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DIVISION VI ABOUT THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS CHAPTERS 12-14
SECTION 22 — THE ONE SPIRIT GIVEN TO ALL IMPARTS TO EACH A SPECIAL GIFT CH. 12:1-11
About the Spiritual Gifts, brothers, I do not wish you to be ignorant. You know that when you were Gentiles, men led away you were after the voiceless idols, as it might be that you were led. For which cause I make known to you that no one speaking in the Spirit of God says, Anathema* (*Or, Accursed.) Jesus. And no one can say, Lord Jesus, except in the Holy Spirit.
But varieties of gifts of grace there are; but the same Spirit. And varieties of ministries there are; and the same Lord. And varieties of works done there are; but the same God who works all things in all.
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit, with a view to profit. For, to one through the Spirit is given a word of wisdom; to another, a word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: to a different one faith, in the same Spirit; to another, gracious gifts of healing, in the same Spirit; to another, workings of miracles ; (In Greek, powers.) to another prophecy; to another discernings of spirits: to a different one, kinds of tongues; and to another, interpretation of tongues. All these works the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one individually, according as He pleases.
An entirely new subject, occupying DIV. VI. Compare 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 8:1. At the close of it Paul corrects two abuses in church-meetings, each connected with this subject, in addition to those corrected in DIV. V. But the cursory, though appropriately placed, mention of them, suggests that they were not the chief motive for this important Division of the Epistle. And the matter-of-fact introduction of the subject, taken together with 1 Corinthians 7:1, suggests that it was mentioned in the letter from Corinth.
1 Corinthians 12:1. Spiritual gifts, or spiritual-things: Romans 1:11; Romans 15:27; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 9:11; 1 Corinthians 10:3 f; 1 Corinthians 14:1; etc: things pertaining to, i.e. bestowed by, the Spirit of God, 1 Corinthians 12:3 f. The lists in 1 Corinthians 12:7 ff, 1 Corinthians 12:28 ff, show that the word is used here as a technical term for the special and various capacities for Christian work, ordinary or extraordinary, with which the Spirit enriches those in whom He dwells. This technical sense was very appropriate. For, these capacities were a conspicuous proof that they who possessed them were animated by a spirit higher than their own.
This new subject suggests to Paul, by contrast, the powerlessness of idolatry, 1 Corinthians 12:2. He begins it by stating the relation between inward spiritual gifts and the historic Jesus, 1 Corinthians 12:3; and the variety and the one source of these gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; of which he gives examples, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. As in the human body various powers, all needful, are variously allotted, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; so in the church, 1 Corinthians 12:28-30. Yet some gifts are greater than others, 1 Corinthians 12:31 : and love is both the best way to the greater gifts and itself greater than the greatest of them, 1 Corinthians 13. Prophecy is more useful, and therefore more to be desired, than speaking with tongues, 1 Corinthians 14:1-25. The possession of gifts is no excuse for disorder, 1 Corinthians 14:26-39.
1 Corinthians 12:2. The new powers, far surpassing man’s natural power, possessed by the early Christians, remind Paul, by contrast, of the worthless images of heathendom, whose unreasoning votaries his readers formerly were.
Voiceless: a conspicuous proof of worthlessness, (Habakkuk 2:18 f; 3 Maccabees 4:16,) in contrast to the new powers of speech so characteristic of early Christianity. That idols cannot speak, proves that they cannot hear and understand.
Led, led away; graphic picture of the unreasoning action, and the bondage, of idolaters, While frequenting the temples, and following the processions, of heathenism they were really surrendering themselves to the guidance of an unseen power operating upon them as circumstances or events might determine. Men are idolaters usually not by their own choice, but by circumstances. In Ephesians 2:2 f we have a similar contrast of past and present.
1 Corinthians 12:3. Their unfavorable former position moves Paul to instruct them in the matter before us. This suggests the disadvantage, for understanding Christianity, of converts from heathenism as compared with those who, like Paul and Timothy, had been trained from childhood in the Jewish Scriptures.
Speaking in the Spirit of God: moved, guided, and controlled by the Spirit, as in Romans 8:15; Matthew 22:43. Cp. 2 Samuel 23:2.
Anathema: as in Romans 9:3. The Spirit never moves a man to say that Jesus is under the curse of God. Cp. 1 John 4:2 f.
No one can say etc.: It is absolutely impossible for any one not moved by the Spirit to look up to Jesus and call Him “Master,” meaning what he says; i.e. to look at Jesus with the feelings with which we look at earthly masters, waiting for commands and expecting reward.
Jesus: appropriately used, twice, to designate our Lord as a man among men.
This verse embodies two important principles already asserted in 1 Corinthians 2:10-16, viz. that inward spiritual life is always in harmony with historic Christianity, i.e. that the Spirit of God, who is the animating principle of all devotion to God, ever leads men to recognize the claims of the carpenter of Nazareth; and that without the inward presence of the Spirit none can recognize rightly these claims. This latter principle implies that every one who looks up to Jesus and from the heart calls Him Master (cp. 1 Corinthians 1:2) possesses the inward presence of the Spirit, and therefore possesses a measure of capacity for Christian work. Upon this broad basis rests the whole teaching of 1 Corinthians 12.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6. Variety in the just-mentioned unity, and emphatic reassertion of the unity.
Gifts-of-grace: technical use, as in 1 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 12:30 f, Romans 12:6; 1 Peter 4:10; corresponding with the technical use of spiritual things in 1 Corinthians 12:1. See Romans 1:11. Instead of giving to one man the whole round of the capacities which His favor prompts Him to bestow, the One Spirit who dwells in all believers gives different capacities to different men.
Ministries: see under Romans 12:7 : the various positions and kinds of work allotted by the One Master to His various servants, requiring from each some work for the common good. The technical sense “deacon” is forbidden here by the breadth of the statement. Cp. 1 Peter 4:10.
