Christian love (verses 1–13).
Love is superior to all extraordinary gifts. It is better than the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 13:1); than the gifts of prophecy and knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:2); and than the gift of miracles (1 Corinthians 13:2). All outward works of charity without it are worthless (1 Corinthians 13:3). Love has this superiority, first, because of its inherent excellence; and secondly, because of its perpetuity. As for superiority, it implies of secures all other excellence.
1. It includes all the forms of kindness.
2. It is humble and modest.
3. It is unselfish.
4. It sympathizes with all good (verses 4–7).
It is perpetual – all the extraordinary gifts mentioned in the preceding chapter were intended for the present state of existence, or were temporary. Love is never to cease (1 Corinthians 13:8). Knowledge, as a special gift, and perhaps also in the form in which its exists in this world, is to pass away. It is now the apprehension of truth as through a mirror – hereafter it will be lost in immediate vision (verses 9–12). The permanent graces are faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
This chapter, although devoted to a single Christian grace, and therefore not to be compared with Romans 8, or with some chapters in the letter to the Ephesians, as an unfolding of the mysteries of redemption, still has always been considered as one of the jewels of Scripture. For moral elevation, for richness and comprehensiveness, for beauty and felicity of expression, it has been the admiration of the church in all ages.
With regard to the word love, the Greek word agape occurs about 116 times in the New Testament. It is not of heathen origin. The heathen had no conception of the grace which in the Scriptures is expressed by this word; neither the Greek eros nor philia, nor the Latin amor or caritas has the Scriptural sense of agape. It was the unsuitability of the word amor that led Jerome to adopt the Latin word caritas as the more elevated of the two. One properly expresses love based on sympathy; the latter came to mean love based on respect. Its English derivative, 'charity,' retains more of the original meaning of the Latin word. Caritas (from carus, carendo, 'dear,' 'costly') is strictly dearness or costliness; and then it came to express the feeling arising from the sight of need and suffering. And this is the common meaning still attached to the English word, which makes it unsuitable for the comprehensive word 'love.' Many people have been led to think that almsgiving covers a multitude of sins, because charity is said to have that effect; and have thought that kindness to the poor and the sick is the sum of all religion, because in the King James Version Paul exalts charity above faith and hope. It is not of charity, but of love, that the Bible speaks.
Superiority of love to all other gifts.
13:1. But do not have love. The mere lack of love has reduced me, despite the gift in question, to a level with a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. There were two kinds of cymbals, one small, worn on the thumb and middle finger, like modern castanets, the other large, broad plates, like our common cymbals. The illustration was probably adapted from the shrill, discordant noise made by the speakers with their tongues, each endeavouring to drown the voice of all the others, as seems from what follows to have been the case with the Corinthians. Paul say (14:23) that the meetings for worship in Corinth, if everybody spoke in tongues, would be soon confused as to make strangers think they were mad.
13:3. Here Paul advances one step further. All outward acts of benevolence are of no avail without love. Someone may give away his whole estate, or sacrifice himself, and be in no sense the gainer. He may do all this from vanity, or from the fear of perdition, or to purchase heaven, and only increase his condemnation. Religion is no such easy thing.
13:4. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant. Almost all the instructions of the New Testament are suggested by some occasion, and are adapted to it. This chapter is not a methodical dissertation on Christian love, but shows that grace as contrasted with extraordinary gifts which the Corinthians valued inordinately. Therefore, the traits of love which are mentioned are those which contrasted with the Corinthians' use of their gifts. They were impatient, discontented, envious, puffed up, selfish, indecorous, unmindful of the feelings or interests of others, suspicious, resentful, censorious. The apostle personifies love, and places her before them and lists her graces, not in logical order but as they occurred to him in contrast to the deformities of character which they displayed.
13:5. It is not irritable or easily angered. That is, is not quick-tempered; or, does not allow itself to be roused to resentment.
13:7. It bears all things. The Greek word is really a military word, and means to sustain the assault of an enemy. Hence it is used in the New Testament to express the idea of sustaining the assaults of suffering or persecution, in the sense of bearing up under them, and enduring them patiently (2 Timothy 2:10; Hebrews 10:32; 12:2).
13:9–10. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end This is the reason why knowledge and prophecy are to cease. They are partial of imperfect, and therefore suited only to an imperfect state of existence. The revelations granted to the prophets imparted mere glimpses of the mysteries of God; when those mysteries stand disclosed in the full light of heaven, what need will there be of those glimpses? A skilful teacher may use diagrams and models to give us some knowledge of the mechanism of the universe, but if the eye is strengthened to take in the whole at a glance, what need is there of a planetarium or of a teacher? The apostle uses two illustrations to teach us the difference between the present and the future. One is derived from the differed between childhood and maturity; the other from the difference between seeing a thing by imperfect reflection, or through an obscure medium, and seeing it directly.
13:11. When I became an adult, or, having become an adult, I have put an end to childish ways, that is, my former childish way of talking, feeling, and thinking.
13:12. Dimly. Literally, 'in an enigma.' This may be taken adverbially – 'we see enigmatically,' that is, obscurely; or the idea may be that we see divine things as it were wrapped up in enigmas. We do not see the things themselves, but those things as represented in symbols and words which express them imperfectly.
Then we will see face to face. That is, no longer through a mirror but immediately. Compare Genesis 32:30; Numbers 12:8. The Word of God is a mirror in which even now we see the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18), but what is that to seeing him face to face!
13:13. The true explanation of this verse is to be found in the use which Paul makes of this word greatest, or the equivalent term 'better.' In 12:31 he exhorts his readers to seek the 'greater' gifts, that is, the more useful ones. And in 14:5 he says, 'One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues'; that is, he is more useful. Throughout that chapter the reason one gift is preferred to others consists in its superior usefulness. This is Paul's standard; and judged by this rule, love is greater than either faith or hope. Faith saves ourselves, but love benefits others.
—Commentary on 1 Corinthians, A