Chapter 12, verse 31 is the introduction to Chapter 13 and holds the key to its overall understanding.
We could read this phrase as, "be full of zeal about the greater graces." The word "best" can be translated "greater." There are things which God gives by grace that are greater than any other. What are they? According to Chapter 13, verse 13, "The greatest (same word as "best") of these is charity." As we have mentioned in our discussion of Chapter 12, the gifts that God gives to different members of the church are distributed according to His will (12:11). We must not restlessly yearn for those gifts He has not assigned to us. Instead, it is our job to be content with whatever He gives us and use it faithfully. However, there is one gift, greater than any other, which we all should long for and desire. That gift is the subject of this chapter.
"a more excellent way"
The word "excellent" is an interesting combination of the prefix huper, "above," and the root, ballo, "cast or throw." The image is like an athletic contest in which one throw of a ball is above or farther than any other. It is a throw that cannot be matched. It is unique in its excellence. That thought fits the spiritual meaning of the adjective "excellent" that modifies the word "way." This phrase is not saying, "I will show you the best method or procedure for you to follow in order to achieve the best gift." The word "way" is special. It refers to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (John 14:6). Paul is actually saying, "I show you Jesus, the matchless one." Therefore, we can conclude that this chapter shows us what God looks like. It is a portrait of God's heart. It is the only valid picture of Jesus that we ought to hang on our wall.
In the context of the spiritual and material conflict which dominates the letter of I Corinthians, we can say that this chapter presents the greatest of all "spiritual things." Love is spiritual inasmuch as it describes God (I John 4:8) who is spiritual (John 4:24). Love describes the spiritual way for a Christian to live, because it is God's life which He lives in him (Gal. 2:20).
This chapter is often called the love chapter. And so it is. But I John 4:8 tells us that God is love. Therefore, we can be specific and concrete about our understanding about love. As we shall see, there are two parallel themes which run through this chapter and carefully describe the love God has in mind.
1. First of all, there is God's love. Everything in this chapter is an expression of the amazing attitude of God's heart toward sinners (Rom. 5:8; I John 4:8-10). This is the exact opposite of the attitude that underlined the problems which some of the Corinthians displayed. They had loyalty to factions. But God redemptively loves men from all nations and backgrounds. They had a materialistic concern. But God is jealous for the eternal souls of His people. They guarded their pride. But God emptied Himself that many would be saved.
2. The second theme is the reflection of God's love in His people (true believers). We display God's love working in us as we obey Him (John 14:15,23; I John 5:3) and as we love and trust Him (Rom. 5:5; II Cor. 1:9). God's love is reflected in our concern for the spiritual salvation of others. We display God's love as we witness (I John 4:11) and as we give up for the spiritual profit of others (I Cor. 6:12; 8:13; 9:22). We must always be willing to ask the question, "Will what I say or do promote the salvation of others? Will it bring that person closer to God?"
Before we trace these two themes in detail through this chapter, we must look at some of Paul's introductory remarks.
Verse 1, "Though I speak..."
With these words Paul sets up a theoretical situation. Some members thought the gift of tongues of men and of angels was special, one of the best gifts. They considered the bearer of that gift special, too. Therefore, Paul sets up a theoretical situation in order to teach them something. Namely, one might have a special gift and still fail to reflect God's love either in their own personal life or in their evangelistic zeal for others.
Paul could also be using some of the Corinthians' own words as a rebuke. Then the idea of the verse would be, "Some of you are puffed up because you think you are able to speak with the tongues of men and angels. Well, since you are not filled love, you really do not have that gift. But for the sake of discussion, even if I could speak as you say that you do and do not have love, there really is not any point or value in it."
This word glossa, translated "tongues," is used throughout the Bible to refer to languages as we commonly think of them. But in the church at Corinth, a unique phenomenon was taking place which is carefully discussed in Chapter 14. In this present discussion, we shall continue to understand it as "languages."
"of men and of angels"
The word "angel," or aggelon, is really the general word "messenger." Who is in view? There are two possibilities. We could think of the word "angel" could be in opposition to "men" in the sense of "men who love this world." Therefore, "angel" could mean a believer who brings a witness in a spiritual message, while "men" could mean an unbeliever who brings a message of words (I Cor. 2:4). On the other hand, we could think of the word "angel" in opposition to "men" in the sense of "mankind." Therefore, "angel" could mean spiritual beings. In this case, there really is no opposition, and the word "and" is an equal sign or coordinating conjunction. The message in view could be from a human or nonhuman being, that is, any conceivable message at all.
"and have not charity"
For consistency and a little more accuracy, the word "charity," agapen, should be translated "love." But "charity" is not such an unfortunate choice, as might first appear. Charity describes one of the highest attitudes or goals of love, which is to give up oneself for another (John 15:13). True love gives. False love, which is not love but rather lust, takes. Lust looks out only for itself. Love seeks the best for another, even at the risk of loss. Charity was something the Corinthians needed to learn (6:7; 8:13).
This word comes from eekeo, used only here and in Luke 21:25 to refer to the "roaring" of unbelievers under judgment.
Used five times, it refers to the metal brass which is often used as money (Matt. 10:9; Mark 6:8; 12:41). It is part of the inventory of the treasures of this world which is greatly desired by the unsaved (Rev. 18:12).
This word comes from alalazo and is used only two times, here and in Mark 5:38 to refer to the "wail" of distress over someone who has died.
This word is translated from kumbalon, used only here. It is composed of two parts. The first part of the word, kuma, is used five times to refer to waves (Mark 4:37; Jude 13). The last part is used to mean "throw" or "cast." The picture is of the sea which, with loud sounds, casts waves about. It reminds us of the picture in James 1:6 of an unbeliever who is tossed about by the waves.
The point of this verse then is that not having the love of God is serious business. It is not a question of just being a Christian who loves more or less than another Christian, but a question of being a Christian or not being a Christian. The implication of the verse is that a person could be preaching the most holy and faithful message possible, but since he does not have love, he really sounds like an unbeliever. That person may not be saved (Notice I Cor. 9:27). The person's message might be fine, but if he does not have the love of God in him and the same love for his hearers, then that person is not saved and spiritually useless to others. His words and his life are the same as the roar of worldly sounds and as helpful as a funeral lament or the roar of the waves of the sea that toss people around aimlessly and eventually to destruction.
Someone may object, "But isn't the power of salvation in the words of God that are spoken and not in the style of presentation? Can't God honor His Word, no matter what the motivation of the speaker happens to be?" Yes, God can and does honor His Word, even if spoken by an unbeliever, or a jackass. Salvation is not equivalent to being able to say wonderful things in a wonderful way. Salvation is a work of God. However, the idea here is if a speaker does not accompany his words with love for God and others, then he is not really a faithful steward of God's Word, nor does he really care to be. Not only that, his loveless attitude will interfere with his listeners' attention and grasp of his message, as well as reduce the effectiveness of his witness. Essentially, God has decided normally to bless the witness that comes out of a heart with love, the love His has placed within it.
Remember that this verse is setting up a theoretical situation which has no real counter part. No matter what tongue a person speaks in, if he is not saved, he would not really be a faithful steward to God anyway. Paul is using this logic to impress the Corinthians with the fact that even if they did exercise amazing spiritual gifts, without the right heart motive they would be of no help to God, themselves, or others.
This verse presents a similar theoretical situation. For the verse says, "And though I have the gift of prophesy (to give out God's word), and understand all mysteries (know God's plan of salvation for the ages), and all knowledge (able to depart from evil); and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains (saving faith), and have not charity (love), I am nothing (not annihilated, but no value to the church of God)." We know that God really gives these gifts to His people. But any unsaved person can appear to exercise them for a while. However, it will soon become apparent they do so only in their own power and for their own purposes. They really do not have understanding or faith that comes from God. Eventually, they will grow weary of playing the Christian game, and their dominant carnal nature will reveal itself.
"faith to move mountains"
According to Matthew 17:20, this kind of faith is equivalent to the faith as a grain of mustard seed. According to Matthew 13:31, the faith of a mustard seed is equivalent to the faith of the kingdom of God. So by comparison, faith to move mountains is the faith of the kingdom of God, faith that only God can give and which results from salvation.
To understand the ability of faith to move mountains, we must note that the word "mountain" refers to a nation, either of God (Isa. 2:3), of Satan (Jer. 51:24,25), or of the world in general (Isa. 40:12-17). We can look at faith, then, in light of such verses as Luke 9:1 and 10:17, in which Satan's kingdom is moved or set aside when the disciples went into the word in Jesus' name. So, faith to move mountains is powerful faith of God's in the Gospel that overcomes the resistance of Satan.
With this in mind, we can understand verses 1 and 2 to teach that even if a man speaks with the tongue of men and angels and brings God's Gospel with the result that the kingdom of Satan is set aside and if the man has no love, he is nothing. This shows the verse proposing a hypothetical idea and not an real situation. For to have faith that is attendant to salvation and which has the kind of power to move mountains automatically means to have God's love. Both are present in a true believer. A person can never demonstrate faith and not have God's love.
This word conveys the idea of "having no spiritual value," as in II Corinthians 12:11, especially from God's point of view. Such a person has no relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Only in Christ are we somebody.
In this verse Paul gives another example of action without love. However, the situation described here is more likely to actually happen in the world.
This is really one word in the original language. The word occurs only twice, here and in Rom. 12:20 ("feed").
This reminds us of Dan. 3:20.
It comes from the word opheleo in Greek and means "to achieve a goal" (Matt. 16:26; Rom. 2:25; I Cor. 14:6).
The idea of the verse is that great sacrificial religious or social acts played out on a physical level without the right spiritual motive do not impress God. They do not result in any spiritual profit. They certainly do not achieve the purposes or goals God has in mind. In fact, great campaigns to feed the poor or great personal sacrifices based on religious zeal are ways of avoiding spiritual issues. We must face the issues of our personal sin and the wrath it merits. Our pride of achievement must die. Pride is so deceitful. It can masquerade as humbleness in outward form. But true humbleness is not a posture that we assume based upon what we decide to do. Humbleness means to agree with God about His assessment of our spiritual condition, abandon ourselves to this offered plan of salvation, and submit to His will for our lives. It is not mindless submission like those who join a cult, but submission to God's will as recorded in the Bible.
The first three verses of Chapter 13 are a surprise to all those who think the gifts that God gives to the church are sufficient in themselves to secure salvation and honor before God. The gifts that God gives, no matter how holy they appear, are of no spiritual value in themselves. All the gifts are tools designed to bring God's salvation love to the world. As physical gifts they mean nothing. In fact, in today's world the gifts are never really manifested in someone who does not have God's saving love within them. Any gifts unbelievers manifest are really hollow imitations. Unbelievers may try to appropriate the outward form of a gift. But they do not please God. He may, by His wisdom and power, use their sinful ways to accomplish His purposes. But in themselves they are nothing.
Before we proceed in our study of Chapter 13, a few comments are appropriate. This chapter, which is devoted to the subject of love, reminds us that Christianity is a spiritual affair of the heart (Rom. 6:17). Christianity is not based upon works which men do nor upon any gifts which they exercise. The Bible's message is not "try to be good or do good things." When men try to be good, they achieve the opposite of what they seek. When men work hard in an attempt to obey God, they end up with the sin of self-righteousness. The Bible says men cannot try to be good by their own efforts. Instead, God must make them good in their hearts. When God gives them new life, they obey out of gratitude motivated by a heart that is full of love for the God who loved them first.
Secondly, the message of the Bible is not "seek the gifts of God." When men place great value in exercising the gifts in an attempt to gain the approval of other men and God, they end up with the opposite of what they seek. Focusing upon the gifts leads to pride. The Bible says God resists the proud. The Bible says the greatest gifts of all will not make a man spiritually pleasing to God without God's love. Instead, men must use their gifts as a way to show the love God has put in their hearts for others.
Beginning with this verse, Paul discusses what true spirituality is all about. As we mentioned earlier, we shall look at the twin themes of God's love for His people and God's love in His people.
"Charity suffereth long"
1. This phrase is an expression of God's love. We rejoice that He does not cast us all aside, frustrated by our continued stubbornness. Instead, He continues to endure our insults and rebellion until the time is right for Him to work His work of grace (II Pet. 3:9).
2. This phrase is the expression of a true believer's spiritual attitude. A believer patiently suffers all his life until God's plan for him on earth is complete (Heb. 6:15). He also endures patiently the weakness of others because he has their best spiritual interest at heart. (II Tim. 2:24,25; I Pet. 2:20,21).
Applying this to the Corinthian case, we read that Paul teaches they must patient for the spiritual benefit of a weaker brother (I Cor. 8:9,11,13).
1. These words are an expression of God's love. In various forms this word is used often in the Bible and refers to the fact that God has in mind our salvation as He gently arranges times and events so that we are brought to salvation (Matt. 11:30, "easy"; Rom. 2:4, "goodness"; Eph. 2:7, "kindness"; Titus 3:4, "kindness").
2. These words describe a believer's spiritual attitude. It is an attribute he seeks to cultivate in his own life (Gal. 5:22, "gentleness"; Col. 3:12, "kindness") and is his concern for others (Eph. 4:32, "kind").
Applying this to the Corinthian case, we read that Paul teaches they must not make life hard for their brother, but rather do that which is spiritually profitable for him (I Cor. 6:7,12).
"charity envieth not"
The word "envy" comes from zeelos, a general term for desire. Here the emphasis is zeal for evil as in James 4:2 ("desire (zeal) to have").