Lord, or Master; correlative to ministry, and pointing to “Lord Jesus” in 1 Corinthians 12:3. See under Romans 1:4.
Works-done: results produced, corresponding to works all things. Whatever is done in any one is done by the Father, who sent His Son to be our Master, and His Spirit to be the motive principle of our life. Thus, as usual, Paul leads us up to the presence of the Father; and lingers there. Moreover, that the gifts are from the spirit and that the ministries are service to Christ, is evident: but it is needful to say expressly that the results achieved are wrought by the Father.
Notice the rising climax, revealing the relation of these various gifts to the three persons of the Trinity, and culminating in the presence of Him who is Supreme even in the Godhead. Cp. Ephesians 4:4 ff. Paul has already said that the Holy Spirit, who dwells in all believers, ever moves them to call Jesus their Master. But their capacities are different, fitting them for different kinds of service, and producing different kinds of results. Yet all the capacities come from one Spirit: the different kinds of service are for the same Master: and the different results are produced by the same First Cause.
1 Corinthians 12:7. Each-one: emphatic, repeated in 1 Corinthians 12:11, and leading on to “all” (three times) in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. Not only (1 Corinthians 12:3) does every servant of Christ possess the Spirit, but amid various gifts, kinds of service, and results produced, every one has some capacity for usefulness.
Is-given: i.e. day by day; not once for all as bodily capacities are given. Only so far as each moment the Spirit works in us can we do spiritual work.
Manifestation of the Spirit: (2 Corinthians 4:2, see under Romans 1:19 :) the Holy Spirit dwelling in each believer and made apparent by the capacities for usefulness which He imparts.
With a view to profit: i.e. benefit to the church arising from gifts possessed by each member. This leads towards the argument of 1
Corinthians 12:21-26. Each has a capacity for usefulness, an outflow of the Spirit, given to him for the general good.
1 Corinthians 12:8-10. List of gifts, in support of 1 Corinthians 12:7, making very prominent that all come from the One Spirit. The list is broken up, by a slight verbal change, into three series: intellectual gifts, wisdom and knowledge, 1 Corinthians 12:8; gifts conspicuously miraculous, under the heading of faith, 1 Corinthians 12:9-10 a; gifts connected with tongues, 1 Corinthians 12:10 b.
Word of wisdom: not the same (cp. 1 Corinthians 1:5) as wisdom; mentioned specially here because it is in the utterance (cp. 1 Corinthians 2:13) of wisdom that the Spirit within is manifested to those around.
Wisdom and knowledge: found together in Romans 11:33; Colossians 2:3; Ecclesiastes 1:16; Ecclesiastes 1:18; Ecclesiastes 2:21; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 9:10. Cp. Colossians 1:9; Philippians 1:9. The difference is difficult to mark in exact detail; but, in broad outline, is quite clear. Knowledge is mere acquaintance with things past present, or future. Wisdom is, from the Christian point of view, such a direct grasp of underlying principles and eternal realities as enables a man to choose the right goal and the best path in life. See note under 1 Corinthians 2:5. Paul’s readers were rich in knowledge: and (1 Corinthians 8:2) it tended to inflate them. But he could not (1 Corinthians 2:6) speak to them wisdom: nor does wisdom ever inflate. Wisdom, as the highest mental excellence may be distinguished, as here, from knowledge: from “understanding,” (Colossians 1:9,) a capacity for interpreting the details of daily life; and from “prudence,” (Ephesians 1:8,) a thoughtful capacity for choosing the best means for any ends we have in view. [For the distinction as understood by the Greeks, Aristotle, Nicom, Ethics bk. vi. 5-10 is very instructive.]
Through according to, in the Spirit: three aspects conspicuously put, of the relation of these gifts to the Spirit. He is the channel through which they come, the standard with which they agree, and the element in which they are possessed and used. Only by the operation of the Spirit, can we understand the words of spiritual men, and thus take up knowledge, i.e. learn what they knew before us: and this communication of knowledge accords with the nature of the spirit; as does the revelation of the deeper mysteries of wisdom.
1 Corinthians 12:9-10 a. Second series of gifts.
Faith: belief, not of the Gospel, (for this is, to all Christians, the one source of all Christian life and usefulness, Romans 12:3,) but of some special revelation not given to all. Its position at the head of the second series, suggests a connection with the gifts which follow. And 1 Corinthians 13:2 suggests a special relation to the next pair of gifts. Power to work miracles was probably, according to an abiding principle (Matthew 9:29) of the Gospel, conditional on faith. We can conceive that God revealed to a man His will to work a miracle through his hands; and that, if the revelation was embraced with confident assurance, the miracle followed. In 2 Kings 2:14 the effort of such faith, and in Acts 3:6 its confident assurance, find voice. Probably, as in the latter case, the faith of the worker was usually a conspicuous accompaniment of the miracle. Hence the special mention of faith here.
In the same Spirit: as the surrounding element and the divine source of confident assurance that God will fulfill His promise, i.e. in this case, His promise to work a miracle through the believers agency. See under Romans 12:3; 2 Corinthians 4:13.
Gifts of healings: in the plural, because each cure was a special and fresh gift of God.
In the One Spirit: is the one source of the many cures wrought by many persons. These words are not repeated, because it is quite evident that they are true of all the following gifts.
Workings of powers: any other supernatural manifestation of God’s power, beside the healing of diseases. Probably cures were mentioned first as being the most common kind of miracle.
Prophecy: an utterance of truth under a special, and probably temporary, influence of the Spirit. See note, 1 Corinthians 14:40.
Discernment: power to distinguish the Holy Spirit’s voice from that of evil spirits. Akin to “discern” in 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Corinthians 11:29; 1 Corinthians 11:31; and in the same sense. Cp. 1 John 4:1.
Spirits: a general term, as in 1 John 4:1. When men spoke under the influence of a spirit other than their own, it was needful to determine its nature.
