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the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 13

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verses 1-13



1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

In the judgment of the critical world 1 Corinthians 13 is the most exquisite gem in all literature. Upon it the great scientist, Henry Drummond, has written his masterpiece, The Greatest Thing in the World Let us note very particularly that 1 Corinthians 12:31 of the preceding chapter is both introductory to 1 Corinthians 13 and explanatory: "But desire earnestly the greater gifts. And moreover, a most excellent way show I unto you." There is a distinction in the gifts conferred in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some were greater than others, and one of the smallest of them in merit was the power to speak in other tongues, and that is the one they are making themselves fools over. He goes on to show, before he gets through with the discussion, that tongues do not edify, but prophecy does. So he says, "While these gifts are various, desire earnestly the greater gifts." Having shown that distinction between the gifts of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, some greater than others, and that they should desire the greater ones rather than the inferior ones, he then adds, "A most excellent way show I unto you," that is, something ahead of all the gifts received in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, something far superior to any conference of mere power upon man; so what he discusses now in 1 Corinthians 13 is a more excellent way than the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

He gets at his thought this way: "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal." Look at that thought. He is going to draw an eclectic man – a man who possesses the high excellence of all great men and leaves out their faults – for instance, the patience of Job, the patriotism of Washington, the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Samson, the meekness of Moses, etc. He is going to picture a man that has all the excellence of an earthly kind that any man ever had. "If I speak with the tongues of men" – that means all the tongues of men. If in the university or college one is proficient in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Spanish, French, and German, they call him a linguist and be becomes famous; but now add to those every other language ever spoken by man from the few gutturals of the lowest barbarian in Africa to the most cultured scholar in London or Paris; then add to that that he can speak in the language of angels; that he can think his thoughts into heaven and stop Gabriel and make him think his thoughts back to him, or Michael, or any other of the shining lights that stand in the presence of God – suppose he could do that, and he doesn’t have what Paul is here presenting – love – he would, with all of those vociferous tongues, be as sounding brass or clanging cymbal. He is proving the superiority of the Christian graces – faith, hope, and love – over anything that is involved in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is the "most excellent way." He goes on, "And if I have the gift of prophecy." That is another one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Suppose God had gathered back the curtains from all the future to the great judgment day in my sight, so as to enable me to see it all, as a whole and every minute detail, the yet unrecorded things of the future; what if my heart as a prophet was as hot as Jeremiah’s; what if a live coal from the altar was put upon my lips as upon Isaiah’s; what if I, like John on Patmos, could see high above the world the great court of God, then have it pass in review before me in grand panorama till Jesus comes; suppose I had that, as well as all those languages "and knew all mysteries," so that nature has no secrets from me: so that there is nothing in astronomy, in geology, in biology, in sociology, nothing in any of the "ologies" that I do not know; suppose that like Solomon, I could sing a song concerning the birds that fly through the air, the vine that grows on the wall, and the fish that swim in the sea; suppose I could be able to locate a gold mine, a coal mine, a deposit of oil, and every mine of precious jewels; suppose I could look to the bottom of the sea, and behold all the jewels and the money and the fine apparel that had ever been sunk into its depths; what if I understood eclipses, cyclones, earthquakes, all mysteries (That is the sort of man we are coming to, an ecletic man.): "If I had all knowledge," not in one department, but in all departments, so that I myself was the biggest encyclopedia in the world; so that I myself was a walking library of all the records of history and achievements of science in any of its departments; so that whatever man has ever known since the world was, down to the present time, I knew; "and if I have all faith {not saving faith, but that faith that enables one to work miracles], so as to remove mountains"; if I could make Himalaya and the Ural change places; if I could pile the Alps upon the Apennines, and the Apennines upon the Pyrenees, as the old giants are said to have done Pelion on Ossa; if I could look at Aetna, Vesuvius, Hecla, Stromboli, and Popocatepetl and say, "Put out your fires," and they would become extinct in a moment, and I have not love, I would just be nothing.

He wants to make clear the thought of the great difference between gifts and graces. Then he goes on, "And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor." O what comments in the daily papers of the world that are excited by the huge gifts of the rich! Look at Carnegie trying to dispossess himself of all his wealth by building libraries over the world; look at Rockefeller giving $35,000,000.00 to one institution and $100,000,000.00 to the aggregate institutions. Now, what if I were to do that, and then, in addition to that, I were to give my body to be burned as an act of patriotism; unselfishly to be willing, not merely to die, but to be burned to death, in order to save other people from pain, and I had not love, I would be nothing. If the love that is set forth here did not prompt these things, then it is not as great a thing in the sight of God as one throb of real faith and real love in a converted Negro’s heart.

