(e) Spiritual Gifts
(ii) The most excellent Gift of Charity
In this chapter we enter into the purest atmosphere and breathe the most fragrant odours. Passing from the previous chapters with their tale of faction and scandal and shame to this passage with its description of Christian love is like passing from the enchanted ground of the 'Pilgrim's Progress' to the land of Beulah within sight of the Celestial Gate.
The Revised Version reads 'love' for charity throughout the chapter The Gk. word is translated 'love' in most places of the NT., so is the corresponding verb always. The RV change (1) is desirable for consistency; (2) gives the Apostle's meaning better-love being much more than almsgiving or kindly judgment, which are now the usual meaning of 'charity'; (3) shows St. Paul and St. John are agreed in attaching the highest value to love, thus enforcing the 'great commandment of the Law' as declared by our Lord. The Gk. word translated 'charity' in AV does not exist in classical Greek. It is found first in the Septuagint. The corresponding verb means to desire the good of one whom you esteem; and the noun is appropriately applied to the spirit which seeks not its own but others' good, and sacrifices itself for others.
1-3. Great gifts (e.g. tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith) and even good deeds are of no avail without love: cp. Matthew 7:22. What a man is, is more important than what he has.
1. Tongues] the gift the Corinthians most valued. Have not charity] do not use the gift in a spirit of love. Sounding brass] i.e. merely so much noise.
2. All faith] see on 1 Corinthians 12:9. Remove mountains] Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21. St. Paul may have our Lord's words in mind; but it was a proverbial expression.
3. These actions would seem works of love, but may spring merely from ostentation or vainglory.
Give my body] A still greater instance of self-devotion. To be burned] Some MSS have, 'give my body that I may boast,' in self-approval.
4-7. The character and actions of Love.
4. Vaunteth not itself] does not make a display. Puffed up] i.e. conceited.
5. Seeketh not her own] i.e. her own advantage (1 Corinthians 10:24, 1 Corinthians 10:33).
Thinketh no evil] RV 'taketh not account of evil'; does not reckon up her grievances.
6. Rejoiceth not in iniquity] i.e. in hearing or telling of others' faults or follies. In (RV 'with') the truth] i.e. in the spread and victory of truth and right.
7. Beareth] without breaking down. Believeth all things] is not suspicious; puts the best construction on things.
Endureth] without giving up.
8-13. Love is eternal. Other gifts, knowledge, prophecy, tongues serve but a temporary purpose. 'They are only means towards an end. Love remains the completion and perfection of our human being' (F. W. Robertson).
9. In part] partially, imperfectly.
11. When I was a child] an illustration of 1 Corinthians 13:10. Understood] RV 'felt.'
12. Through a glass] RV 'in a mirror,' seeing only a reflection, not the actual reality. Ancient mirrors were of metal (cp. Exodus 38:8), often reflecting imperfectly.
Darkly] lit. 'in a riddle,' taught by hints and metaphors. Our knowledge of divine things is necessarily imperfect; much is not revealed, much only partially; we have to use earthly and human figures and language to express eternal truths. Know even as also I am known] 'Then shall I plainly know spiritual things with a knowledge like that of God' (Stevens); or,' even as God knows me.'
15. Now abideth] Probably meaning not 'these three exist now, but finally love alone will remain'; but, 'the fact is that these three alone are eternal.' Faith (confidence in God) will continue in the next life: so will hope (expectation of future good); for that life will be one of progress not stagnation. The greatest of these is charity] RV 'love.' For love is the mainspring of faith and hope; and 'God is love.'
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter