The necessity and advantage of the grace of love. (1-3) Its excellency represented by its properties and effects; (4-7) and by its abiding, and its superiority. (8-13)
Verses 1-3 The excellent way had in view in the close of the former chapter, is not what is meant by charity in our common use of the word, almsgiving, but love in its fullest meaning; true love to God and man. Without this, the most glorious gifts are of no account to us, of no esteem in the sight of God. A clear head and a deep understanding, are of no value without a benevolent and charitable heart. There may be an open and lavish hand, where there is not a liberal and charitable heart. Doing good to others will do none to us, if it be not done from love to God, and good-will to men. If we give away all we have, while we withhold the heart from God, it will not profit. Nor even the most painful sufferings. How are those deluded who look for acceptance and reward for their good works, which are as scanty and defective as they are corrupt and selfish!
Verses 4-7 Some of the effects of charity are stated, that we may know whether we have this grace; and that if we have not, we may not rest till we have it. This love is a clear proof of regeneration, and is a touchstone of our professed faith in Christ. In this beautiful description of the nature and effects of love, it is meant to show the Corinthians that their conduct had, in many respects, been a contrast to it. Charity is an utter enemy to selfishness; it does not desire or seek its own praise, or honour, or profit, or pleasure. Not that charity destroys all regard to ourselves, or that the charitable man should neglect himself and all his interests. But charity never seeks its own to the hurt of others, or to neglect others. It ever prefers the welfare of others to its private advantage. How good-natured and amiable is Christian charity! How excellent would Christianity appear to the world, if those who profess it were more under this Divine principle, and paid due regard to the command on which its blessed Author laid the chief stress! Let us ask whether this Divine love dwells in our hearts. Has this principle guided us into becoming behaviour to all men? Are we willing to lay aside selfish objects and aims? Here is a call to watchfulness, diligence, and prayer.
Verses 8-13 Charity is much to be preferred to the gifts on which the Corinthians prided themselves. From its longer continuance. It is a grace, lasting as eternity. The present state is a state of childhood, the future that of manhood. Such is the difference between earth and heaven. What narrow views, what confused notions of things, have children when compared with grown men! Thus shall we think of our most valued gifts of this world, when we come to heaven. All things are dark and confused now, compared with what they will be hereafter. They can only be seen as by the reflection in a mirror, or in the description of a riddle; but hereafter our knowledge will be free from all obscurity and error. It is the light of heaven only, that will remove all clouds and darkness that hide the face of God from us. To sum up the excellences of charity, it is preferred not only to gifts, but to other graces, to faith and hope. Faith fixes on the Divine revelation, and assents thereto, relying on the Divine Redeemer. Hope fastens on future happiness, and waits for that; but in heaven, faith will be swallowed up in actual sight, and hope in enjoyment. There is no room to believe and hope, when we see and enjoy. But there, love will be made perfect. There we shall perfectly love God. And there we shall perfectly love one another. Blessed state! how much surpassing ( 1 John. 4:8-16 ) seen as he is, and face to face, there charity is in its greatest height; there only will it be perfected.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 . CHARITY OR LOVE SUPERIOR TO ALL GIFTS.
The New Testament psalm of love, as the forty-fifth Psalm (see Psalms 45:1 , title) and the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament.
1. tongues--from these he ascends to "prophecy" ( 1 Corinthians 13:2 ); then, to "faith"; then to benevolent and self-sacrificing deeds: a climax. He does not except even himself, and so passes from addressing them ("unto you," 1 Corinthians 12:31 ) to putting the case in his own person, "Though I," &c.
speak with the tongues--with the eloquence which was so much admired at Corinth (for example, Apollos, Acts 18:24 ; compare 1 Corinthians 1:12 , 1 Corinthians 3:21 1 Corinthians 3:22 ), and with the command of various languages, which some at Corinth abused to purposes of mere ostentation ( 1 Corinthians 14:2 , &c.).
of angels--higher than men, and therefore, it is to be supposed, speaking a more exalted language.
charity--the principle of the ordinary and more important gifts of the Spirit, as contrasted with the extraordinary gifts ( 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 ).
sounding . . . tinkling--sound without soul or feeling: such are "tongues" without charity.
cymbal--Two kinds are noticed ( Psalms 150:5 ), the loud or clear, and the high-sounding one: hand cymbals and finger cymbals, or castanets. The sound is sharp and piercing.