1. This phrase expresses God's love. He owns everything and so does not have a great restless desire for what He does not have (Ps. 24:1; 50:10-12; Acts 17:25; I Cor. 10:26). And yet, He gave out of His riches for sinners who are poor. He was willing to be poor that they might be rich (II Cor. 8:9; Eph. 1:7).
2. This phrase is an expression of a believer's priorities: "you" and "your," not "me" and "mine" (I Cor. 1:4-8; 6:7; 10:24,33). A believer is secure in God's love and is not concerned about the seemingly disproportionate, physical abundance of others or the physical lack of himself.
Applying this to the Corinthian case, Paul teaches that they must not have the carnal focus that causes them to seek their "rights," nor should they compare themselves with what others have. These kinds of attitudes come out of a wicked heart (James 3:14-16; 4:1-11) and Paul does not want them to act as an unbeliever would.
"charity vaunteth not itself"
The verb translated "vaunteth" is used only once in the Bible. The idea is close to "brag not."
1. The phrase is an expression of God's love. God alone is worthy to be praised. And yet God was willing to forgo His glory. Jesus purposely did not advocate or defend Himself for the purpose of our salvation (Phil. 2:8, compare Isa. 53:7 with Mark 15:5).
2. The phrase is an expression of a believer's heart. He glories not in Himself but in Christ (I Cor. 1:31) and in others (I Thess. 2:19,20). He does not want his own glorification to interfere with the honor due the Lord or the edification of others.
"not puffed up"
This phrase is similar to the previous phrase.
1. The phrase describes God's character (Matt. 11:28-30). He does not guard His reputation among men, but associates with publicans and sinners (Matt. 9:10-13).
2. The phrase describes a Christian's clear understanding of reality. A Christian knows he is nothing in the world's eyes (I Cor. 1:26,27). Also, he knows he began as an enemy of God before he was saved (Rom. 3:10-19) and continues in a humble walk for the spiritual benefit of others (I Cor. 4:1-16; 9:22).
In the Corinthian case, Paul was pointing out that their pride was interfering with their relationship with God (I Cor. 4:18-20), and their work for the Lord (I Cor. 5:2; 8:1).
Verse 5, "Doth not behave itself unseemly"
The word "unseemly" is composed of the prefix a which means "not" or "no", and the root skeemoneo, which is translated "fashion" in I Corinthians 7:31 and Philippians 2:8. The word means "having no fashion." What fashion? We can answer that question by first noticing that the root is used in I Corinthians 14:40 with the prefix eu, "good" to mean "decently," that is, in God's order. In another place the root is used with the same prefix to mean "honestly," that is, in God's will rather than in the way of the world (Rom. 13:13; I Thess. 4;12). Therefore, we could say this phrase means that love never rejects the fashion or is without the fashion God has prepared for it. Rather, love submits to the fashion God has designed for it.
1. It is an expression of God's loving care. He has thoughtfully and purposefully designed and created our physical and especially our spiritual fashion. God has set the fashion for what a righteous person is and how he acts. God's plans and thoughts are the very best for us.
2. Our love is expressed in our joy to conform to the design or fashion that God has for our lives. A believer is blessed when he submits to what God wants him to be and what his role in this life is to be.
We do not set our own fashion. There is only one fashion, determined by God that fits us best. First of all, this is true in the physical level. For example, we are after the fashion of human and not animals. We are fashioned either as male or female. In addition, God has designed a certain role for us, not only in our personal life, but also in the church. Secondly, this is also true in the spiritual level. We have a fashion of behavior that conforms to God's Word. In behaving in a way that "fits" God's design for us, we glorify Him and are helpful to others. For example, there is a proper way for a man to behave with a woman that is in God's fashion (I Cor. 7:36 "uncomely" is the same word as "unseemly"). There is also a proper spiritual fashion for a Christian's behavior with a weaker brother or in the chain of command of the church.
Some people are quite rebellious and do not like the fashion of the image of God in themselves and try to live as if they were not created in that way. Romans Chapter 1 discusses that (Rom. 1:27 "unseemly" is the same Greek word). Others try to fake a proper religious posture, but want to decide for themselves what their own fashion is. The Bible says we must be content with God's fashion and rest in His will for us. We must never insist in our own fashion and go our own way. It will not fit us and will often leave another's life broken in our wake. We must seek God's fashion for us in all areas of our life and use it to honor Him and help others.
"seeketh not her own"
The word "seeketh" is properly the word "zealous." The word "her" is reflective of the fact that the subject of the verb is the feminine noun "love", agapee. The idea of this phrase is similar to the previous two phrases.
1. God has much that He can call His own. In fact, everything is His own (Deut. 10:14; Ps. 24:1; 50:10-12; 89:11). But He was willing to give it all up for the salvation of His people (Phil. 2:6; II Cor. 8:9).
