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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 13

Godbey's Commentary on the New TestamentGodbey's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

1. If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Divine love, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” Oh, how many sad verifications of this truth! Young Samson’s starting out and slaying the devil’s lions on all sides, and fattening on the honey out of the carcasses! A decade has rolled away; they have fallen victims to high steeple and official board, become popular metropolitan pastors. Behold! their power is gone! To be sure, the cornstalk fiddles on which they play magnetize the carnal and electrify the respectable. But these poor fellows have lost their Samsonian locks on the lap of the world’s Delilah, and are whiling away their weary years grinding in the mills of Dagon.

Verse 2

2. Though I have prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have faith so as to remove mountains, and have not Divine love, I am nothing.” Here is a case of a man having four of these wonderful, extraordinary spiritual gifts, i. e., prophecy, wisdom, knowledge and faith, and yet, like Balaam, whose beautiful and transcendent eloquence charms every Bible reader, must make his bed in Hell. You must keep up the distinction here incessantly between the gifts and the graces; e. g., we see in this case the man has faith; if he had the grace of faith, he would be saved; but Paul is not talking about the grace of faith, but the gift, which has no salvation in it for its possessor, while its province is to save others. Many souls have been saved through the instrumentality of people who, at that time, themselves were not saved. The truth is the instrument of salvation on condition of faith. God will honor His own truth though preached by the devil. Hence, many a man instrumental in saving a few souls preaches his way down to Hell. In my own observation I once knew a notorious drunkard who was a very powerful preacher. I have known him to go away in a strange place and keep sober till he could have a sweeping revival, and I have personally known some of his converts bearing the beautiful fruits of righteousness. John A. Murrill, a noted highway robber, was a powerful preacher, frequently going into a strange place, raising a great stir, getting all the people down on their knees, and exhorting them with all his might to give their hearts to the Lord and get converted, meanwhile his clan out stealing their horses. This chapter, which is parenthetical on grace, by which we are saved, and without which we are lost, even though possessing rare and valuable gifts, specifies nothing but the Divine love, which is really comprehensive of all the graces of the Spirit, agapee being generic, while the subordinate graces are specific; e. g., humility is love at the feet of Jesus; patience is love enduring; long-suffering is love on trial; faith is love on the battlefield, and hope is love in anticipation. Hence all the graces are resolvable into love.

Verse 3

3. Though I give all my gifts to feed the poor, and my body to be burned, and have not love, I am profited as to nothing.” You see this verse flatly contradicts the E.V. translation, “charity,” as the person here described as not having “charity” would necessarily be the most charitable person in all the world. The Bible nowhere contradicts itself, hence you may rest assured that “charity” is a wrong translation, because it makes that verse flatly and irreconcilably contradictory of itself.