2. mysteries--( Romans 11:25 , 16:25 ). Mysteries refer to the deep counsels of God hitherto secret, but now revealed to His saints. Knowledge, to truths long known.
faith . . . remove mountains--( Matthew 17:20 , 21:21 ). The practical power of the will elevated by faith [NEANDER]; confidence in God that the miraculous result will surely follow the exercise of the will at the secret impulse of His Spirit. Without "love" prophecy, knowledge, and faith, are not what they seem (compare 1 Corinthians 8:1 1 Corinthians 8:2 , Matthew 7:22 , 2:14 ; compare 1 Corinthians 13:8 ), and so fail of the heavenly reward ( Matthew 6:2 ). Thus Paul, who teaches justification by faith only ( Romans 3:4 Romans 3:5 , Galatians 2:16 , 3:7-14 ), is shown to agree with James, who teaches ( James 2:24 ) "by works" (that is, by LOVE, which is the "spirit" of faith, James 2:26 ) a man is justified, "and not by faith only."
3. bestow . . . goods . . . poor--literally, "dole out in food" all my goods; one of the highest functions of the "helps" ( 1 Corinthians 12:28 ).
give . . . body to be burned--literally, "to such a degree as that I should be burned." As the three youths did ( Daniel 3:28 ), "yielded their bodies" (compare 2 Corinthians 12:15 ). These are most noble exemplifications of love in giving and in suffering. Yet they may be without love; in which case the "goods" and "body" are given, but not the soul, which is the sphere of love. Without the soul God rejects all else, and so rejects the man, who is therefore "profited" nothing ( Matthew 16:26 , Luke 9:23-25 ). Men will fight for Christianity, and die for Christianity, but not live in its spirit, which is love.
4. suffereth long--under provocations of evil from others. The negative side of love.
is kind--the positive side. Extending good to others. Compare with love's features here those of the "wisdom from above" ( James 3:17 ).
envieth--The Greek includes also jealousy.
vaunteth not--in words, even of gifts which it really possesses; an indirect rebuke of those at Corinth who used the gift of tongues for mere display.
not puffed up--with party zeal, as some at Corinth were ( 1 Corinthians 4:6 ).
5. not . . . unseemly--is not uncourteous, or inattentive to civility and propriety.
thinketh no evil--imputeth not evil [ALFORD]; literally, "the evil" which actually is there ( Proverbs 10:12 , 1 Peter 4:8 ). Love makes allowances for the falls of others, and is ready to put on them a charitable construction. Love, so far from devising evil against another, excuses "the evil" which another inflicts on her [ESTIUS]; doth not meditate upon evil inflicted by another [BENGEL]; and in doubtful cases, takes the more charitable view [GROTIUS].
6. rejoiceth in the truth--rather, "rejoiceth with the truth." Exults not at the perpetration of iniquity (unrighteousness) by others (compare Genesis 9:22 Genesis 9:23 ), but rejoices when the truth rejoices; sympathizes with it in its triumphs ( 2 John 1:4 ). See the opposite ( 2 Timothy 3:8 ), "Resist the truth." So "the truth" and "unrighteousness" are contrasted ( Romans 2:8 ). "The truth" is the Gospel truth, the inseparable ally of love ( Ephesians 4:15 , 2 John 1:12 ). The false charity which compromises "the truth" by glossing over "iniquity" or unrighteousness is thus tacitly condemned ( Proverbs 17:15 ).
7. Beareth all things--without speaking of what it has to bear. The same Greek verb as in 1 Corinthians 9:12 . It endures without divulging to the world personal distress. Literally said of holding fast like a watertight vessel; so the charitable man contains himself in silence from giving vent to what selfishness would prompt under personal hardship.
believeth all things--unsuspiciously believes all that is not palpably false, all that it can with a good conscience believe to the credit of another. Compare James 3:17 , "easy to be entreated"; Greek, "easily persuaded."
hopeth--what is good of another, even when others have ceased to hope.
endureth--persecutions in a patient and loving spirit.