It is not unlikely that this second pair of gifts was, like the first pair, a manifestation of faith in a special and personal revelation; that God first revealed to a man His purpose to make him a mouthpiece of the Spirit or a judge of the professedly inspired words of another man, and then fulfilled His purpose in proportion to the man’s faith. Faith is not conspicuously at the head of this second series of gifts, probably because these were occasional manifestations of the spirit, preceded by belief of a special revelation; whereas, in the word of wisdom etc., as a more abiding endowment, faith was less conspicuous though doubtless always present as an essential condition. The gift of tongues possibly was not preceded by a special revelation.
1 Corinthians 12:10 b. A third series.
Gifts of tongues etc.: see note under 1 Corinthians 14:40.
1 Corinthians 12:11. Repeats, after a survey of the different kinds of gifts, the chief thought of 1 Corinthians 12:4-10, viz. that the various capacities for usefulness have one source, the Holy Spirit.
Dividing: cognate to “varieties” in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, marking the end of the matter there introduced.
Individually: so that each has a gift of his own.
As He likes; asserts emphatically that the distribution of the gifts springs simply and only from the sovereign choice of the Spirit.
He: or It: see Romans 8:16. The original has no pronoun. That the Spirit has a will, and is yet in 1 Corinthians 12:4 ff distinguished from and placed side by side of, the Father and the Son, implies clearly that He is a Person distinct from Them, and that the words Spirit of God are not a mere description of the Father as animating men. For to have a Will is the essence of personality. Still more clearly is this implied in the words of Christ recorded in John 16:13 : “He will not speak prompted by Himself; but as many things as He may hear He will speak.” For He who can listen to the Father must be a person distinct from Him. Again, since the Spirit possesses the entire knowledge of God, as our spirits know all that we know, (1 Corinthians 2:10 f,) He must be infinite and therefore divine. For the finite cannot comprehend the Infinite.
The matter of spiritual gifts is now fairly before us. We have learned that the Spirit ever prompts men to bow to Jesus; and that His presence is an indisputable condition of service of Jesus. We have had a list of various capacities for usefulness possessed by the early church; and have been taught emphatically and repeatedly that all these are from the One Spirit of God, who fits us for service of the One Master and produces results wrought by God in us. The way is now open for the wonderful parable of § 23.
With 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 compare Homer’s Iliad, bk. xiii. 730ff.
“To one God gave warlike works To another, dancing; to a different one harp and song.
In another’s breast far-seeing Zeus puts A noble mind, of which many men reap benefit.”
SECTION 23 AS IN THE HUMAN BODY THERE ARE MANY MEMBERS, ALL NEEDFUL FOR THE GENERAL GOOD, SO IN THE CHURCH CH. 12:12-30
For, just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body; so also is Christ. For indeed in one Spirit we all were baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether servants or freemen. And we all were made to drink one Spirit. For also the body is not one member, but many. If the foot say, Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body; it is not on this account not of the body. And, if the ear say, Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body; it is not on this account not of the body. If all the body were eye, where would be the hearing? If all were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has put the members, each one of them, in the body, according as His will was. And if all of them were one member, where would be the body? But now are there many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, No need of thee have I: or again the head to the feet, No need of you have I. But much rather the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those which we think to be less honourable parts of the body, these we clothe with more abundant honour: and our unseemly parts have more abundant seemliness. But the seemly parts have no need. Yes, God has mixed together the body, to that which falls short having given more abundant honour; that there may be no division in the body, but that the same care the members may have on behalf of each other. And both if one member suffers, there suffer with it all the members: and if one member is glorified, there rejoice with it all the members.
And you are Christ’s body, and members part with part.
And some indeed God placed in the church-first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miraculous powers, then gracious gifts of healings, helpings, governings, kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all miraculous powers? have all gracious gifts of healings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
This section explains the Spirit’s allotment of different gifts to different church-members, by the analogy of the human body. The analogy is asserted in 1 Corinthians 12:12; and justified in 1 Corinthians 12:13 by the spiritual facts of the church. Its lower side is expounded practically in 1 Corinthians 12:14-26 : 1 Corinthians 12:27 reasserts the analogy: 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 develop its higher side.
1 Corinthians 12:12. A comparison closely interwoven (cp. 1 Corinthians 6:15; Romans 12:4; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 4:16; Ephesians 4:25; Ephesians 5:30) into the mind of Paul; and among the sacred writers, peculiar to him.
Is one: as having one interest, and being instinctively conscious of this. See below. A living body is the most wonderful instance on earth of oneness amid variety. With great emphasis Paul says that all the members, though they are many, not only belong to, but are, one body. Just as we have many bodily members which together make up one undivided body, so also it is with Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:13. Proof of “so also is Christ.”
We all: emphatic, in contrast to the human body.
Baptized into, or for one body: see note, Romans 6:3. It denotes either the aim or the result of baptism; perhaps here the latter. They were made by baptism members of an outward and visible community which has a oneness similar to that of a human body. Nothing suggests any but the common sense of water-baptism. For the baptism of the Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16) is never mentioned by Paul: and here body in contrast to Spirit suggests an outward and visible community, and an outward rite of admission to it.
In One Spirit: put prominently forward as the invisible source of the oneness of the visible community of the baptized. Just as the oneness of the human body flows from the one living spirit which animates, and moves in harmony, all the members. This oneness, a dead body has lost. Consequently, baptism is an effective union only when administered in the Spirit as its surrounding and life-giving element. In this sense Paul’s readers were in one Spirit baptized into and made members of one living body.
This assumes, as does 1 Corinthians 6:11, that all were genuine believers; and that in all such the Spirit is, 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Corinthians 12:3. If at Corinth there were false brethren, these are left out of view.
Jews or Greeks etc.: national distinctions and the widest social distinctions being completely broken down.