Verse 4

4. Divine love suffereth long, Divine love is kind.” When John Wesley was attacked by the mob, which knocked out the lights and stampeded his congregation, and, seizing him, dragged him away into a back alley, and beat him till they thought he was dead, lying there in his blood till day, he composed that beautiful hymn in the Methodist collection, “Shall Simon bear the cross alone, and all the world go free?” thus beautifully exhibiting this grace of long-suffering accompanied by the beautiful and amiable grace of disinterested kindness. A relative of my dear wife in Kentucky, in her innocent maidenhood captured by an unworthy young man who made a fine show, presenting a noble exterior, but clandestinely loved whisky, entered into wedlock with this man, who proved an awful scourge. Becoming a besotted drunkard, he, instead of providing for his family, was a dead expense on them. Years roll away, and the well-to-do Methodist father loses his patience, saying: “Nanny, I am willing to feed you and your children, but I am done feeding that drunkard! You must come away to my house and leave him forever.” Poverty and hardship had already been signally blessed in the sanctification of the innocent girl, brought up in a religious home amid peace and plenty. Though unconscious of the fact, she had actually received from the Holy Ghost the gift of faith for the salvation of her husband. Therefore she said, “No, father, I love George and feel that the Lord is going to save him, so I can not leave him.” The old man stuck to his vow and let them take chances on the starvation line. They are crowded out of town and occupy a cabin in the country which had been built for colored people in slavery time. Wintry winds swept through and the summer heat was unrelieved by a shade-tree. Years roll on, and pinching poverty is walking roughshod over Nanny and her little ones. Brother Rushing, a sanctified circuit-rider, whom I well know, is sent into that country, and begins diligently to hunt up everybody. Having made an appointment for night preaching at the school-house, he calls on them in the afternoon, finding nothing but rags, poverty and misery. He talks to them kindly, inviting them to go to meeting that night. George bluntly drawls out in drunken dialect, “I never goes to meeting,” while Nanny observes that they have no clothes to wear away from home, and can not go. The preacher has actually come after them, and he holds a tight grip on them, turning a deaf ear to every excuse. He had come after them, so he took them with him to the school-house, having already prevailed in prayer for them. He preaches with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, every moment clinging to Jesus for the poor drunkard. The lightning strikes his heart and he comes to the altar. The people, having no confidence in the poor, hopeless drunkard, go away in disgust. Nanny and the preacher linger on the dirty floor, praying for him till the morning hours supersede the midnight, when the poor victim of the whisky devil lays hold on the Omnipotent hand of the sinner’s Friend with the grip of a drowning man, thus passing triumphantly into life. Going home, instead of going to bed, he whets his ax by day dawn, and the neighbors are astonished to hear the roar of his ax and the crash of trees all day long, and see his brush burning all night; he clears up the rich valley, first leasing and then purchasing, turns it into a grand meadow, and covers the hills with the waving wheat fields and gigantic corn, giving to everything the aspect of teeming prosperity. He builds a comfortable mansion, the delightful retreat of the Lord’s weary pilgrims, who there find Christian hospitality. Five years roll away, and he has proven the best steward the Methodist church ever had. Now he says to the quarterly conference: “The night the Lord converted me in the school-house He called me to preach, but I said, ‘I am too old and illiterate; excuse me, I will make the best steward I possibly can. ‘Brethren, you know I have done it, but God will not excuse me any longer, I have to preach.” So they gave him license, and from that day he has been a powerful local Holiness evangelist, working hard and making a good living, and at the same time preaching the gospel and bringing many to God. All this was because Nanny suffered long and was kind. “Love has neither envy, jealousy nor prejudice.” I so translate because the Greek word here used by Paul has all of these meanings. This Divine love is free from all malevolent affection, such as envy, jealousy and revenge. You delight in your neighbor’s prosperity, glad to see him move on ahead of you, as you can climb Jacob’s ladder more successfully amid the inspiration of your predecessors. While you are free from all envy, yet you are determined to do your best, and, if possible, outstrip all your comrades. Prejudice is a compound of two Latin words, pre, beforehand, and judis, judgment. Hence it means giving your decision before you hear the evidence. I heard of a judge from the Emerald Isle who always made it a rule to give his verdict when he had heard one side of the evidence, observing that if he waited to hear the other he would not know how to decide. “Love is also happily free from all retaliatory feelings;” like Jesus, who prayed for his murderers. “Does not display itself.” This statement sweeps away all needless ornamentation, such as finery and jewelry, pomp and parade for the sake of show. It also knocks off the costly church spires, Gothic domes, frescoed ceilings, and memorial windows, which cost bushels of the Lord’s money, so much needed to save the poor, perishing heathens. “It is not puffed up.” Carnality is easily miffed, ready to swell up like a toad if you touch it. When I was a little boy, never cruel enough to hurt anything, but I would touch the toad with a stick to see him swell. He seemed like he would burst. You must have Satan’s toad sanctified out of you so you will not be fastidious, ready to swell up when you think you are slighted. “Does not behave itself unseemly.” i. e., indecorously. This Divine love makes you a gentleman or a lady; you need not the devil’s dancing-master nor the devil’s fandangoes to teach your children politeness. Get them genuinely converted to God and sweetly sanctified by His grace, and you will find them paragons of urbanity and adepts in courtesy. “Seeketh not her own.” This Divine love is the very antithesis of carnal pleasure in all its forms and phases. So you are very likely to become oblivious to your own interest watching that of another, much preferring any little mistake that happens to be made to be against you, as self-denial is the safe side of every doubtful case. “It is not provoked.” It is said that King James’ translators added the word “easily” which occurs in the E.V., through deference to their king, who was known to have a high temper. Suffice it to say, “easily” is an interpolation, having been added by a human hand without Divine authority. So accept the truth, and rest assured that Divine love does not get angry. When the outbreak of anger comes, love is no longer holding the fort, which has been stormed and captured by the enemy. First, love conquers all malevolent affection and keep it down by the grace of God, so it does not come to the front and put forth overt action. always condemnatory; while it is the glorious province of perfect love to eradicate all the malevolent affections, so they rise no more to disturb the perfect peace which reigns within. It you have not this Divine love, you are no Christian. If you have it, you are not provoked, i. e., you do not give away to evil temper, in any of its forms or phases. “Thinketh no evil;” i. e., if you are in possession of this Divine love, which is the very nature of God, you think no evil, i. e., evil thoughts do not originate in your mind or rise from your heart. It does not mean that you do not think of evil. The world is full of it, crowding on you from every point of the compass. John Wesley beautifully said: “You can not keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from lighting down and making nests in your hair.” This illustration is easily appropriated. You can not keep evil thoughts from coming to you, and knocking for admission at the door of your heart, but you can keep from opening the door and letting them in. Sam Jones says: “The devil is too polite to stay where he is not welcome.” Turn over the key of your heart to Jesus, and He will lock it against all evil. Then give Him the key to keep, and rest assured He will never open the door to the ingress of an evil spirit. When Bunyan’s pilgrim was on his way to the Celestial City, on one occasion he was attacked by a cohort of devils who tormented him exceedingly. Among other devices, one of them slipped up behind him, whispering awful blasphemous obscenities in his ear, till he almost went into bewilderment thinking they were from his own heart and panic-stricken with the idea that such hideous corruption was there; but gloriously relieved to find out that it was not there at all, but it came from the filthy demon. The intrusion of evil thoughts upon your mind involve you in no more responsibility than hearing profanity which you can not help, as you are in no way responsible for the coming of these evil thoughts, but only for their admission and encouragement.

Verse 6

6. Rejoiceth not in unrighteousness.” The true saint of God never enjoys anything which is not right in the sight of the Heavenly Father. It is impossible for a profane or obscene anecdote to bring entertainment or enjoyable amusement to the sanctified heart. During the Confederate War, one day a Federal officer came rushing into General Grant’s headquarters in a great glee, saying, “Oh! I have something wonderfully good to tell you,” and at the same time looking around and observing, “I believe there are no ladies present?” At this moment the old General interrupts: “But I will let you know there are gentlemen present.” The hint was taken and the joke was never told. At that time General Grant did not profess Christianity, but still he claimed to be as virtuous as a woman, and unwilling to hear what it would not do for a woman to hear. God’s love, which is His own nature, can never rejoice in anything that is known to be wrong, but in every case assumes a condemnatory attitude. Who can not see the damaging influence of all church festivals and frolics, chilling out the fire of the Holy Ghost, and transforming the church into a Polar iceberg? The genuine article of Christianity puts its veto indiscriminately on everything that is wrong, but rejoiceth in the truth. The real Christian rejoices in the truth of God. though it digs your creed up by the roots, decapitates your idols, smashes your theory, and revolutionizes you life. The real Christian asks but this question, “Is it true? Is this the word of God?” If an honest heart, enlightened by the open Bible, God’s Spirit and Providence, responds in the affirmative the question is settled. That soul acquiesces in the whole truth of God, fearless of men and devils, creeds, confessions, tradition, home influence, the opposition of the pastor, the official board, and the membership to the contrary notwithstanding. The real Christian wants nothing but the truth as it is in Jesus. He has no ax to grind, no party nor denomination to sustain; everything with him goes up or down with the truth of God.

