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1 Corinthians 13

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Preaching the Crucified Christ

In chapter twelve, Paul discusses the existence of spiritual gifts, and in chapter fourteen he will speak of exercising these gifts; however, he now pauses to connect these two important chapters by teaching the importance of love and the necessity of maintaining love while exercising these spiritual gifts.

Verse 1

The Necessity and Supremacy of Love

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.

Even though the gift of "tongues" is listed last in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul here names it first possibly because the Corinthians prized that gift more than any other. The term "tongues" (glossa) means "articulate forms of speech: that is, languages" (Alford, Vol. II 585) (see comments on 12:10 "divers kinds of tongues"). The gift of "tongues" is the ability to speak foreign languages without studying them.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity: The expression speaking "with the tongues of men and of angels" means having the capability of speaking in all languages found on earth and in heaven. Possibly by referring to the tongues of angels, Paul has reference to the "unspeakable words" that he heard when he was caught up into paradise" (2 Corinthians 12:4).

Paul is not saying that he has the capability of speaking in all these different languages. He is speaking hypothetically. The word "though" (ean) means "even if." Paul is making the point that even if he did have this ability but did not have "charity" (agape) or "love" (Thayer 4-1-26), it would be unprofitable or nothing but a meaningless noise.

I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal: The sounding brass "does not mean a brazen instrument but a piece of unwrought metal, which emitted a sound of being struck" (Vincent, Vol. III 262). The striking of two pieces of this metal produces a "noisy gong" (RSV) while the "tinkling cymbal" produces a "clanging" (RSV) sound. These two objects are very loud, but they cannot produce a melody, and they lack meaning; therefore, by themselves they are useless.

Likewise, speaking with tongues is useless if it is not accompanied by love. The Corinthians who had received the gift of "tongues" considered this gift as the most preferred and made them superior to others; therefore, they boasted of themselves and degraded others who had not received this gift. From the rebuke Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 14:28, stating, "if there be no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church...," it appears that some of the Corinthians were speaking in tongues (foreign languages), even when there was no one to interpret the words. They were not using this gift of speaking in tongues as it was intended.

God gave this gift as a love-gift so that they could teach others the word of God. The use of this gift would be a sign to the hearers that the message spoken actually came from God. Those endowed with this gift, however, were not showing love to each other when they used this gift. If it were used out of love, they would have desired that all hearers understand the teachings. The Corinthians, however, obviously did not care whether the hearers understood or not. They would "speak in tongues," even when they did not have an interpreter, to show that they had the coveted gift.

Verse 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.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge: Paul is referring to "prophecy" in its greatest degree. The gift of prophecy would actually be the most valuable gift because, without this gift, God’s instructions could not have been given. (See comments on the term "prophecy" in 12:10 for meaning of this word.)

Obviously, "all mysteries" would include every mystery of God, including the ones referred to by Paul when he wrote to the church in Rome:

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in (Romans 11:25).

See comments on the word "mysteries" under "the word of wisdom" in 1 Corinthians 12:8.

See comment on the word "knowledge" in 1 Corinthians 12:8.

and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains: This is not the "faith" that we must have to become Christians. Instead, it is "faith" as explained in chapter twelve (see comment on "faith" in 12:9).

The word "mountains" represents things of great difficulty. "Faith, so that I could remove mountains" refers to a miraculous faith, indicating that through God’s working of miracles nothing is impossible. Jesus says,

If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you (Matthew 17:20).

The same teaching is again found in Matthew:

Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done (21:21).

Paul is not indicating he or anyone else has such a "faith" that they actually "could remove mountains," no more than he is indicating he or others "understand all mysteries and all knowledge." The expressions "understand all mysteries, and all knowledge" and having "faith, so that I could remove mountains," as well as speaking with the "tongues...of angels" are hyperboles--overstatements to emphasize a point.