In Shakespeare we have Mark Anthony delivering the funeral oration over Caesar. He had Caesar’s body brought before him, took the mantle off and showed the holes in it, and says, "I remember when he put this mantle on. It was the day that he conquered the Nervii." He holds in his hands Caesar’s will in which he gives all his goods to the Roman poor, (just what Paul is talking about) and the people are weeping while looking at the torn mantle, and the orator goes on, "Do you weep at merely seeing his garments rent? O, here is himself; here is Caesar; look there; see where the envious Casca struck, and how his heart broke when Brutus smote him here." Caesar, for motives governing his mind, did will all his goods to the Roman people. These people are accustomed to establish circuses, which they held in the amphitheatre and let everybody come free to the big show in the circus, and the politicians that didn’t give bread in the circuses didn’t get a vote. A man might have the things that have made men famous in the past, every thing that I have enumerated, and when he dies gaping posterity would want the heavens to be hung with black, and the orators of the world to be praising him; the monuments would be erected higher than all earth’s monuments up on top of each other, and all over each, and in large letters, would be inscribed the great attainments and achievements of this eclectic man, but if he were not God’s child, if he didn’t have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, if he didn’t have the love that is described in this chapter, then we might let the monuments crumble into dust.

I never shall forget the enthusiasm of my heart when I read George W. Cutter’s wonderful poetical paraphrase on Henry Clay’s great oration at the foot of Bunker Hill monument. In that poem these words occur: There let it stand until the river that flows beneath shall cease to flow; Until that hill itself shall quiver with nature’s last convulsive throe, And instead of a few inscriptions on it he would cover it all, Until it should fail to furnish room to write even the initials of a man.

This is earthly fame.

Having shown that the excellencies of this world are nothing in comparison with the three things he is going to talk about, with a few strokes negative, and a few strokes positive, he describes love. Let us see what they are. We will take it negatively: "Love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself [doesn’t brag], is not puffed up [doesn’t swell up and become vain] doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness." These are the negatives.

Let us see the positive side. This is what it does: "Love suffereth long and is kind; rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth." That is love. He contrasts again. Let us see about these others – those given by the baptism in the Holy Spirit: "Whether there be tongues, they shall cease." They were given for a temporary purpose, for a sign, for attesting the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and when that attestation is complete, tongues shall cease, and "whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away." Here he refers to the supernatural knowledge that comes with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. "For we know in part" in that baptism of the Holy Spirit that gives us such marvelous knowledge without study, and in order to get it we make no effort; it comes not by laborious, persistent reasoning and investigation, and yet he says, "When you have gotten it you know only in part and when you have that marvelous gift of prophecy conferred upon you, you only prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child; now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things." In other words, "As a mere child, a novice, I might have been lifted up with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as a little child rejoices to ride a cornstalk horse." But when one becomes a man, he doesn’t ride cornstalk horses. Far, far removed, ’is any such thought. The perfection here is maturity. "I put away childish things," that is, the past is just as dust in the balance in comparison with other things, particularly, things he is going to discuss. "For now we see ’in a mirror, darkly." The mirrors were not polished glass with a good background behind them, but just polished metal. Even the most finical belles of Rome when arraying themselves had to content themselves by standing before the mirror of polished metal, that would dimly reflect. I am sure it nearly killed them. "But then face to face." Love is going to put us where it will not be a reflection that we look at. We will stand face to face with the real thing. "Then shall I know fully, even as also I was fully known." Paul says, "Brethren, I count myself not to have apprehended, laid hold on, all the things for which Christ laid hold on me, but forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are before, I press forward toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Love will bring us there. Then he could see different things from what he could see by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He says, "Here in Corinth, because my knowledge is so limited, I know only in part, but then I shall know even as I have been known." O, would some pow’r the gift to give us, To see ourselves as it hers see us!

But better O would some power the gift to give us, To see ourselves as Jesus sees us!