Verse 7

7. It beareth all things,” i. e., flickers at nothing, remembering that Jesus bore the cross till He broke down under it, then the strong Cyrenean relieved him. So we have nothing to do but bear everything God permits to come on us; then we are certain to get help when we break down. “ Believeth all things;” i. e., the true love of God which makes you a Christian, and without which you are a reprobate, does not simply believe the part of the Bible that suits you, leaving out the doctrine of Hell, but believes everything you read in the Bible whether you under stand it or not, remembering you are not saved by knowledge, but by faith. You are not responsible for not understanding everything in the Bible, but you are for not believing it. “He that believeth not shall be damned.” “ Hopeth all things.” If you have the true love of God in your heart, you give up nobody to the devil. You know you have an Omnipotent Savior who can save the vilest of the vile. Consequently you “hope on, hope ever, despond none, despair never.” “ Endureth all things.” Divine love endureth all things for Christ’s sake. Keep your eye on the great Exemplar, who for us endured all things, and the mighty host of martyrs who followed on in His track, sealing their faith with their blood. This verse settles the question as to perfect love in this chapter, as here we have four superlative complements in these four clauses, thus confirming, beyond the possibility of cavil, the perfection of the Divine love here described. This Divine agapee is first, love in regeneration and perfect love in sanctification, the four superlative complements in the seventh verse illustrating the fact of its use in the superlative degree throughout the chapter.

Verse 8

8. Love never faileth.” Here we have the hard shell religion that never falls from grace. This Divine “love never faileth.” Hence you have nothing to do but get it and keep it, and you will never fall. Perfect humility, always involved in perfect love, puts you down on the Lord’s bottom and keeps you there, whence there is no falling, since you are on the bottom and there is no place to fall to. “ Where there be prophecy, they shall be done away ” Why? Prophecy is the spiritual gift qualifying to preach and teach salvation generally. When we pass out of this world we will find no lost souls to be saved, hence no one to preach to. So of course all preaching will cease. “ Whether there be tongues, they shall cease.” We will not need mortal language in Heaven, where everything is purely spiritual. When Paul was there (2 Corinthians 12:0) he heard things impossible to utter. Mortal language is utterly inadequate to cover the ineffable realities of Heavenly glory. Our language here signifying spiritual things is mainly symbolic, because while in these bodies it is so difficult for us to conceive pure spiritualities. When we pass into the purely spiritual world we will all use the language of the angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim. “ Where there be knowledge. it shall be done away.” Do not misunderstand this.

You will not forfeit any of your attainments in the acquisition of knowledge, but retain them all, and add to your investment with paradoxical rapidity. You must remember he is not speaking of your acquired knowledge, but the spiritual gift denominated knowledge, and here under discussion with the other eight. This gift means insight into God’s revealed Word to enable you to understand the Bible. This will be done away, and for the good reason that we will not take our Bibles to Heaven. We will not need material eyes there and we will have no Bible to read, hence we will not need that gift whose immediate province is to reveal to us the truth as given in our Bibles. Instead of studying Paul’s epistles, we will have Paul himself, and not need his letters, which he wrote to lead us to Heaven.

Now that we are there we no longer need the way-bill. Doubtless we will learn more in a single hour after we get to Heaven than we have ever known before in all our lives. When we pass out of the body memory will be so quickened that all the blessed truth we have forgotten will come back vivid and bright, to abide forever. What a glory to hear Paul preach after he has spent nineteen hundred years in the universities of Heaven! How glorified Paul will eclipse sanctified Paul! What a wonderful teacher Father Adam will be! How I will be delighted to hear him describe Eden before the Fall and tell how long he lived in it! How wonderfully can Enoch tell us about the antediluvian world, and Noah about the Flood! Daniel about the lions’ den, and the Hebrew children about the fiery furnace! How I will delight to hear Gabriel tell about my Lord’s first advent, and Michael about the second! How unutterably delectable to wing my flight escorted by radiant angels through trackless ether to some grand celestial world contemplated through the telescope when a boy!