And we all etc.; gives further prominence to the great teaching of 1 Corinthians 12:13 a, which permeates 1 Corinthians 12, and lies at the base of the comparison before us, viz. that every genuine member of the church has received into himself, henceforth to be to him the source of a new life, the One Spirit who makes the many members into one living body. Notice here two aspects of the Spirit’s relation to us. We receive Him into ourselves; and we are ourselves in Him. For He both permeates our being, moving and filling us from within, and by so doing raises us into a new element in which we henceforth live.
This verse does not imply that Paul’s readers received the Spirit in the moment of their baptism. Cp. Acts 10:44-48. Baptism, like the Lord’s Supper, was commanded by Christ, and thus made a condition of salvation indispensable in all ordinary cases; and for the same reason, viz. to give to, and maintain in, His people a visible and united front before the world. There was, therefore, no way to the blessings of the Gospel except through baptism. And Paul could correctly say (Titus 3:5) that God saved His people “through the laver of the new birth, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit;” and Ananias (Acts 22:16) could say, “Have thyself baptized and wash away thy sins.” Consequently, without a purpose to be baptized there could be no intelligent and sustained faith; and therefore no reception of the Holy Spirit. But, nevertheless, the spirit is received by faith when we believe: Galatians 3:14; John 7:39. In this verse Paul simply links together, as necessarily connected in all ordinary cases, the outward rite and the spiritual element which alone gave it reality.
1 Corinthians 12:14. Parallel with 1 Corinthians 12:12 a, developing for use the comparison there introduced. Paul accounts for the differences of nationality and rank in the church animated by one Spirit, by reminding us that also the human body is not all alike but consists of many members. This is made very clear in 1 Corinthians 12:15-16 by the evident absurdity of inferring that because one member is unlike some other it therefore does not enjoy the privilege of belonging to the body. This inference might be drawn not merely by the lowest members but by those next to the highest; and with equal absurdity. Notice that the members mentioned compared themselves, as men do, with others resembling, though superior to, themselves.
1 Corinthians 12:17-18. Not only is difference from others no proof that a member does not belong to the body, but it is a real gain to the body, which otherwise would be seriously defective. For the greater abundance of the best faculties would in no way supply the lack of the lesser ones.
But now: as things actually are, in contrast to all the members being alike.
God has put: the existing arrangement is His work.
According as He willed: when He formed the eternal purpose to make man. Paul strengthens his appeal to the Creator by pointing to His sovereign and deliberate determination.
Each one of them; suggests God’s special forethought about each member, and thus rebukes those who would have chosen otherwise.
1 Corinthians 12:19-20. The absurdity of the objections in 1 Corinthians 12:15-16, already exposed by the question 1 Corinthians 12:17, which evoked the contrary statement of 1 Corinthians 12:18, is still further exposed in 1 Corinthians 12:19 by another question, making with those of 1 Corinthians 12:17 a climax. Not only would a body in which the whole was endowed with the same faculties, even with the noblest faculties be seriously defective, but it would be no body at all, i.e. it would lack that which we all conceive to be the very essence of a living body. For a body is something composed of many and various parts endowed with widely different and mutually-supplementing capacities, all animated by one spirit and having one interest which all subserve. Therefore, to conceive all members to be equally endowed, would destroy our conception of a living body, a conception which we all feel to be not only very good but divinely wonderful. 1 Corinthians 12:20 is parallel with 1 Corinthians 12:18; and repeats the statement of 1 Corinthians 12:14 and 1 Corinthians 12:12, after showing the absurdity of the contrary supposition.
1 Corinthians 12:21. Continues the description, begun in 1 Corinthians 12:20, of the human body, by adding a fact implied in 1 Corinthians 12:17 and bearing very broadly on the Church of Christ. Without the labor of the hand, the lustre and the sight of the eye would perish. For, all the members need that which each one contributes to the general good, which is also its own good.
The head, the feet: widest extremes. Probably Paul thought only of the human body, not of Christ, the Head of the Church. As divine Christ needs (Acts 17:25) no one. Yet perhaps we may say reverently that as incarnate He needs, for the purpose and according to the purpose for which He became man, the services and even the sufferings
(Colossians 1:24) of those whom He joins to Himself as members of His body. The argument of Estius that, since Christ does not need man’s help, the head here must be the pope, is overturned by his own words a few lines below: “The metaphorical body is not bound to square with the human body in all points, but in those only for which the reference or comparison was chosen.”
1 Corinthians 12:22-24 a. But etc.: in contrast to “No need of you have I.”
Much rather: we are much more ready to say what follows than what goes before. To which weaker members Paul refers, it is needless to determine. Many members, necessary to the body, are incapable of self-defense: and the strength of the strong members is ever ready to protect them. A special reference to the eye, is made unlikely by 1 Corinthians 12:21.
Less-honoured: viewed by us with less pride. For these we show our esteem by clothing them, for their well-being and comfort, carefully and it may be luxuriously and beautifully.
Unseemly: stronger than less honoured, completing the triple climax.
Seemliness: respectable in appearance, because suitably clothed. The face has no need of the care bestowed upon, and the expensive covering provided for, the feet. Nor do we adorn the eye. Thus we treat the members of our body, not according to their excellence or our esteem of them, but according to their need.
1 Corinthians 12:24-25. But God etc.: parallel to 1 Corinthians 12:18; as, in some sense, are 1 Corinthians 12:21-24 a to 1 Corinthians 12:15-17.
Mixed together: He has so joined the members as to make them one body.
Having given etc.; represents the honor paid to the less conspicuous parts of the human body as ordained by God. And rightly so. For God has put the members of the body in such relation to each other that the stronger and more beautiful are compelled for their own good and indeed for their existence to defend and care for, and thus to honor, the weaker members. Consequently, by God’s design, in the body there is no schism; i.e. no member seeks its own good to the disadvantage of others, thus separating itself and its aims from the other members.