Paul’s words here about "faith" prove the popular doctrine of "salvation by faith only" as being false. Paul is clearly stating that even "all faith" (miraculous and non-miraculous) is not enough. This "faith" must be accompanied by love or else the person is worthless. For an example, Judas Iscariot had faith and was able to work miracles (Matthew 10:1); but he lacked sufficient love, which led to his betrayal of Christ.

and have not charity, I am nothing: The conclusion of verse 2 is exactly the same as verse 1. Even if a person had the gift of tongues of both men and of angels and also the gift of prophecy and understood all mysteries and had all knowledge and even if he had so much faith that he could remove mountains, without "charity" (agape) he is nothing; he is "of no value at all" (Vine 180). Paul is not condemning these gifts; he is merely placing love above them.

Verse 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.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor: The words "the poor" are not found in the original manuscripts. To "bestow all my goods to feed the poor" indicates "to give a thing to feed some one" (Thayer 678-2-5594). Paul, however, is not referring just to giving "a thing" but to giving "all my goods," or everything owned. The New International Version renders the passage: "If I give all I possess to the poor...." The American Standard Version says, "If I give all my possessions to feed the poor...."

and though I give my body to be burned: The term "give" (paradidomi) indicates to "surrender" (Strong #3860) one’s physical body to be burned. It is literally voluntary martyrdom. This idea indicates the most extreme demonstration of faithfulness as in verses 1 and 2. Many old manuscripts (Aleph, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus) do not speak of giving the body to be burned but instead say that Paul is referring to giving the body, not out of love for another, but simply "in order to boast" or "that I may glory" (Vincent, Vol. III 263). Such martyrdom would be vain, but obviously it was practiced.

Bishop Lightfoot finds a possible reference to the case of an Indian fanatic who, in the time of Augustus, burned himself alive at Athens. His tomb there was visible in Paul’s time, and may have been seen by him. It bore the inscription: ’Zarmochegas the Indian from Bargosa, according to the ancient customs of India, made himself immortal and lies here.’ Calanus, an Indian gymnosophist who followed Alexander, in order to get rid of his sufferings, burned himself before the Macedonian army. Martyrdom for the sake of ambition was a fact of early occurrence in the Church, if not in Paul’s day. Farrar says of his age, ’both at this time and in the persecution of Diocletian, there were Christians who, oppressed by debt, by misery, and sometimes even by a sense of guilt, thrust themselves into the glory and imagined redemptiveness of the baptism of blood....The extravagant estimate formed of the merits of all who were confessors, became, almost immediately, the cause of grave scandals. We are horrified to read in Cyprian’s letter that even in prison, even when death was imminent, there were some of the confessors who were puffed up with vanity and pride, and seemed to think that the blood of martyrdom would avail them to wash away the stains of flagrant and even recent immoralities’ (Vincent, Vol. III 263-264).

and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing: No one is expected literally to give everything he owns to feed the poor, nor is he expected literally to volunteer his body to be burned. Paul is once again going to the extreme by overstating his point that even if a person did these things, it would not profit him anything if he did not show "charity."

In verse 1, Paul teaches, "Even if I could speak with the ’tongues’ (languages) of every man and even angels, if I do so without love, I contribute nothing." In verse 2, he says, "Even if I had the ’gift of prophecy’ so that I could understand every mystery of God and even if I had every knowledge of God and even if my ’faith’ were so strong that I could remove mountains, if I do it without love, ’I am nothing.’" Then, in verse 3, Paul concludes, "Even if I give all my worldly goods and even my physical life, but do so without love, not only am I nothing, but also I gain nothing." In other words, he is saying when we do not bestow love, all of these are of no value--we are nothing and we gain nothing.

Verses 4-8

The Characteristics of Love

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 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.

In these verses Paul describes love; however, in the Greek the descriptions are verbs and not adjectives. Thus, Paul is showing that love is not a passive emotion but is actually an active requirement. If we have love, these things are active in our lives.

Charity suffereth long: Charity (love) "suffereth long" (makrothumeo) means that love causes a person "to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others; to be mild and slow in avenging; to be long-suffering, slow to anger, slow to punish" (Thayer 387-1-3114).

and is kind: Love is "kind" (chresteuomai) or "merciful" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 894). Those who love someone will be kind or good to that person.

charity envieth not: Love "envieth" (zeloo) not. "With love, a person will not "be heated or...boil with envy, hatred (or) anger" (Thayer 271-2-2206).

charity vaunteth not itself: Love "vaunteth not itself" (perpereuomai) means that love does not "boast (or) brag" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 659). Evidently vaunting was a big problem in Corinth. Some were bragging because they had certain spiritual gifts while others did not, proving that love was not present.

is not puffed up: Love is "not puffed up" (phusioo); it is not "conceited" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 877).