Verse 9

9. We now know in part.” All of our knowledge here is fragmentary, but gleams of light amid worlds of darkness; the brightest light attainable here but as a dim star, contrasted with the meridian sun in his noonday glory, when compared to the unutterable effulgence of Heavenly day. “We prophesy Our efforts to understand the mysteries of godliness revealed in the Bible are only calculated to flood us with the humiliating realization of our ignorance. Sir Isaac Newton, the greatest philosopher of modern times, said he felt like a little boy on the shore of time, picking up a pebble or a shell here and there, while the mighty deep rolled before him unexplored. Socrates, the greatest philosopher of the ancient world, said: “This much do I know, I know nothing. “


Verse 10

10. When that which is perfect may come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” Many sanctified preachers proclaim this as Christian perfection, which is a mistake and calculated to do harm by putting the standard so high that none can reach it, and thus discouraging the honest aspirants after that reflection without which no one shall see the Lord. Divine perfection belongs to God only, and is absolute. The perfection belongs to the glorified state, including the unfallen angels, and glorified humanity. The soul is glorified by the Holy Ghost simultaneously with its evacuation of the body. the mind being glorified at the same time. The body has two ways to enter the glorified state:

(a) Translation like Enoch and Elijah, and all of the saints on the earth at the Rapture, and doubtless many in the Millennial ages; and

(b) the resurrection.

In Philippians 3:12 Paul is speaking of the glorified perfection which he had not yet attained, and in Philippians 3:15 the Christian perfection, which he that time enjoyed. As you see, he claims the latter, but disclaims the former. When our Savior was interviewed in reference to the woman who had survived her seventh husband, whose wife she should be in the resurrection, he answered “They will be as the angels of God,” Greek, isio aggeloi. Isoi means “like” and it means “equal,” involving the conclusion that we will be like the angels and equal to them in the glorified state. Hence, while sanctification confers on us Christian perfection, glorification imparts angelic perfection. Justification takes away our guilt. sanctification our depravity, and glorification our infirmities. Critics are hard on sanctification, because they sometimes see their infirmities, which carnal people think sanctification takes away. In this they are mistaken. Glorification must do this work. These infirmities are not sin, but the effects of sin, through the collateral influence of the mind and body. Consequently we are in constant liability to do wrong aiming to do right, thus committing sins of ignorance, which do not bring condemnation, though they need the atonement, which reaches them in its normal efficacy like infants; God, in His great mercy, frequently not revealing them to us at the time lest they make us blue, and somewhat disqualify us to do the work He has given us. It is very afflictive to the cause of Christian holiness to include all of these Scriptures on the perfection of glory in sanctification.

John Wesley said: “Putting the standard too high is the greatest of all errors, as it is calculated to drive the experience out of the world” by putting it so high that none can reach it. The Holiness people much need instruction on the perfection of glory and the spiritual gifts, as they are so likely to include them both in sanctification, not only discouraging themselves, but others, and, as Wesley says, “grieving those whom God has not grieved, and perhaps sending them to Hell.” Christian living, i. e., purity of heart and life, is indispensable to admission into Heaven, but glorified perfection and the spiritual gifts are not. The spiritual gifts are not necessary to qualify you for Heaven, but for usefulness in this world, that you may be instrumental in saving others. Glorified perfection you can not rely on this mortal body. If you are truly sanctified, i. e., your heart cleansed, you are sure to be the body. So you actually go to Heaven in the enjoyment of glorified perfection, all of your infirmities swept away forever. Here you see the survival of all the spiritual gifts when “that which is perfect is come.” The connection shows that this is perfect love which is described constantly in the preceding part of the chapter, the seventh verse showing conclusively that the Divine love, incessantly emphasized, is in the superlative degree, i. e., perfect love. Again, these spiritual gifts are the constituted concomitants of Christian perfection, in order to the greatest possible efficiency of the saints in the salvation of the world.