Have the same care: a bold personification. Each member acts as though moved by anxious care for the well-being of the others. And it was in order to evoke this harmony and mutual care that God 80 joined the members together that they are compelled to pay special honor to the less honored ones. In other words, God has so linked our bodies together that we are compelled to treat our members not according to their beauty but their need; and has done this that there may be complete harmony in the body, and that each of our members may put forth its peculiar powers for the general good, thus securing for every part of our body the benefit of all the various powers with which its various members are endowed.
1 Corinthians 12:26. Instinctive recognition, by the members, of this common interest. Pain to any member at once affects all, thus moving them to joint action for its alleviation.
Suffer with: the Greek original of our word “sympathize.”
Rejoice-with it: a bold personification prompted by the intense feeling of oneness which pervades the human body.
1 Corinthians 12:27. Sudden transition from the human body, to which our attention has been for a time exclusively directed, to Paul’s readers, to remind them that, as proved in 1 Corinthians 12:13, a human body is a picture of their relation to Christ and to each other.
Part with part: each having only a part needing to be supplemented by the other parts.
1 Corinthians 12:28. That believers are “Christ’s body,” inasmuch as they are a visible community animated by the one Spirit of Christ, was proved in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Paul will now prove, by evident matters of fact, that they are “members part with part;” and that therefore the mutual relation of the members of a human body has a counterpart in them.
God put; corresponds with the same words in 1 Corinthians 12:18. Same word put (R.V. made.) in Acts 20:28.
In the Church; corresponds with “in the body”; 1 Corinthians 12:18. The word apostles proves that Paul refers, not to the church at Corinth, but to the entire Christian community. So Philippians 3:6. Of this universal Church, each local church is a miniature pattern. Instead of continuing “some to be apostles, others prophets etc.,” Paul breaks off the construction (cp. Romans 5:12; Romans 7:12) to say that in the Church the apostles hold the first, and the prophets the second rank. This would remind the readers that no one at Corinth stood in the first rank of the servants of Christ; and that the useful, but underestimated (cp. § 25,) gifts of prophecy and teaching were next in worth.
Apostles: see under 1 Corinthians 15:7; Romans 1:1 : to be discussed under Galatians 1:19.
Prophets: see note, 1 Corinthians 14:40.
Teachers: probably men who communicated knowledge acquired (under guidance of the Spirit) by ordinary methods, and held as a constant mental possession: the prophets spoke, apparently, under extraordinary and temporary impulses of the Spirit. In choosing elders or bishops, the church would naturally select for the more part men endowed with this gift. Cp. 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9. But the words God put directs attention, not to an official position, but to a divinely-given capacity for church work. Same order in Ephesians 4:11.
Then etc.: conspicuous mark of inferiority. By endowing certain men with miraculous powers, God put the powers in the Church.
Gracious-gifts of healings: converse order to 1 Corinthians 12:9, descending here from the general to the particular. The inferior position of these brilliant gifts is explained in § 25.
Helpings: probably assistance to the sick and poor. (Same word in 2 Maccabees 8:19; 3 Maccabees 5:50, for miraculous help from God in time of need.) Cp. Acts 20:35, where the cognate verb is used.
Tongues etc.: last pair here, as in 1 Corinthians 12:10.
1 Corinthians 12:29-30. By question after question Paul compels his readers to acknowledge how many capacities for usefulness each of them lacks and how much they need their own powers to be supplemented, as in a human body, by others. He thus completes his exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:4. Compare, in 1 Corinthians 12:8 ff, the repetition of “to another.”
To rebuke murmuring or contempt prompted by the lack of the possession of the more conspicuous gifts, “to each one according as He pleases,” 1 Corinthians 12:11; viz. that the Church may be a living body, in which each member both needs and helps the others and shares their joys and sorrows, that thus each member may be raised above the little circle of his own immediate interests to care for the general good. Consequently, our lack of certain brilliant gifts is no proof that we do not belong to Christ.
For we possess other gifts incompatible with those we lack and needful for the highest good of the community. An allotment of various gifts to various men is by the thoughtful care of God, and is needful for the welfare of the Church. All the members have capacities of usefulness; and all need to be supplemented by others. The human body is, therefore, both a picture of our relation to each other, and a pattern for our treatment of others. So far as a church imitates the action of a healthy human body, it attains its ideal and realizes the purpose of God. For then the endowment of each becomes an enrichment to the whole; and the church becomes the noblest embodiment of what is found in all God’s works, viz. Harmony amid infinite Variety.
That the Church is the Body of Christ, follows logically from the great fundamental doctrine of Romans 8:1-11 in connection with the obvious fact that the members of the Church, which in Paul’s day was one community throughout the world, are endowed with different capacities.
Indeed this analogy is suggested by the word “Spirit.” For, of this word the central idea is, an inward invisible principle permeating visible organized matter and giving to it unity, life, intelligence, power, and activity. See note, Romans 8:17. The analogy thus suggested is the most wonderful known to us. And its deep mark on the mind of Paul may be traced in Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:16; Ephesians 4:25; Ephesians 5:30; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:24; Colossians 2:19.
In man we find, joined in most intimate and wonderful partnership, two elements absolutely different and belonging to different realms of being. The body is akin to the earth from which it came and with which it will soon mingle: the spirit is akin, not only to the immortal spirits around God’s throne, but to God Himself. Bodily life is the mysterious link binding together these elements. When this link is broken, each element returns (Ecclesiastes 12:7) whence it came. The body is the living dwelling place kept from corruption and kept alive and erect by the presence of the spirit; the instrument with which the spirit lays hold of, and uses, and enjoys, the material world, and the medium through which it reveals itself to other kindred spirits. The spirit is the animating principle giving to its material abode life, unity, intelligence, and power.
Now Paul has taught (Romans 8:1-11) that in each believer dwells the Spirit of Christ, as the source of immortal life and moral uprightness and the main-spring of new activity. Consequently, the Church is the material and living dwelling place of the Spirit of Christ, and the medium through which Christ manifests Himself to the world and works out His purposes of mercy. Through His people He smiles upon men, speaks words of life, and saves the lost. Therefore, since the spirit is One and believers many, and the many believers were joined in one outward and visible community, Paul could correctly speak of the Church as the body of Christ.