Doth not behave itself unseemly: Love does not "behave itself unseemly" (aschemoneo) or "disgracefully, dishonorably, (or) indecently" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 118). Love does not "act unbecomingly" (Thayer 82-2-807).

seeketh not her own: Love "seeketh (zeeteo) not her own" means love does not "strive for one’s own advantage" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 339).

is not easily provoked: Love is "not easily provoked" (paroxuno) or is not easy to "irritate" or "rouse to anger" (Thayer 490-2-3947).

thinketh no evil: The term "thinketh" (logizomai) means "to pass to one’s account, to impute" (Thayer 379-1-3049). The term "evil" (kakos) means "wrong (or) crime" (Thayer 320-2-2556). Paul is saying that love causes a person not to accuse another of crimes. Those who love someone do not keep on remembering the wrongs he has done.

Rejoiceth not in iniquity: The word "Rejoiceth" (chairo) is defined as to "be glad" (Thayer 663-1-5463), and "iniquity" (adikia) means "unrighteousness of heart and life" (Thayer 12-1-93). Love is not glad in "moral wrongfulness" (Strong #93). True love causes a person not to be "happy when others do wrong, or go wrong, (or) make mistakes" (Bratcher 127).

but rejoiceth in the truth: The term translated "rejoiceth" (sugchairo) is not the same word as in "rejoiceth not in iniquity." Here the term means "to rejoice with, take part in another’s joy" (Thayer 593-2-4796).

The word "truth" (aletheia) means "sincerity of mind and integrity of character, or a mode of life in harmony with divine truth" (Thayer 26-2-225). When love is present, the person does not rejoice in moral wrongfulness found in themselves or others, but instead love causes the person to rejoice with others involved with divine truth. When a person finds more joy in wrong-doings of others than in their righteousness, he proves he lacks love.

Beareth all things: The word "Beareth" (stego) means that love causes one to "cover over with silence; to keep secret; to hide, conceal...love hides and excuses, the errors and faults of others" (Thayer (586-2-4722).

believeth all things: Love "believeth (pisteuo) all things" in the sense of having "confidence in the goodness of men" (Thayer 512-2-4100).

hopeth all things: The word "hopeth" (eipizo) refers "to hope in a religious sense, to wait (or expect) for salvation with joy and full of confidence" (Thayer 205-2-1679).

endureth all things: Love also "endureth (hupomeno) all things," or love bears all things "bravely and calmly" (Thayer 644-1-5278). One who is enduring exercises patience in dealing with others.

Charity never faileth: Finally, love never "faileth" (ekpipto) or love will never "perish" (Thayer 198-2-1601). When a person has true love for another his love will never end.

Verse 8

The Permanence of Love

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.

For the meaning of "Charity never faileth" see above.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail: In this verse Paul compares "charity" (love) with three spiritual gifts (representing all spiritual gifts) previously mentioned: "prophecies" (verse 2), "tongues" (verse 1), and "knowledge" (verse 2).

By this comparison, Paul proves that love is superior because it will never end; however, the gift of "prophecies" (see meaning in 12:10) "shall fail." The Greek word katargeo translated "shall fail" means "to cease, pass away, be done away" (Thayer 336-1-2673) or "be brought to an end" (The Cambridge Bible 130). Paul’s teaching is that a time will come when there will be no need of the gift of "prophecies" (see verse 10); therefore, it will not continue.

whether there be tongues, they shall cease: The coveted gift of "tongues," he says, "shall cease" or "stop" (Strong #3972). By these words, Paul is teaching that a time will come when there will be no need for people to present signs (such as speaking in languages never studied) to confirm the word spoken (see verse 10).

The gift of tongues was about the first to be discontinued. All attempts to re-introduce it are either fraudulent or the outcome of deception; they are contrary to Scripture, and are void of the actual operation of the Spirit of God (Vine 183).