Verse 11

11. When I was an infant, I thought as an infant, I spoke as an infant, I reasoned as infant; when I became a man, I put away the things of the infant.” Here we have an example of Pauline hyperbole perhaps unsurpassed. He draws a picture in which we see the baby soul in his yard in Tarsus, amid the vernal flowers, astride a stick-horse, riding around in swaddling clothes, hunting June-bugs and chasing butterflies. Then we see a photograph of Paul the apostle, standing on the Areopagus, preaching to the Athenian philosophers, orators, poets and statesmen, the most learned audience addressed by a gospel herald in four thousand years. Now the curtain falls and he appears to our spiritual vision, quickened by the infinite possibilities of grace and glory, looking away to the heights of immortality, and contemplating glorified Paul, as far ahead of the Gentile apostle on the Areopagus as the champion scholar, theologian and apostle is ahead of the swaddling infant chasing the butterflies. Who is equal to these things? Surely the wonderful supernatural spiritual gifts go into eclipse amid the unutterable splendors of glorification. This bold Pauline symbolism sweeps us away into the illimitable possibilities of eternally involving and unfolding developments, contemporaneously with the cycles of celestial ages.

Verse 12

12. For now we see through a mirror in an enigma.” They had no glass in Paul’s day, but used polished metals as mirrors which were very imperfect. Hence the brightest spiritual light shining material bodies is but a dim, twinkling star contrasted with the meridian sun in his noonday splendor antithetical to the glory of the celestial worlds. “ Now I know in part then shall I know perfectly even as I am also perfectly known.” E.V. does not well bring out this wonderful passage, forever settling the question of spiritual recognition in the disembodied as well as the resurrection state. We will not only know and recognize, but while it is here only partial, there it will be perfect, as that is a perfect world. Hence everything there, having been shadowy here, will be perfect.

Verse 13

13. Now faith, hope, love, these three: but the greater of these is love.” The poet says, “faith is lost in sight, and hope in full fruition dies;” but I would rather believe the inspired Paul, who here certifies the eternal survival of faith and hope, as well as love; while this Divine love, constituting the essence of the Divine nature, will fill the celestial universe, perfectly interpenetrating celestial beings, human and angelic, constituting the very atmosphere of Heaven, inundating the universe with unfathomable oceans of pure, holy love, in which saints and angels will flood and bask forever. Faith is the umbilical cord identifying the Heavenly universe with the Almighty, the ineffable Source of all life, spiritual and material, and constituting the bond of universal loyalty to the Heavenly Theocracy, and at the same time effecting constant connection with the omnipotence of the Almighty adequate to every enterprise within the range of finite beings. What will be the province of hope when we shall have glory and immortality forever? One must remember that Heaven is not a place of inactivity, but infinite and illimitable progress. Hope is the pioneer and faith the engine of power in conception and execution of Heavenly as well as earthly enterprises. Here our aspirations are awfully chilled by the limitations of mortality, constantly cutting down our aspirations by the certainty of speedy removal out of this world. Not so in the glorified state, where we can deliberately embark in enterprises requiring a million of years to consummate, and that inconceivable period will be but a little interval in the flight of eternal ages. With the wonderful facilities of the Heavenly universe, countless and illimitable solar systems revealing millions of immortal worlds through the interminable ethereal void, how infinitely delectable the privilege of flying from world to world and system to system and exploring the wonders of the boundless universe, and cultivating the acquaintances of the multiplied millions of unfallen intelligences who wing their flight to the celestial capital, and with adoring wonder contemplate the ineffable glories of Omnipotence Inconceivable are the possibilities of the Heavenly enterprises which await us in the evolution of imperishable intelligence and culture amid the boundless facilities of the eternal development, available under the leadership of the Almighty, and through instructions of glorified patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, saints, angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim, in the fruition of that immortality that will fly with the velocity of lightning, never grow weary and never sleep. Hope’s eagle eye will eternally conceive to explore new fields of immortal interest, and flood the soul with new and illimitable enterprises, while faith, fast hold of the Omnipotent arm, will command and utilize the power and availability commensurate with eternal aspiration.

Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ges/1-corinthians-13.html.
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