Again, in the Church as in a human body, each member is designed and fitted to do service for the whole, a service which can be rendered only so far as each member is animated by the one spirit. This service corresponds with the natural constitution of each member. But just as without life the eye cannot see, so, apart from the Spirit of Christ, the noblest human powers are powerless to do the work of God. Consequently, these various powers are gifts of the Spirit.
We notice also, as matter of fact, that in the church various men are endowed with various capacities, wealth, rank, learning, intellectual power, eloquence, administrative tact; and that these capacities seldom found together in one man, may be used for the good of the entire community. Even the helpless ones, by their cheerful patience reveal to those around the grace and glory of God.
Once more. The whole church, both the universal family of God on earth and any portion of it large or small, has one interest. Whatever develops or lessens the spiritual life of an individual is gain or loss to the whole community: for his influence will directly or indirectly affect the whole, for good or ill. And each church is a gainer or loser (cp. Romans 11:14) by the progress or the imperfection of neighboring churches. And all this is true, whether individuals and churches recognize it or not. We cannot benefit or injure others without thereby affecting ourselves. This wonderful oneness results from the presence of the One Spirit of God in the whole people of God. Therefore, by giving His Spirit to each believer, God has bound together the whole company of believers into one body having one interest.
From the foregoing analogy we may learn our relation to Christ and to each other. In a healthy human body each member is completely controlled and guided by the one spirit: and each member is instinctively conscious that the interest of the body is its own interest and puts forth all its powers for the general good. And so far as we are in spiritual health shall we be controlled by the Spirit of Christ, animated by desire for the general good, and in harmony with all other members. We cannot despise others; nor they despise us. We need, and may be enriched by, even the humblest: and it is our privilege if Christ abide in us, to be a benefit to all around. Again, just as every man defends every part of his body with his whole strength, so will Christ defend with His infinite power every one of His people. And just as a man’s body shares his fortunes, for good or ill, so we shall share the fortunes of Christ and shall sit down with Him, clothed in His royal raiment, upon His throne.
It is evident to all that the community of believers is not one in outward and visible form in the same sense now as in Paul’s day. This is to Catholics an argument against Protestantism. And this argument, which has some force, I cannot discuss here. But very strong reasons now keep back both individuals and churches from submitting to the sway of that great Church which is the lineal descendant of the apostolic Church. And the felt presence and life-giving activity of the Holy Spirit in these individuals and churches is to them complete proof that their separation from the See of Rome does not involve separation from Christ.
It is worthy of note that the important comparison of this section is peculiar, among the sacred writers, to Paul; but is found in the Latin writers. It is embodied in a well-known fable of Menenius Agrippa (B.C. 493) narrated by Livy, bk. ii. 32; and is found in Seneca, On Anger bk. ii. 31;* (* “It is wrong to injure the Fatherland: therefore, a citizen also; for he is a part of the Fatherland.... What if the hands wish to injure the feet? the eyes to injure the hands? How all the members agree among themselves, because it is the interest of the whole that each be preserved.”) and elsewhere. That the analogy was observed by heathens, need not surprise us. For society was ordained by God; and is, even in its fall, a rough outline of the kingdom of God. It is therefore an unconscious prophecy of the Church. We need not doubt that the comparison was suggested to Paul by modes of thought current among heathens. And, that this classic conception is reproduced only by the apostle who came most in contact with Greeks and Romans, is a mark of genuineness. The same metaphor is found (see Appendix A) in ch. 37 of Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians; but is evidently a reference to the Epistle before us, which in other places Clement quotes expressly.
SECTION 24 — LOVE IS BETTER THAN THE BEST GIFTS CH. 12:31-13
Be emulous for the greater gifts. And, further, a surpassingly good way I show you.
If with the tongues of men I speak, and of the angels, but have not love, I am become sounding bronze or a noisy cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know the mysteries, all of them, and all the knowledge, and if I have all the faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, nothing am I. And if I give as food all my possessions, and if I give up my body that I may be burned, but have not love, I am nothing profited.
Love is longsuffering, is kind. Love is not jealous: love does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up, is not unseemly, does not seek its own, is not moved to anger, does not reckon the evil, does not rejoice at unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never falls. But both if there be prophecies they will come to nought; and if tongues, they will cease; and if knowledge, it will come to nought. For, in part we know, and in part we prophesy: but, when the fully developed have come, that which is in part will come to nought. When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, I used to think as a child, I used to reckon as a child: when I became a man I made as nought the things of the child. For we see now through a mirror, in a dark saying; but then face to face. Now I know in part: but then I shall understand, according as also I have been understood. And now remain faith, hope love; these three. But the greatest of these is love.
After asserting the broad foundation truth that in the Church, as in a human body, the various members are endowed by God with various gifts, all useful and all needful for the general good, Paul now says that we must, nevertheless, make these gifts objects of desire and effort, and that some of them are greater than others and therefore more worthy of pursuit. But, instead of naming at once the greater gifts, (see 1 Corinthians 14.,) he interposes 1 Corinthians 13. to show us the best way of pursuing them. And, in so doing, he gives us a standard by which to measure their relative worth. (Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 8., before discussing his subject from the point of view of knowledge, he proves that love is better than knowledge.) He then, in 1 Corinthians 14., repeats the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 12:31 and goes on to show that prophecy is more worthy of pursuit than the gift of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:31. Be-emulous-for: one Greek word combining the sense of “zealous” and “jealous,” both which are English forms of it. It denotes an emotion aroused in us by superior worth, whether it be earnest desire to gain for ourselves a like superiority, or a jealous care to keep for ourselves alone the object of desire, or mere idle vexation. Same word in 1 Corinthians 13:4; 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:12; 1 Corinthians 14:39; 1 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 7:7; 2 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Corinthians 12:20. The capacities for usefulness possessed by others ought to rouse us to seek the same.