There is no clear evidence of tongues as a religious phenomenon anterior to N.T. times, nor of their survival in the early Church after the apostolic age (Hastings--quoted from Zodhiates 340).

It is significant that this gift (speaking in tongues) is not included in the list of gifts in Romans 12 written in A.D. 60, nor in Ephesians 4, written in A.D. 64, though 1 Corinthians was written before either in A.D. 59 (Zodhiates 340) .

whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away: The words "shall vanish away" are translated from the word katargeo, the same Greek word from which the words "shall fail" are translated in reference to "prophecies." The word means "to cease, pass away, be done away" (Thayer 336-1-2673). The spiritual gift of "knowledge" is only in part (verse 9), but now Paul says that partial knowledge is temporary--it will cease when complete knowledge comes (see verse 10).

The point of the above comparison is that spiritual gifts are temporary and soon will disappear, but "charity" (love) will endure forever.

Love never faileth (piptei) "denotes ’falling’ in the sense of cessation, dropping out of existence (compare 10:8, Luke 16:17), not moral failure (as in 10:12, etc), is manifest from the parallel clauses and from verse 13. The charisma of chapters twelve and fourteen are bestowed on the way and serve the way-faring Church, they cease each of them at a determined point; but the Way of Love leads indefinitely beyond them" (The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. II 900).

The three gifts to which Paul refers in this verse, just as with all other gifts, are temporary: they were given as a sign: "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe" (14:22).

All Christians who mistakenly yearn for a renewal of these spiritual gifts, should note the clear import of these words of the apostle, which show that their presence in the church would be an evidence of immaturity and weakness, rather than of fully developed power and seasoned strength (McGarvey 132).

Verses 9-10

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

The words "in part" (ek meros), found three times in these two verses, are defined as "imperfectly" (Thayer 401-1-3313). Paul is contrasting "in part" with the word "perfect" (teleios) in verse 10. He is saying, "At the present time we know imperfectly and we prophesy imperfectly; however, a time is coming when we will know perfectly; and at that time spiritual gifts (prophecies, tongues, knowledge, etc.) will cease to exist."

That Which Is Perfect Is Come

The words "is come" (erchomai) mean "to come into being, arise, come forth, show itself, find place or influence" (Thayer 251-2-2064). That which is "to come into being" is referred to in verse 10 as "that which is perfect." There are two major views about the words "that which is perfect." One view is that Paul is referring to the return of Jesus Christ or heaven itself. This view is held by such men as McGarvey, Godet, Marsh, and Barnes. This view, however, is not correct based upon the fact that in verse 13 Paul speaks of "hope" as being one of the characteristics that will abide forever. The word "hope" refers to the hope of eternal salvation. There will be no reason to hope for heaven once we have obtained it. Therefore, the "perfect" that is to come cannot refer to heaven. The second view, which seems correct, is that by the word "perfect," Paul is referring to the completed New Testament, a view held by Lipscomb, DeHoff, Willis, Coffman, and MacKnight.

The term "perfect" (teleios) means "brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness" (Thayer 618-1-5046). The contrast between "in part" and "perfect" explains what Paul is saying. In verse 8, Paul refers to "prophecies," "tongues," and "knowledge." What is prophesied is a part of God’s word. "Tongues" refer to speaking a part of God’s word in languages never studied. "Knowledge" is a part of God’s word that has been revealed from God. Contextually, Paul is referring to something that will do away with imperfect knowledge and give complete knowledge, and do away with imperfect prophesying and allow teachers to study for themselves.

At the time Paul wrote these words, God delivered His revelation to the apostles and other inspired men and confirmed them with spiritual gifts. At that time no apostle or inspired man knew all of God’s will for man; they knew only a part. Paul is teaching here that a time would come when they would have access to all of God’s will for man; and, therefore, man could be made perfect by it. Paul says,

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

The "scriptures" make a person "perfect" because God’s word is perfect. David says, "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple" (Psalms 19:7). The Lord’s word is also referred to as the "perfect law of liberty." James says,

But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed (James 1:25).

When Did Spiritual Gifts Cease?

