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1 Corinthians Chapter 13.
The Superiority of Love.
The more excellent way Paul has spoken of is the way of love. Though not finished with the subject of spiritual gifts, Paul pauses in his discourse to show that the central theme of Christian life is not gifts but love. The word used is agape, which is correctly translated as love. Christians recognize this love as what motivated God to give His only Son, and which was displayed by Christ as He died for us on the cross. Morris says, "It is a love for the utterly unworthy, a love which proceeds from the God who is love."
1. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels" is as far reaching as it can be. "No language in earth or heaven is to be compared with the practice of love" (Morris). The use of the gift of tongues without the practice of Christian love is of no value. In fact, Paul's point is general enough to include all kinds of speech. Some at Corinth were taken up with the importance of spiritual gifts, others with the eloquence of certain preachers. But if all a man does is talk, and lacks love, he is nothing. If all a man did was to speak in tongues, then he is like a bronze gong, or a clashing cymbal, both of which produce plenty of noise as they resound (vibrate) when hit, but are good for nothing else.
2. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
As with tongues (an inspired utterance which does not inform the speaker's understanding), so with prophecy (an inspired utterance where the speaker understands what is said). Paul rates prophecy as the greatest spiritual gift in terms of its usefulness to the Church; yet even if through this gift, I could pass on the sum total of wisdom and knowledge both human and divine. (Note: "knowledge" refers to that which men may know or discover, whereas "mysteries" refers to truth that can only be revealed by divine revelation). If I possessed the kind of faith which could accomplish miracles, and had it to the fullest possible degree. The Corinthians thought that those who possessed certain gifts were very important. But even if a man has the greatest gifts, and lacks love, he is not only unimportant, but nothing, of no account.
3. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.
Having dealt with the spiritual gifts of revelation and power, Paul turns to acts of dedication and charity. A man may sell all his possessions to feed the poor. He may have such dedication to his ideals that he will give himself up to the most painful of deaths - being burned by fire - but if he does not have love it is all for nothing. No extravagant action can make up for the lack of love. Far more good may be achieved by humble, simple acts done in genuine love than by any empty demonstrations which lack love.
The Nature of Love.
4,5. Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful.
Having shown that even the greatest gifts and acts of charity can achieve nothing without love, Paul goes on to show loves' qualities. What is love like?
It is long suffering. "Love has an infinite capacity for endurance" (Morris). Barclay points out that the word means patience with people rather than patience with circumstances; love is self restrained.
Love is kind and does good to those who ill treat it (Matt. 5:44). Love gives itself in the service of others (1 John 3:16) and is not jealously displeased with the success of others.
Love is not proud. It does not show off or assert its rights. Certainly in Corinth there was a problem with pride, even in relation to the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul realized that the root cause of this problem was a lack of clear understanding about the importance of Jesus command to "love one another."
Love does not behave unseemly. It will avoid anything that is disgraceful, dishonorable, or indecent. Love is the very opposite of self seeking. Love is always asking "what can I do for the one I love" rather than "what can they do for me? Love is not easily provoked; it is not quickly angered or offended. Phillips translates these words "it is not touchy". It thinks no evil and so is always ready to think the best of people. Love keeps no record of wrongs done (1 Pet. 4:8).
6. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth.
Many today take pleasure in the misfortune of others, as the popularity of murder mysteries illustrates. Love is not like that; it takes no joy in evil of any kind, for it's joy is in the truth. Only when truth is victorious can love be victorious. Only when truth rejoices does love rejoice. As Morris puts it "love shares truth's joy." Love and truth are inseparable partners. Truth is the very heart of Christianity (John 14:6) and stands in direct opposition to falsehood and iniquity.
7. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love bears all things or literally covers over all things. It not only puts up with problems, but smoothes things over, thereby concealing what is unpleasant in another person. Love does not give up, for it endures. It believes all things since it is always prepared to make allowances and see the best in others. Not that love is easily taken in by rogues, but love is ready to give others the benefit of the doubt. It hopes all things, a trait which Morris describes as "a refusal to take failure as final." It confidently looks forward to the ultimate victory which has been secured for us by God's grace. That it "endures all things" means that the one who loves will be steadfast, not dismayed in the midst of battle. Love is never overwhelmed by the difficulties it faces (Song 8:7).
8. Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside.
Love's permanence is stressed, for love never fails; it will never collapse under strain. This love is evidently the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit; a love that "nothing can separate us from."
Against the permanence of love, Paul contrasts the temporary nature of spiritual gifts. Prophecies are God speaking to men through a human channel. When we stand before God, we shall not need prophets nor prophecies and hence they will be obsolete. In the same way there will be no need for the gift of tongues. The knowledge of this present age, together with the imperfect knowledge of God which we have at present will vanish away in the "light of the immediate knowledge of God" (Morris). The word used for vanish away, cease, and fail all mean the same thing. These things will be no more because they will be no longer needed.
The Eternity of Love.
9,10. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside.
That which we know of God is as yet imperfect and incomplete. Consequently, even through prophecy, we do not know it all, for God reveals only a glimpse of himself to the prophet at a time. However, when we see Christ face to face, our knowledge of Him will be complete; a full revelation of all that God is. Then partial knowledge we have now will then be forgotten.
11. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways.
This fact is illustrated in human life. Since we have all been children, none of us can doubt the truth of Paul's words. When I was a child I understood and reasoned as a child does, without the full understanding that a man has. A child's faculties are not fully developed, but a man's are. A child does not possess the same experience or knowledge of life as a man. As the child grows and develops he leaves behind all that which was imperfect or childish in his attitudes and understanding.
At the present time, we are all like children, learning to reason and understand the things of God. One day we shall be men, with a perfect knowledge and understanding born not from study but by virtue of a "change" effected by God; a change which is compared with the change from childhood to adulthood. It is the change from the mortal to immortal, from the temporal to the eternal, and from imperfection to perfection.
12. For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.
Paul speaks of looking in a mirror of polished metal. Since good mirrors were very expensive, the Corinthians would realize that Paul was referring to a cheaper, rather dull mirror when he says that "in a mirror we see darkly"; that is, not with full clarity. Morris says "while we live our life on earth, our sight of things eternal is at best indistinct." But then "we shall see face to face". Paul is referring to the day in which we shall see Christ and be like Him (1 John 3:2). Our knowledge of Him shall then be perfect and complete, even as God's knowledge of us is complete.
13. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Paul returns to his point that the most important qualities in the Christian church are not great gifts or demonstrative acts, but faith, hope and love - the most important being love.
Recommended for You - Further Reading for 1 Corinthians
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