King James Version
Love Is Indispensable
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is
1 In ch. 12 Paul enumerated and defined the place of the gifts of the spirit in the church. Now he proceeds to show that the possession of all these gifts, and other additional qualities, does not make one a Christian if he does not possess the supreme gift of love.
Though a speaker may have superior eloquence or facility in the use of languages, if he lacks love for God and man, God views his power of utterance as no better than the sounding instruments of brass, used in the worship of some of the heathen gods.2,3 The highly spectacular manifestation of tongues or even the ability to speak with angelic tongue does not confer any honour on the one who receives it, nor is it of any real value to him if it is not associated with love.
The word "charity" is not comprehensive enough to indicate the wide sweep of interest in the well being of others that is contained in the word "agape". The word "love" is a better translation, however this word should not be confused with that which is sometimes called love, a quality composed largely of feeling and emotion that has the
centre in self and the desires of self. Agape centres the interest and concern in others and leads to appropriate action. Without love, the power of utterance is similar to a resounding instrument, which makes a loud noise and gives an appearance of great importance but is merely a lifeless emitter of sound.2
2 After speaking of the gifts of tongues and other spiritual gifts, the apostle speaks of superior gifts including prophecy, wisdom, knowledge and faith. Although all these gifts are admirable things and important, Paul makes the simple statement that they are ineffective without love.2
3 Almsgiving was considered to be a great virtue in Paul's day, and was frequently done ostentatiously. Jesus severely reproved this desire for popular acclaim. To emphasize the vanity of such false charity, Paul pointed out that if all that a man possessed was thus doled out and yet true love was absent from the life, it would all be empty hypocrisy and of no value spiritually. Similarly,
martyrdom that is sought for self- glorification has no merit. In Paul's day it was not customary to put men to death by burning; stoning, crucifixion, or beheading with the sword were the usual methods of execution. The question arises: Why, then, would Paul refer to martyrdom by burning? The answer is:
perhaps because burning represents one of the most painful forms of death. To give one's body to be burned would represent an extreme form of self-sacrifice. If the one who suffers martyrdom by fire does not possess the character qualifications represented by "love" (agape), he has no hope of eternal life, and consequently has lost everything.2
4 Paul proceeds to analyse love. He points out seven excellent characteristics of love and eight acts and attitudes that are totally foreign to its nature. Love bears long with the faults, failings, and weaknesses of others. Long-suffering is opposed to haste, to passionate expressions and thoughts, and to irritability. Under all circumstances of life, whether harsh and provoking, painful or sorrowful, love is mild and gentle. Love is the reverse of hatred, which manifests itself in severity, anger, harshness, unkindness, and revenge. Love does not exhibit wrong or unpleasant feelings toward others on account of advantages possessed by them. Such feelings give rise to strife and division, entirely contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Envy, or jealousy, is one of the most cruel and contemptible of all human failings. Love does not sound its own praises; it is humble and does not try to exalt self. Love does not inflate a person with vanity; it does not produce a condition of conceit and self-exaltation. Love does not produce ideas of self-importance, nor seek the flattery of others for anything that has been accomplished.2
5 Love is never uncivil, rude, or unmannerly; it never behaves in such a way as to offend the sensibilities of others. Love is under the control of reason at all times, and cannot be mere emotion or feeling. That which is simply a response to feeling and emotion, and falsely called love, does not act reasonably, nor does it necessarily consider the feelings and sensibilities of others. The exact opposite of the nature of real love is a selfish seeking after one's own advantage, influence, or honour as the great objective in life. Love is not provoked, whether easily or otherwise; nothing can disturb the equanimity of perfect love and cause a display of annoyance, impatience, or anger. Love puts the best possible construction on the behaviour of others. One under the control of love is not censorious, disposed to find fault, or to impute wrong motives to others.2
6 Love finds no pleasure in any kind of unrighteousness or sin, whether on the part of friend or foe. Love does not rejoice over the vices of others or find happiness because others are found guilty of wrongdoing. It does not take malicious delight in hearing a report that someone has erred. Love seeks to help even an enemy when he is in trouble. Love finds pleasure, not in the vices, but in the virtues of others. Love doesn't find happiness in the punishment meted out to the sinner; rather, it finds pleasure in the liberation of man from the shackles of sin, because such liberation brings him into harmony with truth and makes him a candidate for the happiness of heaven.2
7 Love conceals and is silent about such things as the faults of others, which the selfishness of the natural heart would gladly expose. Love is disposed to put the best possible construction on the conduct of others, imputing good motives to them. This is the attitude of love, because love seeks to make others happy and will not believe anything to their detriment except on irrefutable evidence. In relation to God, love believes without question everything that is revealed of the will of God for man. However dark appearances may be, and whatever grounds there may be for questioning the sincerity of others, love still hopes that everything will be well in the end, and will maintain this position until all possibility of its being confirmed has disappeared. Love suffers quietly all the difficulties, trials, persecutions, and injuries inflicted by man, and all the attacks that God may see fit to allow the adversary to make (see Job 13:15).2