Spiritual gifts did not cease instantaneously. As can be seen from Paul’s example of a child becoming a man in verse 11, the process was gradual. Originally, the only individuals to whom God gave the capabilities of performing spiritual gifts were the apostles. Afterward, only the apostles were able to transfer this capability to others. Paul refers to this process in Romans: "For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established" (1:11). In writing to Timothy, Paul says, "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6). The clearest example is possibly found in Acts:

Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me. And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans (8:14-25).

Since the apostles were the only ones who could lay hands on others and give them the power to work miracles, there remained no way of transferring the gifts to others after the apostles died. Eventually, when the last apostle died and when the last person who had previously had the apostles’ hand laid upon him died, miraculous spiritual gifts ceased.

Verse 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.

In this verse Paul shows exactly what he means about the "perfect" (complete) doing away with the "part" (incomplete) concerning spiritual gifts. Paul’s desire is for the Corinthians to understand that their boasting about spiritual gifts was actually boasting about the childhood period of the church. The reference to the period of time when he "became a man" refers to the maturity of the church, accomplished through the completed revelation of God’s word. The Corinthians’ boasting was not a sign of spiritual maturity, but immaturity.

Paul compares spiritual gifts to a child just as he did when he compared new converts to "babes" receiving the milk of God’s word; however, these new converts were expected to mature to the point of receiving the meat of God’s word: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ" (3:1). Just as a child grows from immaturity to maturity, and the new convert grows from receiving the milk of God’s word to the meat of God’s word, so does the incomplete grow to completeness.

When a Christian reaches maturity, he is not expected to return to his previous immature state. For example, in verse 8, Paul named three gifts: "prophecies," "tongues," and "knowledge," which were to vanish away and be replaced with the complete word of God. Paul compares these three temporary gifts that eventually will cease to the actions of a child.

Paul refers to the way a child "spake" (laleo) or talked and also the way a child "understood" (ephroneo). This is the same word translated "thinketh" in verse 5, meaning "to feel (or) to think" (Thayer 658-1-5426). It refers to "mental activity" (Expositor’s Greek Testament 195). Paul also mentions "thought" (logizomai), meaning "reasoned" (Vincent, Vol. III 266) or "suppose, deem, (or) judge" (Thayer 379-1-3049).

These three points allude to the gifts in verse 8. A child, in infancy, "speaks" (representing "prophecies") without complete sentences. During his infancy, because he has not learned, he "understands" (representing "tongues") a minimum amount of what is said through his own babbling. Also, during infancy the child’s "thought" (representing knowledge) is very limited. When this child becomes a man, however, these limited ways will be replaced with mature speaking, understanding, and thinking. The New International Version renders the verse: "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." Simply put, Paul’s message is for the Corinthians to stop being children in boasting about immature things that will eventually cease to exist and grow up to be mature Christians.

Verse 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.

In this verse Paul changes his illustrations from speech to sight by giving two comparisons to illustrate what he is teaching. In the first comparison, Paul refers to all Christians at that time. In the second comparison, he speaks personally as knowing only "in part." Possibly his reason is to give the Corinthians an example to follow. If Paul, an apostle, were able to speak of himself as knowing "in part," then everyone should be able to say the same without shame.

For now we see through a glass, darkly: The pronoun "we" refers to "all Christians" (Bratcher 129). The key words of this verse are the words "now" and "then." The word "now" (arti) means "at this time" (Thayer 75-2-737) and is used in opposition to future time. By the term "now" Paul refers to the present time in which they could "see through a glass (esoptron) ’mirror’ (Thayer 253-1-2072), darkly" or at the time when Paul knew only "in part." Both of these expressions refer to seeing an imperfect reflection. A mirror, in Paul’s day, was not glass as we have today, but a polished metal; therefore, the reflection was not perfect at the very best.

In this illustration Paul speaks of seeing through a glass "darkly" (ainigma) (from which our English word "enigma," meaning riddle, is derived). Possibly Paul is referring to looking into a tarnished metal, therefore, seeing "an obscure thing" (Thayer 16-1-135). Paul may be referring to the language of the Lord in Numbers where he was comparing the way He spoke to some prophets in dreams but more directly to Moses:

And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses" (12:6-8).