8. never faileth--never is to be out of use; it always holds its place.
shall fail . . . vanish away--The same Greek verb is used for both; and that different from the Greek verb for "faileth." Translate, "Shall be done away with," that is, shall be dispensed with at the Lord's coming, being superseded by their more perfect heavenly analogues; for instance, knowledge by intuition. Of "tongues," which are still more temporary, the verb is "shall cease." A primary fulfilment of Paul's statement took place when the Church attained its maturity; then "tongues" entirely "ceased," and "prophesyings" and "knowledge," so far as they were supernatural gifts of the Spirit, were superseded as no longer required when the ordinary preaching of the word, and the Scriptures of the New Testament collected together, had become established institutions.
9, 10. in part--partially and imperfectly. Compare a similar contrast to the "perfect man," "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" ( Ephesians 4:11-13 ).
10. that which is in part--fragmentary and isolated.
11. When . . . a child--( 1 Corinthians 3:1 , 14:20 ).
I spake--alluding to "tongues."
understood--or, "had the sentiments of." Alluding to "prophecy."
I thought--Greek "reasoned" or "judged"; alluding to "knowledge."
when I became . . . I put away--rather, "now that I am become a man, I have done away with the things of the child."
12. now--in our present state.
see--an appropriate expression, in connection with the "prophets" of seers ( 1 Samuel 9:9 ).
through a glass--that is, in a mirror; the reflection seeming to the eye to be behind the mirror, so that we see it through the mirror. Ancient mirrors were made of polished brass or other metals. The contrast is between the inadequate knowledge of an object gained by seeing it reflected in a dim mirror (such as ancient mirrors were), compared with the perfect idea we have of it by seeing itself directly.
darkly--literally, "in enigma." As a "mirror" conveys an image to the eye, so an "enigma" to the ear. But neither "eye nor ear" can fully represent (though the believer's soul gets a small revelation now of) "the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" ( 1 Corinthians 2:9 ). Paul alludes to Numbers 12:8 , "not in dark speeches"; the Septuagint, "not in enigmas." Compared with the visions and dreams vouchsafed to other prophets, God's communications with Moses were "not in enigmas." But compared with the intuitive and direct vision of God hereafter, even the revealed word now is "a dark discourse," or a shadowing forth by enigma of God's reflected likeness. Compare 2 Peter 1:19 , where the "light" or candle in a dark place stands in contrast with the "day" dawning. God's word is called a glass or mirror also in 2 Corinthians 3:18 .
then--"when that which is perfect is come" ( 1 Corinthians 13:10 ).
face to face--not merely "mouth to mouth" ( Numbers 12:8 ). Genesis 32:30 was a type ( John 1:50 John 1:51 ).
know . . . known--rather as Greek, "fully know . . . fully known." Now we are known by, rather than know, God ( 1 Corinthians 8:3 , Galatians 4:9 ).
13. And now--Translate, "But now." "In this present state" [HENDERSON]. Or, "now" does not express time, but opposition, as in 1 Corinthians 5:11 , "the case being so" [GROTIUS]; whereas it is the case that the three gifts, "prophecy," "tongues," and "knowledge" (cited as specimens of the whole class of gifts) "fail" ( 1 Corinthians 13:8 ), there abide permanently only these three--faith, hope, charity. In one sense faith and hope shall be done away, faith being superseded by sight, and hope by actual fruition ( Romans 8:24 , 2 Corinthians 5:7 ); and charity, or love, alone never faileth ( 1 Corinthians 13:8 ). But in another sense, "faith and hope," as well as "charity," ABIDE; namely, after the extraordinary gifts have ceased; for those three are necessary and sufficient for salvation at all times, whereas the extraordinary gifts are not at all so; compare the use of "abide," 1 Corinthians 3:14 . Charity, or love, is connected specially with the Holy Spirit, who is the bond of the loving union between the brethren ( Romans 15:30 , Colossians 1:8 ). Faith is towards God. Hope is in behalf of ourselves. Charity is love to God creating in us love towards our neighbor. In an unbeliever there is more or less of the three opposites--unbelief, despair, hatred. Even hereafter faith in the sense of trust in God "abideth"; also "hope," in relation to ever new joys in prospect, and at the anticipation of ever increasing blessedness, sure never to be disappointed. But love alone in every sense "abideth"; it is therefore "the greatest" of the three, as also because it presupposes "faith," which without "love" and its consequent "works" is dead ( Galatians 5:6 , James 2:17 James 2:20 ).
but--rather, "and"; as there is not so strong opposition between charity and the other two, faith and hope, which like it also "abide."