Not as Jesus sees us here, but as he sees us in the complete likeness; when our souls are as complete as his soul; when our bodies are as complete as his body; when our knowledge is as his knowledge. As a bolt of lightning lightens the landscape so that in one flash we may see every house, tree, and building, so the knowledge in heaven will be by intuition that is swifter than any lightning on earth. The baptism in the Holy Spirit doesn’t take us to that, but love will.

Then he goes on, "But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love." These are the abiding graces.

If just one spark of the divine love has ever shone in our souls – not if we have great faith in Jesus Christ, but if we have faith, great or little – if the love of God has ever been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given unto us, it will abide always within us, the Arminians to the contrary notwithstanding. It will abide, and adversity may come on us in its cruel image of death, and prosperity may attempt to beguile us, hell may send out demons like locusts from the pit to pluck us out of the hand of God, but faith, hope, and love abide.

Then in view of this, methinks I hear him say, "Why then, O Corinthians, do you magnify the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Why have you discarded these, the most lasting, world-renewing and astounding graces of the Spirit, in order to fall down and worship mere power, whether it be power to move mountains or power to heal the sick, or whatever else?"

In closing this discussion, I will give a word picture of three pyramids. We need to know what kind of love it ’is, for if we make a mistake on that, we have indeed made a great mistake. It is not a gushing thing, a sentimental thing, that people often talk about, who don’t know anything about it. Imagine three blocks. On the first one put, "Faith." Then let us put a block on that a little shorter at each end and write, "Hope," then another on that block and write, "Love"; then on the top of that put a flagstaff and write on a banner, "1 Corinthians 13." Now what will that pyramid show? It will show that love, the greatest thing in the world, is the topmost block; that it is bottomed on faith. So we have faith, hope, love. If a man says that he has the love that is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13 and has not faith, then his pyramid is an aircastle.

I will give another pyramid. This one commences at the top and starts with the banner. On it is written, "1 Timothy 1:5." Then on the first block under the bannerstaff is written, "Love"; on the next, which is a little longer, "out of a pure heart"; on the next block, "and a good conscience"; and the next block, "and faith unfeigned." There we have the base, that is, "faith unfeigned" leads to a "good conscience," then a "pure heart," and then to "love." A man’s conscience is made good when it is purified by the blood of Jesus Christ: "How much more shall the blood of Christ, . . . cleanse your conscience, ..."

Now we come to the last pyramid, and we will let Peter build this one, either from the King James Version or from the Revised Version. Peter says, "To a like precious faith add: . . ." Now put block one, and write, "Faith." Then on block two write, "virtue" (or courage; that is what it means) and to virtue add knowledge; to knowledge, temperance; to temperance, patience; to patience, godliness; to godliness, brotherly kindness; to brotherly kindness, love. There love is on top and faith on the bottom again. Now draw on the pyramid the banner with 2 Peter 1:5-7. When Paul discusses love he does not discuss the sentimental gush that anybody can talk about; he cannot conceive of this love that does not grow out of faith.

Does 1 Corinthians 13:12 prove heavenly recognition? It certainly does; as a good old sister said once, "I am not smart, never went to college, but I have always had sense enough to recognize my friend here on earth, and I don’t suppose I will be a bigger fool in heaven." Then we shall know even as we are known; we are recognized here, and it certainly teaches that we will be recognized there.


1. What is the judgment of the critical world relative to 1 Corinthians 13, and what the title of Henry Drummond’s masterpiece written on it?

2. What is the connection between 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 1 Corinthians 13?

3. What is the distinction in the gifts conferred in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which the smallest perhaps, what exhortation concerning gifts, and what the "most excellent way," of 1 Corinthians 12:31?

4. With what does Paul contrast love, and what the author’s eclectic man?

5. What is the meaning of speaking with tongues, the gift of prophecy, the knowing of all mysteries, all knowledge, all faith, the bestowing of goods, and the giving of the body to be burned, as contrasted here by Paul?

6. What is the description of love negatively?

7. What is the description of love positively?

8. What contrasts does Paul now make as to the duration of these gifts?

9. What are three abiding graces, which is the greatest, and why?

10. Describe a pyramid based on 1 Corinthians 13.

11. Describe one based on 1 Timothy 1:5.

12. Describe one based on 2 Peter 1:5-7.

13. Does the Bible teach heavenly recognition, and if so, what the proof?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/1-corinthians-13.html.
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