be good. We can even do many things that appear to be righteous. We can donate time and treasure to many worthy causes. But if it is done out of selfish ambition, or because it makes us look good, or because it keeps me out of hell, or for the tax deduction it holds no value. Nothing done out of these types of motives are not done out of love. Those activities do you no good.

Paul is merely expounding on what Christ said when He gave His answer to what the question, what is the greatest commandment. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37b-40)

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