2. A believer's list of priorities do not begin with what he feels are his own rights. He is willing to lose what he has for spiritual purposes (John 15:13; I Cor. 6:7).
Applying this to the Corinthian case, we read that Paul warned them that their desire to seek their own was a spiritually dangerous attitude (I Cor. 11:21, 27, 29).
"is not easily provoked"
The word "easily" is not in the Greek. The word is simply translated "was stirred" in Acts 17:16. Therefore, the phrase is even more confining. The idea is that retaliation of any kind never comes from true love.
1. In God's case, His love is greatly magnified by His patience in the face of insults and hate (Luke 23:34; Rom. 10:21; I Pet. 2:21-25).
2. In the believer's case, his love is demonstrated in his forgiveness. He has been shown mercy and desires that the same mercy be shown to others (Eph. 4:32). Also, he does not take attacks personally because he knows they are really against Christ (John 15:20,24; 16:2,3).
In the Corinthian case, we read that Paul had to put out the fires of litigation between church members who would not forgive (I Cor. 6:6). Such thinking is like nitroglycerin, ready to destroy anything around it in response to the slightest injury (Gen. 4:23,24; James 1:19,20).
"thinketh no evil"
The word "evil," kakon, is the normal word for moral evil. This phrase probably must be connected to the previous phrase with the concept being that love does not react to evil in an evil way.
1. This is an expression of God's love. For one thing, God forgets all the evil of His people and passes no judgment upon them (Heb. 8:12). Secondly, God never reacts in an evil way (James 1:13). Sin spoiled His perfect creation, yet He remains holy and pure. Even God's judgment is not an evil anger but a righteous response to sin (Rom. 3:4).
2. Believers' love is shown by the fact that even though evil is part of their carnal natures and part of the cursed world in which they live, they do not think about evil things, nor think evilly toward others (Rom. 12:17,21; I Thess. 5:15; I Pet. 3:9). Instead, a believer thinks of God's things (Phil. 4:8).
Applying this to the Corinthians case, Paul has to warn them not to focus upon evil things (I Cor. 10:6).
Verse 6, "Rejoiceth not in iniquity"
The word "iniquity" means "the wrong." It can be translated "hurt" (Luke 10:19; Rev. 2:11). It is, in another form, translated "unrighteous" (I Cor. 6:9). The idea of the word is to hurt someone because they are against God's Law. In other words, it means "to judge" them. The word "in" is epi, or "over," and supports the concept of rejoicing over or judging.
The phrase says that love is not happy to find someone under condemnation for their sin. Love does not gleefully add its own judgment upon someone who is transgressing God's law.
1. In God's case, we know that He has every right to judge sin. We know that He will indeed judge sinners. The phrase explains that God is not vindictive, jealously lashing out at those who transgress His Holy Law. It saddens Him that people go against His Law (Eze. 18:23; 33:11). All men deserve to go to Hell for their sin. However, God decides to make their sin His problem too and has pity on His people (Ps. 103:8-10).
2. Believers do not gloat because of the spiritual demise of another person. Their reaction to another's unbelief is great sadness (Rom. 9:2,3). Believers who are full of God's love do not rub it in when they find others living unrighteously. Instead they try to be part of the spiritual solution (II Tim. 2:24-26).
"rejoiceth in the truth."
The word "rejoiceth" in the phrase we just looked at is chairei in Greek. It occurs again in this phrase; except, here the word also has a prefix, sug, which means "with." The idea is of joy with agreement. "The truth" refers especially to God's Word in contrast to man's words (Rom. 3:4). According to Colossians 1:5, the truth is the Gospel found in the Word.
1. This phrase expresses God's love in that God rejoices with Himself that He can fulfill His Word. In particular, He rejoices that He keeps His Word to bring the Gospel of salvation to His people (Zeph. 3:17).
2. This phrase expresses the joy God's people have with Him as they agree with His Word. It also expresses their joy as they agree with other believers who understand God's Word and as they go out together into the world and bring the Gospel (Ps. 107:22; Jer. 15:16).
Believers rejoice in that which God rejoices (Zeph. 3:17; Luke 15:6). One worthy thing in which they rejoice is that God keeps His Word. Another thing is the spiritual faithfulness of His people (II John 4; III John 3,4).
Verse 7, (charity) "...beareth...believeth...hopeth...endureth all things"
How we understand this verse depends upon what we think the words "all things" include. The words could refer to spiritual "things" or God's "things." On the other hand, we could keep the thought of verses 4-6 in mind. There we learn that love reacts in a spiritual way to the wrongs it suffers. The words "all things" could then refer to the things a weaker brother or an unbeliever says or does that could be an irritation, but which love deals with in a spiritually God-pleasing way. We shall briefly look at both possibilities.
If "all things" are all of God's thing then...
1. As a picture of God's love we see that God bore and endured much because He believed and hoped in all those things revealed in His own Word. The idea is that God knows the total program of His will and submitted to all that was settled in His eternal decree. In that way, He received glory (Heb. 12:1,2) and secured the salvation of His people (I John 4:9,10). The spiritual goals were great enough that God was willing to submit to the plan He had designed to achieve those goals.
2. As a picture of the believer's attitude, this verse expresses the fact that they completely trust God and agree with His plan for the ages as well as His plan for their individual lives. Believers endure and bear all that God has in store for them, hoping and believing in all that God has promised them in His Word.
In this way the verse could be understood in the following manner: "beareth...all things that ought to be borne...," in the sense that "all things" are things that are part of God's will. In other words, "all things" does not mean every possible thing, but all things that God's Word allows.
If "all things" are all things that others do and say that are not according to God's will, then...
1. As a picture of God's love, the idea of the verse is that God bears and endures a lot or puts up with a lot so that greater spiritual goals of salvation could be realized in people's lives. The idea then is similar to Acts 17:30 and Hebrews 12:3.
2. As a picture of the believer's love, this verse is saying that he bears and endures all that God allows others to throw his way. The believer is patient and remains faithful amid difficulty because he believes and hopes that salvation will come to others by means of his witness. The idea is similar to I Corinthians 8:13 or 9:22.
If we stay with this second view, we cannot conclude that verse means love blindly accepts the attitude and behavior of a rebellious person and mindlessly forgives. Also, this verse does not mean that people can live by their own rules and love will not challenge them, or that people can live by no rules at all and love will tolerate it. Rather, the verse is implying that there are priorities. People who are spiritually weak or who are unsaved do many things that are not according to God's will. However, because believers have the perspective which the Bible gives them, they have a realistic list of priorities. They can defer some things that are not according to God's Word and are relatively minor matters in order that more urgent spiritual matters of salvation be dealt with. For example, weaker brothers may have wrong habits which the believer bears and endures because the believer hopes and believes that God will save some. Or the believer can bear or endure a certain task which God has assigned to him, even though it includes suffering, because he believes and hopes that God's way is best.
After all that we have said about this verse, we can summarize it best this way: Love is not weak or blindly accepting, nor is it resigned to the troubles that are part of life. Rather, love is purposeful and persistent. Love sorts out what is really important and pursues that at the expense of less important things. Knowing the full picture of God's will and desiring that God's spiritual goals be fulfilled, love endures much in this sin-cursed world. If we include the first phrase of verse 8 ("charity never faileth") into the discussion, we see a confirmation of this conclusion. Love "beareth all things" because it is determined not to fail. It does not give up, but sees it through. Not only is love motivated to achieve God's spiritual goals, but also love is too strong to be thwarted in its efforts to achieve them.
Verse 8, "Charity never faileth"
The verb is really "fall" (pipto or ekpipto) and is sometimes used to indicate a loss of authority or to cease having power as in Luke 16:17. Love is as eternal as God and as powerful as God. However, it is not just the raw power of dynamite that destroys. Instead, it is an intelligent, holy, wise, creative power. It is a display of God's authoritative, spiritual will.
"but whether...prophesies, they shall fail...knowledge, it shall vanish away"
These two phrases, the first and the last of a trio found in this verse, are best dealt with together because the verbs that are associated with them are the same. The verb is a combination of the prefix kata, "down," and the root argeo, "idle." The root word, used only in II Peter 2:3 as "lingereth," means "to hang around but not do anything." A similar noun, argos is usually translated "idle" (Matt. 20:3, "idle"; II Pet. 1:8, "barren").
The picture is that prophesies and knowledge are still present, but are not doing anything. The verbs are in the future tense. But in Greek the future is based on the present. The idea is that prophesies and knowledge are idle now, they will be idle tomorrow and the next day, and on into eternity. The situation will never change. This does not mean God's prophesies are not fulfilled or that knowledge is worthless. Rather, for the purpose of accomplishing God's greatest spiritual goals, these two things do not help. Both are actually referring to the Word of God. So, we have the point that if we had a whole pile of prophesies and understood them, it would not save us. That is the point of Rom. 3:20; 8:3 (cf. I Cor. 8:1,11). The vital ingredient is love which motivates grace.
