1 Corinthians 13




The Most Excellent Way (13:1-13)

1 By the expression, tongues of men and of angels, Paul is referring to two kinds of speech. First, he is referring to eloquent and powerful human speech, which he calls the tongues of men. (Paul himself was an effective speaker and preacher.) Second, Paul is referring to “other languages,” or spiritual languages, which he here calls the tongues … of angels (see 1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:18).

Without love, both human eloquence and speaking in other tongues become just noise; they are worthless.

2 In this verse, Paul mentions three other gifts of the Holy Spirit: namely, prophecy, knowledge, and faith (1 Corinthians 12:810). Even if we receive these three gifts in the fullest measure—that is, even if we can fathom all mysteries, and even if we can move mountains (Mark 11:22-23)—if we do not have love we are nothing! Without love, these great gifts are nothing!

3 Without love, religious works are of no benefit. Followers of other religions seek to acquire religious merit by doing good works. They give money to the poor. They give their time to public works. They are even prepared to suffer pain and death. But why? For what? In the end, all these things are done to benefit the person doing them. They are done for the purpose of earning religious merit, so that the one doing them will be better of f in the next life. These things are not done for others, but for oneself.

But Paul teaches here that such “good works” give no benefit to the one doing them. True, the poor may get a little help from such works, but the doer of the works will not find the benefit he or she is looking for. Even Christians who are burned to death for the sake of the Gospel will receive no reward unless they also have the fire of love in their hearts.

4 In verses 4-7, when the word love is used, we can understand that Paul is talking about a “person filled with love.”

Thus, in verse 4, we can read: The “person filled with love” is patient, the “person filled with love” is kind.

The word kind doesn’t mean just being kind in one’s heart; it also means showing that kindness to others. The man who is kind is always seeking to do good things for others.

Notice that the “man filled with love” who is patient and kind has three of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, patience, and kindness (see Galatians 5:22 and comment).

The “man filled with love” does not envy others. Instead, when others are happy and successful, he rejoices with them (see Luke 15:25-32 and comment).

The “man filled with love” does not boast, [he] is not proud. Instead, he is humble.44 The proud man loves only himself, not others.

5 The “man filled with love” is not rude. His behavior is courteous and gracious at all times.

The “man filled with love” is not self-seeking, but seeks the good of others. He is filled with goodness, which is another fruit of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 10:24,33; Galatians 5:22).

The “man filled with love” is not easily angered. If someone hurts him or insults him, he endures it quietly. The “man filled with love” keeps no record of wrongs—that is, he takes no account of wrongful acts that others do against him. Many of us, on the other hand, nurture hurts and of fenses in our minds for years. When someone wrongs us and we keep remembering it, we are keeping a record of wrongs. We don’t forget it; we don’t forgive the other person for wronging us. Love is not like that. The man filled with love doesn’t think about the wrong done to him. The man filled with love never seeks revenge.

6 The “man filled with love” does not delight in evil; he doesn’t even want to hear about it. Many of us, on the other hand, are eager to hear something bad about someone else! Why? Because when others are put down, we feel raised up. But love is never like that.

The “man filled with love” rejoices with the truth. Love and truth always go together (see Ephesians 4:15 and comment).

7 The “man filled with love” always protects45 others. In particular, he bears with and protects those who have weaknesses and faults. He doesn’t reveal his brother’s faults to others; instead, out of love he tries to cover them from view (see 1 Peter 4:8).

If we love someone, it is easy to bear that person’s faults and weaknesses. But if we are finding it hard to endure a certain person, then we can be sure our love for that person is very small.

Love always trusts. When we love someone, we want to trust that person. True, in the end that person may betray our trust; but that is God’s business, not ours. Our place is to trust others, not be suspicious of them.46

Love always hopes. When we love someone, we put hope in that person. We have hope for that person’s welfare, his success, his happiness. We hope that his heart will be pure and his character strong. And even if that person should disappoint us or betray us, we shall go on hoping in him.

Love always perseveres. Love always overcomes (see Romans 12:21). Love can never be destroyed. Love is the greatest force on earth.

In verses 4-7, Paul has given us a description of a man filled with love. This is how our own life should be! This should be our goal. But think for a moment: in these verses Paul has not just described some imaginary person; he has described Jesus Christ Himself. Our goal, then, is to be like Jesus, the man of love (Romans 8:29).

The love that Paul has been talking about in this chapter does not originate in man; it comes only from God (1 John 4:7). Love is the work of the Holy Spirit in men’s lives (Romans 5:5). Let it be our earnest prayer that this love will continually flow from God into our lives and into our church.

Here we must understand something important. In this chapter, Paul has been talking about a spiritual love that comes only from God. There is a great dif ference between God’s spiritual love and man’s natural love. As far as it goes, man’s natural love is good, but there is always selfishness mixed with it. The natural love between husband and wife, between parent and child, is pleasing to God; nevertheless, this love is mixed with motives that are fleshly and selfish. Because when we love our spouse or our child or a close friend, we are also, in a sense, loving ourselves47 (see Ephesians 5:28-29). But God’s spiritual love has no selfishness mixed with it. That is why this love can never come from man; it comes only from God.

There is another dif ferencebetween God’s love and man’s love. We men love others according to their worthiness. We easily love our family and friends, because in our sight they are worthy of our love. But we find it difficult to love those who are unworthy or disagreeable or sinful. But God’s love is not like our love; God loves even the most unworthy and unlovely people (see Romans 5:7-8). And with the help of the Holy Spirit working within us, we too can love these people. We must love them; indeed, Jesus has commanded us to love even our enemies! (see Matthew 5:44 and comment).

8 All of the gifts of the Holy Spirit—prophecies, tongues, knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)—will come to an end. In heaven these special gifts will not be needed. In heaven we shall know and understand everything; in heaven we shall all speak one heavenly language. But love will remain forever. Why? Because God Himself is love (1 John 4:8,16).

9-10 Even if we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in this life, our knowledge, our prophecies, and all our other works can never be perfect. But when perfection comes—that is, in heaven—then all our abilities and all our works will be perfect, because then we shall be like Christ (see 1 John 3:2).

11 For believers, this earthly life is like childhood. In heaven we will become fully mature. But in this life we must grow and, as much as possible, put childish things behind us.

The Corinthians were in many ways acting like children (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; 11:20-21; 14:20). They had received many spiritual gifts, but they had not become mature. Looking at these Corinthian believers, we can learn an important truth: namely, spiritual gifts in themselves don’t make a person spiritual. It is not the gifts of the Holy Spirit but rather His fruits that make one spiritual (Galatians 5:22-23). A person is mature and spiritual when the fruits of the Spirit are manifest in his life. These fruits are absolutely essential for every Christian. The gifts of the Spirit are given individually, one to this person, another to that person. But the fruits of the Spirit are meant equally for every believer. We need both the fruits of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit in our lives, but by far our greatest need is for His fruit.

12 When we look into an old and dirty mirror, we see a poor reflection. In the same way, our present knowledge and wisdom is like a “poor reflection” of reality. We do not see things clearly. In this life we live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). But when we get to heaven, we shall see clearly; we shall see face to face (see 1 John 3:2). Then we shall know God just as He now knows us.

13 Everything on earth will pass away except these three things: faith, hope and love (see 1 Thessalonians 1:3). But among these the greatest is love—God’s love. Everything comes from God’s love. God’s love was in the very beginning. It was God who first loved us (see John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10,19 and comments).

From God’s love comes our love. All of the spiritual love we have in our lives comes from God, who has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Therefore, since God has given us His love, He expects us to love one another (see 1 John 4:7,11).

From God’s love comes our faith (see 1 John 4:16). It is by God’s love that we were first chosen and called to faith. Praise His name!

From God’s love comes our hope (see 1 John 4:17). For what do we hope? We hope for salvation, for eternal life. We hope one day to meet our heavenly Father face to face, and to dwell in His love forever.

And in heaven there will be only love, because in heaven faith and hope will no longer be needed.