Greater gifts: producing greater results. This exhortation implies that these gifts of God’s grace were to be obtained by human effort. How the extraordinary gifts were thus obtained, is not clear to us now, because of their cessation in the early dawn of church history. But we may suppose that the Spirit gave them only to those who had some natural and spiritual fitness for them as He now bestows His ordinary gifts. If so, by earnest desire to obtain and develop this fitness, men might be emulous for the greater gifts. Their effort, for both ordinary and extraordinary gifts, would include cultivation of the corresponding natural powers, prayer and faith for the Spirit’s presence and activity, and use of the spiritual power already possessed. Paul goes further than mere exhortation to pursue these gifts, and adds (in 1 Corinthians 13.) an indication of a way along which his readers may find them, a way surpassing all others.
Chap. XIII. This better “way” Paul begins to point out by asserting abruptly and solemnly that even a combination of the most highly prized gifts, each in its highest degree, is worthless apart from love: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. The worth of love, he shows by describing its various manifestations in human conduct, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; and show its superiority to spiritual gifts, by proving that they will become worthless like the toys of childhood, whereas love abides, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.
1 Corinthians 13:1. The word rendered love is unknown, as its significance was unknown, in classic literature. In a few places, oftener of things than men, its cognate verb is found. In the LXX. the verb is frequent, the substantive very rare. This word has the unique honor of being the only substantive noting a moral attribute which is predicated, simply and without explanation or limitation, of God Himself: for God is Love. Paul here teaches that this unique attribute of God is also the one moral quality which is itself all we need to be. All this was obscured by the old rendering charity, which cannot be predicated of God and has no corresponding verb, and conveys to most Englishmen a sense quite different from that intended by Paul. Of this a bad example is found in (A.V.) Romans 14:15 which receives its force from Romans 13:9-10. Unfortunately, the word love has with us lower associations from which the Greek word is quite free. But it is our best rendering.
From the tongues of men and of angels we cannot infer anything about the nature of the gift of tongues. For these words refer, not to actual fact, but to mere supposition. Nor does the words tongues necessarily denote “languages.” Paul means, “If I utter every kind of voice which rises from the lips of men and of angels.” So Homer Iliad bk. ii. 489: “Not even if I had ten tongues and ten mouths.”
Of the angels: separated for emphasis from of men, and making the summit of possibility in this gift.
Love: to our fellow-men, as proved by 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. So usually when not otherwise defined: 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 16:14; Romans 12:9; Romans 14:15.
Bronze: a word denoting always in the Bible copper, either pure or containing as usual a small proportion of other metal generally tin. Just so, with us “gold” denotes both the pure metal and the alloy used for jewelry and coinage. Copper was wrought (Genesis 4:22) in very early times, probably (Hesiod, Works and Days 1. 151) earlier than iron; and for hardness and fusibility was alloyed with tin. Brass, i.e. an alloy of copper and zinc, has not, I believe, been found among the many metallic relics of the past.
Sounding bronze: pieces of metal, manufactured or crude, giving forth any kind of sound.
Cymbal: an instrument consisting of two half gloves, mostly of bronze which the performer struck together. Same word, (LXX.,) 1 Chronicles 13:8; 1 Chronicles 15:16; 2 Chronicles 5:12, etc.
Noisy: giving forth any loud unmeaning sound. Since those who spoke with a tongue merely gave forth, under impulse of the Spirit, a sound which in some cases (1 Corinthians 14:14 ff) neither they nor any one else understood, they were, unless love gave them moral worth, only like pieces of bronze, or at best instruments of music, struck by a player.
1 Corinthians 13:2. Prophecy: the gift most like that of tongues, but (see § 25) superior to it.
All the mysteries: see note, 1 Corinthians 3:4 : all the truths revealed by God to man through the secret teaching of the Holy Spirit.
All the knowledge: evidently different from, and not implied in, the mysteries; but not necessarily, or probably, superior. Probably the mysteries and the knowledge here correspond with “wisdom” (see 1 Corinthians 2:7) and “knowledge” in 1 Corinthians 12:8. If so, all the knowledge denotes whatever the mind of man has acquired by ordinary methods of study, these not excluding (1 Corinthians 12:8) the special assistance of the Spirit. Such knowledge would neither include, nor be included in, all the mysteries. Paul’s supposition is that all the secrets of the divine purpose and all the knowledge possessed by man were known to one person. That the conspicuous word if (5 times in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3) is not put before know, suggests that mysteries and knowledge were closely related to prophecy; but does not prove that they were necessarily included in it. The prophet’s words always conveyed knowledge; and, since he spoke under impulse of the Spirit, his words frequently announced (1 Corinthians 2:10) “the deep things of God.” But prophecy was a voice caused apparently by an occasional impulse of the spirit: mysteries and knowledge were abiding intellectual possessions.
The faith: an assurance that through the believer’s agency God is about to work a miracle. Such faith arose “in the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:9) and was a condition (Mark 11:22) of the exercise of miraculous power. The close coincidence of faith so as to remove mountains confirms the testimony of Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:22, that similar words fell from the lips of Christ. Notice that effective faith is a belief, not of anything, but of that which God has promised. It presupposes, and cannot extend beyond the word of God. Consequently, Mark 11:23 f is limited, by the gospel use of the word “believe,” to benefits actually promised by God. And it has no other limit.
Nothing am I: (differently used, 2 Corinthians 12:11 :) “my character has no real worth.” This suggests, (the hypothetical form of the sentence forbids us to say that it proves,) and the cases of Balaam and Samson prove, that a man may have superhuman gifts and yet be destitute of spiritual life. A solemn warning to the Corinthians, who (1 Corinthians 1:7) “fell short in no gift.”