God may choose to use His Word as a tool to bring people to salvation (Rom. 10:17), but in itself, it has no more spiritual power to save than a hammer. God's grace is the only thing that works to accomplish our salvation. Prophesies and knowledge explain the spiritual plan of God. But they "stand around," so to speak, as God Himself does the job of carrying out His plan. God alone has the power to display His love by what He does. God has designed His plan of salvation so that His Word is a vital instrument (I Peter 1:23). Nevertheless, it is grace alone that accomplishes God's spiritual goals (Eph. 2:8). God's grace comes out of His love.
"tongues, they shall cease"
In this case, the verb is a form of the word pauomai. The picture here is to stop whatever activity had been going on. This gift is described differently than the other two mentioned in this verse. This verse states that tongues will not be heard at all. They will stop altogether. (Note Acts 5:42, "ceased"; 21:32, "left".) There is a change in the gift's use. In fact, it will vanish. However, this verse does not tell us when that will happen. In the context of the whole chapter, the point of the verse is God's spiritual goals are eternal. The tools mentioned in this verse, which He uses to arrange the affairs of men in order to achieve His goals on earth, are temporary. The tools will eventually be retired according to His plan. These temporary gifts have no power in themselves to achieve the spiritual goal of salvation. The spiritual work of salvation is the work of God alone by grace. It is motivated and sustained by His love which never loses its power. God's great desire is to save undeserved sinners. The gifts mentioned are only devices that God uses to work out His purposes on earth. They are used by God to bring His Word, by which He does His spiritual work in the heart of men.
For clarity, let us summarize the last part of verse 8. There will be no real change in the situation of prophesy and knowledge. Prophesy and knowledge always have and always will fail in the sense of Romans 3:20. The idea is that both are idle, because neither are able to make a spiritual change in a person's life. However, there will be a change in the situation of tongues. At the time Paul was writing the letter, tongues were heard in the Corinthian church. This behavior will change in time. Sometime later on, they will not be heard at all. Eventually, that gift will not be part of the gifts which God gives to His church. In a way, we could say that this verse is telling us a fact about prophesy and knowledge that has always been true and that will continue to be true, namely, that they are spiritually idle. Also, the verse is telling us a fact about tongues, namely, that there will be a change in the situation of tongues: they will stop and not be heard anymore.
Verse 9, "For"
This word tells us verse 9 is a follow up to verse 8. The sense is "after all," as if verse 8 should be obvious because verses 9 and 10 are true.
The verb, a form of the word gnosko, refers to an experiential knowledge, a knowledge that comes through participating in or living through certain events. It is a recognition that comes out of a personal acquaintance. For example, the world certainly knows about God (Rom. 1:21), but rejects Him; so it does not really "know" Him (I Cor. 1:21). Believers have experienced salvation. So, they "know" the love of God (Eph. 3:19, See also John 17:3).
This refers to declaring the Word of God.
The preposition "in" really is ek, meaning "out of." The word "part" is meros, a word commonly used for a portion of or fraction of the whole as in John 19:23, where we read Christ's garment was cut into four "parts."
The idea of the verse is that all our experience and all our understanding of the Bible comes out of a part. A part of what? A part of all that we could experience and could understand. We simply do not experience or understand all we could or all we will. The point of the verse is that we only have a partial experience of all that God has in store for His people, despite the fact that God has given the church the gifts mentioned in verse 8. If we are true believers, we are perfect in our souls. But, because of the sin in our body and because of our limited opportunity, we still do not live a perfect life or perfectly understand spiritual things. Therefore, possessing those gifts does not mean we have achieved perfection.
As long as we live on this earth, our ability to obey God perfectly and understand Him perfectly is limited, no matter what gift we may have. All this emphasizes one important point. We cannot today, as the Corinthians could not then, boast in our gift. We must boast in God who can and will make us perfect at the end of time.
Verse 10, "But when that which is perfect is come"
The phrase "that which is perfect" is really "the perfect thing" or "perfection." This refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. The time referred to is when He comes again at the end of time (Rev. 1:7).
The words "that which is" (or "the things" in Greek), refers to the gifts in verse 9. Those are the two things which we exercise in part, instead of perfectly. Notice that this verse gives us a clue to when the change in usage of these two gifts takes place, namely, when Christ returns. That makes sense because when Jesus returns, the day of salvation is over and Jesus will not use the tools of prophesy and knowledge as He had before to save people. Also notice that there is no hint when the other gift, "tongues," shall cease.
The idea of this verse is that when Jesus comes, a believer's ability to understand God's will and ability to obey it will no longer be "in part." At that time, without the benefits of the gifts, believers will be a perfect image of the love of God in their understanding and in their behavior. He who is the perfect expression of love will be present with His people. He will shine upon them and they will perfectly reflect His love as well.