8 Genuine love does not fall off like a leaf or a flower. When a flower has given its fragrance and beauty during the hours of sunshine, it has served its purpose, and the cold winds and frosts cause it to wither and fall off the plant. Not so with love. In days of stress and strain, as well as when all is bright and fair, love ever remains the same, shedding its fragrance of trust and hope and faith all around. This must be so, for love is the very foundation of law, and the law of God is eternal. Paul is setting forth the superiority of love over various spiritual gifts that were useful in building up the early church, but which, with the church triumphant in the kingdom of glory, will no longer be needed. The gift of prophecy was provided by God for the guidance of the church through the ages. When all things are fulfilled then prophecies will cease. Like prophecy, the gift of tongues, which served a useful function in the early church, would no longer be required. The gift of knowledge in the early church enabled men to explain the truth clearly and logically to others.2
9 The gifts of knowledge and prophecy provide only partial glimpses of the inexhaustible treasures of divine knowledge. This limited knowledge will appear to be all but cancelled in the superior brightness of the eternal world, as the light of a candle loses its importance when placed in the bright light of the sun.2
10 Even the knowledge acquired by the most brilliant of men is insignificant when compared with the vast ocean of knowledge in the universe. When Jesus Christ comes again to redeem His own, then the partial illumination of the human mind by all the knowledge possessed by man will be lost to view in the superior brightness of the divine revelation of truth, even as the light from the stars disappears when the morning sun appears. There can be no suggestion here that the knowledge of truth will ever cease or pass away; truth is eternal, and the knowledge that man has of eternal truth will always remain. It is the partial nature of that knowledge that will cease when man is changed from mortal to immortal.2
11 Here the apostle uses the illustration of the difference between the experiences of childhood and those of manhood to emphasize the great difference that exists between the dim understanding of things possessed by men now, and the bright light of knowledge that will be theirs in heaven. The meaningless sounds made by a child who is learning to talk are here compared with the wisdom that will replace earthly knowledge in the future, immortal state.
A child's thinking and reasoning appear short-sighted, inconclusive, and erroneous to an adult. Things that occupied the attention then, lost their value as adulthood was reached. When one reaches manhood he lays aside as of no value the ideas and feelings of childhood, which formerly seemed of such great importance. In a similar way, when heaven is reached, there will be as much difference between earthly plans, opinions, understanding, and reasoning powers and those of heaven, as there is between those of childhood and those of adulthood.2
12 Ancient mirrors consisted of pieces of polished metal (Ex. 38:8). The image seen in such mirrors was frequently blurred and dim. Our knowledge of eternal truth is now
obscure and dim in comparison with what it will be in heaven. Now our vision is clouded by the infirmities of the physical being, which have their origin in sin: even mental perception is impaired by wrong habits of living, so that spiritual things are only dimly perceived. Our present vision of spiritual truth is partial, obscure, dim; yet that which can be understood is sufficient to bring joy to the faithful believer as he is enabled to see something of the beauty of the plan that God has made for the redemption and glorification of man. In heaven that which has obscured will be removed and the things that have puzzled men will be made plain. When the imperfections of this life are all past and that remarkable change has been effected whereby the "corruptible" puts on "incorruption" and "this mortal" puts on "immortality" (ch. 15:52-54), dimness of vision will be replaced by clear sight, with all the intervening obstructions removed. Although in this life man's knowledge of God is partial, God's knowledge of man is complete. The more complete knowledge that man will possess in the world to come is compared with Gods' knowledge of man in this present life. However, man's knowledge will never equal God's, or even approach it.2
13 Exclusive of love, all the things that have been dealt with in this chapter, including prophecy, tongues, and other gifts of the Spirit, will cease to be of value or will be cancelled, but the three basic elements of Christian experience will not pass away; they are permanent. Therefore the Christian is exhorted to concentrate his attention on these. Faith, here not the spiritual gift known as faith (1 Cor. 12:9) but the experience described in Heb. 11 must be of eternal value, for it will be an essential of harmonious life in the new earth. Hope, being a desire for an object and an expectation of obtaining it, will by its very nature be a part of the experience in heaven, where there will ever be fresh fields for the people to explore and new delights for them to enjoy (1 Cor. 2:9). All the treasures of heaven cannot be enjoyed at once by the redeemed, and as long as there is anything that is to be desired and expected for the future, hope will exist. As a manner of life, love is more effective, more victorious, more satisfying, than the possession and exercise of the various gifts of the Spirit enumerated in ch. 12. Love for God and our fellow men is the highest expression of harmony with God. To be a Christian is to be like Christ, who "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). Christians, then, are those who, in the spirit of Jesus, go about doing good to all who need their help. They do it with no self-interest, but because the love of God in their hearts makes it impossible for them to do anything else. Self-denying love which shows no desire to exalt, justify, or gratify self, but is dedicated to selfless ministry to the needy, is an argument that unconverted men cannot gainsay. They see in it something incomprehensible to their philosophy of life. Their hearts are touched, and their intelligence responds to the evidence of the power of godliness in the lives of converted men. Thus love is demonstrated to be the greatest way of preaching the gospel and advancing the kingdom of God.2
References and notes
1. King James Authorized Version
2. SDA Bible Commentary
Vol. 6 pgs 778-786
3. John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible
ENCYCLOPEDIA: Epistles to the Corinthians