The reason those of Paul’s day were spoken of as seeing "through a glass, darkly" and also learning God’s words in dreams and visions is that God’s complete word was not revealed. The word "then" refers to the time of the completion of God’s revelation as is illustrated by the expressions "face to face" and knowing "even as also I am known." When God’s complete instructions are given, then all Christians would be able to "know" all of God’s desires for us.

It is easier to have a correct understanding of Paul’s teaching when we realize that two different terms translated "know" are used. First, Paul says, "now I know in part." The word "know" here is translated from the Greek term ginosko, meaning to "know fragmentarily" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 159). On the other hand, when Paul says, "then shall I know...," he uses the Greek compound word epiginosko, meaning "to become thoroughly acquainted with, to know thoroughly, to know accurately, know well" (Thayer 237-1-1921). Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich define this word as to "know completely, (or) through and through" (290). Paul illustrates that when God’s complete word is revealed, he shall know God’s will "even as" (kathos) he is "known," or even as God can know him. The word "known" (epiginosko) is the same term translated "shall know" used previously in this verse and means "to know accurately" or to "know completely, through and through."

The Apostle Peter also spoke of the time when knowledge was only in part because the apostles’ knowledge depended upon what was revealed unto them.

Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Paul refers to this same teaching again in Ephesians:

If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit (3:2-5).

Verse 13

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity: The word "now" (numi) is different here from the word "now" in verse 12. In this verse the word is not used in opposition to future time but simply means "now, at this very moment" (Thayer 430-2-3570).

The word "abideth" (meno) means "not to perish, to last, (to) stand" (Thayer 399-2-3306). Spiritual gifts (such as prophecies, tongues, and knowledge) will cease when that which is perfect is come, but "faith, hope, (and) charity" will remain in a Christian’s life as long as this world stands.

This verse brings many difficulties to those who teach "that which is perfect" refers to the coming of Christ. Until the return of Christ, we will have "faith." However, as Paul says, "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for" (Romans 8:24). The coming of Christ and our entrance into heaven will do away with "faith" because then we will see the reality. As long as we have "faith," we will also have "hope." To the Hebrews Paul says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (11:1). In other words, we have "faith" and "hope" for eternal things not seen; but when they are seen, faith and hope will be replaced with eternal knowledge. "Charity" will never cease in this life or in the life to come; therefore, Paul refers to it as the "greatest." MacKnight says:

The clause ’now abideth’ implies that these graces (faith, hope and love) are not always to abide; at least the graces of faith and hope shall not abide; for seeing that faith is the persuasion of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1), and hope that is seen is not hope (Romans 8:24); in heaven, where all the objects of our faith and hope are put in our possession, there can be no place for either (246).

faith: "Faith" (pistis) is defined as "conviction or belief...In the New Testament of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and conjoined with it" (Thayer 512-2-4102).

hope: "Hope" (elpis) means "expectation...in the Christian sense (it refers to) joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation" (Thayer 205-2-1680).

charity: "Charity" (agape) is defined as "love" (Thayer 3-2-25). (See verses 1-8 for a complete description and the characteristics of "charity" or love.)

these three; but the greatest of these is charity: The word "greatest" (meizon) refers to "things to be esteemed highly for their...excellence" (Thayer 395-1-3173). The three characteristics (faith, hope, and charity) are wonderful and necessary traits of Christians; however, the "greatest" of the three is "charity." Paul begins this subject of love in 1 Corinthians 12:31 by saying, "Yet show I unto you a more excellent way." Now, he concludes by restating the same truth: "the greatest (most excellent) of these is charity." Coffman writes a description of love as follows:

Why Love Is the Greatest Thing

Love is the fulfillment of the law, which was never true of faith (Romans 13:10).

Love outranks faith in the power to motivate men.

Love includes obedience (John 14:15), which is not true of faith or hope.

Love is the heart of the Great Commandment to love God and one’s neighbor (Mark 12:28-31).

Love shall abide eternally, whereas both faith and hope shall not, except in some exceptional sense.

Love, if lacking in the heart, would be a sufficient deficiency to prevent one’s salvation, even if he possessed ’all faith’ (verse 2).

Love works the greatest miracle of transformation in human hearts, distinguishing it from faith, which exists in some pretty cold fish! (221).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/1-corinthians-13.html. 1993-2022.
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