These verses describe the change mentioned in verses 9 and 10.
"When I...thought as a child"
A child's physical development is not complete. His impulsive nature has not been fully trained. He has a tendency to be self-centered, impatient, and critical. He has incomplete knowledge. A child acts and thinks in a way that is typical and understandable for a child. We do not expect anything else from a child. The word "child" is nepios, the same word used in 3:1 for "babes". There we learned that the word is associated with people who are unsaved. The idea of this phrase then is that "when I was an unbeliever without the knowledge or ability to do God's will, then I acted like it." This part of verse 11 is a remembrance of the time when Paul was unsaved.
"but when I became a man"
Now Paul describes his present situation. The word "man," aneer in Greek, is used often for man as the male part of the human race, in contrast to the female. It is translated "husband" 50 times. The emphasis is that in certain ways, Paul has grown up and is clearly not a child. He can do things he could not do before, just as a child is not a man and could never be a husband. This phrase is referring to the fact that Paul is saved now and has knowledge and ability he did not have when he was unsaved or when he was a "child."
"put away childish things."
The verb "put away" conveys the same strong idea that is associated with prophesies and knowledge in verse 8. The verb means "to abolish" in the sense that it no longer works. Paul is still the same person. However, his childish part, rooted in the materialistic world, is not dominant. He is no longer led by the world and its lusts. The phrases in verse 12, "For now we see though a glass darkly" and "now I know in part," add to the description of his present situation, that although he is a man and no longer a child, he still is not able to see and understand all of God's things perfectly. It is a reminder of what he stated in verses 9 and 10.
The word "glass," esoptron, refers in James 1:23 to the mirror of God's Word. It is used in only these two places. A similar word is used in II Corinthians 3:18 to refer to the Word of God as we look down into it to see God's glory and which shapes us into the image of Himself.
This word, ainigma, is used only here in the Bible. Numbers 12:8 helps us a little. There we read that God spoke His words to Moses "apparently" (i.e. plainly, according to appearances) and not in dark speeches." So we conclude that "darkly" is the opposite of plainly. When Paul looks into the Word of God, he can only understand "in part" of what he reads, or, as the other phrase states, "now I know in part." He is fully a man, fully saved. Nevertheless, he still cannot fully understand and apply God's Word to his life. We cannot blame God's Word. The Word is perfect. Yet, Paul still lives in his sinful body, and the Word has no power to make him see clearly everything that is in its pages, nor make him do what he reads. Only God can do that by His grace and power.
"but then face to face"
This refers to the future. A time will come when Paul's face will behold God's face. It is how God speaks to a friend (Ex. 33:11). When that happens "then shall I know." How? "Even as also I am known." By whom? By God (I Cor. 8:3, Gal. 4:9). That is, Paul's knowledge of God's Word will be as perfect as he is known by God. The idea behind the phrases "but...face" and "but then...am known" is similar to the idea in II Corinthians 5:16. We can know God in a carnal way, that is, with our carnal mind, intellectually. We also can know God in a spiritual way. But only in a spiritual way do we really know Him. Unfortunately, we still have a carnal part that is infected with sin and interferes with our attainment of perfectly knowing God. Wonderfully, these two phrases in I Corinthians 13 hold out a hope that our partial knowledge is only temporary. As I John 3:2 explains, in time we will no longer be handicapped by our carnal part and will perfectly know God.
Verse 13, "And now...these three"
Many of God's gifts are temporary. But here are three that are always active and vital.
This phrase does not mean that charity comes from a different source or has a different purpose and therefore has a greater value than the other two. All three are gifts of God for a spiritual purpose. However, according to verse 8, charity, or love, never fails to accomplish the spiritual goals God has in mind for His people. Why does love have the unique ability? Well, according to I John 4:8, God is love. So love is a word to describe who God is and what He does. For example, love describes God's desire and His power to accomplish His will, which results in His glory and the salvation of His people. Furthermore, when God's Spirit gives His people the insight and power to do His will, they also express God's love (Matt. 22:37-40). In short, God is the greatest of all, and love is the greatest gift because it best reveals the unique greatness of God (Rev. 4:11, 5:9,12). Similarly, love is the greatest spiritual attribute because God is spiritual, and love is the word used to describe Him.
Chapter 13 tells us:
1. God has a spiritual concern for the souls of men. That concern results in the Gospel promise of salvation. This concern and work of God is a demonstration of His love.
2. A true believer, whose heart has been renewed by the love of God, now has the same spiritual motivation and goal that God has. This is particularly expressed as he brings God's Gospel of spiritual salvation to others.
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