1 Corinthians 13:3. Give away as food: an action highly esteemed (Matthew 6:2) by the Jews.
Give up my body: same words in Josephus, Wars bk. vii. 8. 7; where, by the example of the Indians who, “having given up their body to fire that most pure they may separate the soul from the body, die singing hymns,” Eleazar urges his companions besieged at Masada to a similar self-sacrifice. Dr. Lightfoot suggests (Colossians p. 394) that this highest possible grade of self-sacrifice and of supposed merit was suggested to Paul by a boastful inscription on a tomb at Athens (see Strabo, bk. xv. 1. 73) which he may have seen, in memory of a fanatic who in the time of Augustus publicly devoted himself to death there by leaping with a smile on the funeral pyre: “Here lies Zarmanochegas an Indian from Bargose, who according to the paternal customs of Indians immortalized himself.” Such cases enable us to conceive not only gifts to the poor but self-immolation without love, and with real excellence.
Nothing profited: no reward from God, Matthew 6:1. By these extreme cases Paul makes us feel that actions have no intrinsic value, that their worth, both as manifestations of character and as spiritual gain to the actor, depends entirely upon their motive, and that the one motive essential to reward is love. On the variation that I may glory, see Appendix B.
Notice in 1 Corinthians 13:2-3 an appropriate change of expression. Without love, they who “have” prophecy and miracle-working faith “are” nothing: for these gifts do not of themselves enter into, and ennoble, the inner man. And, without love, they who give up not only their goods but their bodies are no gainers: for spiritual wealth cannot be purchased even at this price. (Cp. Galatians 5:6.) The supposed combination of various merits in one man is made conspicuous by the recurring words and if; but is ruined by the melancholy refrain in each verse but have not love.
In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 love stands apart from all other virtues as an essential element of all human excellence. For Paul’s words imply that without it, not only knowledge and almsgiving, but righteousness and truth are valueless, or cannot exist. With this unique dignity of love in man corresponds its unique position ( 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16) among the moral attributes of God. In other words, human excellence is not, as many think it is, composite; but, like all great principles and like the moral nature of God, absolutely simple. This Paul makes us feel by portraying a man in whom are accumulated all sorts of supposed excellences except love, and by placing beside him (in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) a man whose whole being is an impersonation of love. The one portrait we recognize at once as the most perfect we have seen. From the other we turn in disgust as utterly worthless.
The assertion of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 receive, if not complete proof, yet considerable support from the delineations of character therein contained. For absence of love implies selfishness; it may be an intelligent and respectable, or even spiritual, selfishness. But a selfish man, even though used by the Spirit as a medium of wonderful utterances, is morally no better than a trumpet giving forth an inarticulate sound. Nor does his knowledge or his liberality ever command real respect. For the one is used to advance, and the other is prompted by, unworthy purposes.
The above teaching guards from abuse, and is guarded by, the teaching of Romans 1:16; Romans 3:22. We venture to believe that we are now forgiven, even though we be nothing and have no merit, simply because in the Gospel God proclaims righteousness through faith for all that believe. And, since love is the one measure of Christian stature, we venture to believe that God will work in us even this gift by revealing to us through the Spirit His own love to us and to all men. According to our faith it is done to us. And the love to our fellows which we find in our hearts confirms the faith with which, when conscious of nothing but sin, we dared first to believe the promise of God. But the ultimate ground of our confidence is our consciousness, not of our own love, but of God’s love to us revealed on the cross, and in the words, of Jesus.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7. The excellence of love, asserted negatively in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, will now be made apparent by a description of its various manifestations in human conduct: positive description, 1 Corinthians 13:4 a; negative description, concluding with a positive contract 1 Corinthians 13:4-6; final positive description 1 Corinthians 13:7. That these verses say nothing about spiritual gifts, and retain their full force even though gifts be absent, proves that, whereas gifts without love are worthless, love even without gifts retains its value undiminished. No stronger proof of the value of love can be given. Thus the contrast of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 increases the force of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
1 Corinthians 13:4 a. Love is longsuffering: i.e. continues in spite of conduct likely to quench it. This continuance often, but not always, shows itself in restraining anger. Hence, in the Bible, the word is often (Romans 2:4; Romans 9:22 etc.) used in this connection.
Kind: gentle in conduct, so that a man is pleasant to deal with. In both these qualities the man of love is like God, (cp. Romans 2:5,) who is an impersonation of infinite love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-6. Jealous: evidently an idle vexation at the superiority of others. See under 1 Corinthians 12:31. We are never vexed at the excellence or success of those whom we love. Nor do we vaunt ourselves: i.e. parade before them any supposed superiority of our own. For boasted superiority separates; whereas love unites.
Puffed-up: as in 1 Corinthians 8:1. In view of those we love, we never indulge inflated opinions about ourselves. And we are thus saved, in reference to them, from unseemly conduct.
Does not seek her own: exemplified in Paul himself, 1 Corinthians 10:33. Contrast Philippians 2:20 f.
Anger: not here a simple purpose to punish, as in Ephesians 4:26, but the vindictiveness which so often accompanies it. To this, love never prompts; though it often compels us to punish.
Does not reckon etc.: 2 Corinthians 5:19; Romans 4:8; Philemon 1:18 : does not calculate injury as a debt to be paid off.
Does not rejoice in unrighteousness; reveals the moral worth of love. We are not pleased at the wrong-doing of those whom we intelligently love.
For we feel instinctively that by wrong-doing they injure themselves. E.g., many a bad father is sorry to see his children walking in his steps.
Rejoices with the truth: similar to Romans 7:22, “I am pleased together with the Law.” The truth, (Romans 1:18,) here impersonated, rejoices when it realizes itself in human conduct, i.e. when men do that which corresponds with the eternal reality, viz. the nature of God. Now love is the essence of God: and truth is love manifested. Therefore, whatever conduct gratifies, i.e. agrees with, the one, gratifies also the other.
1 Corinthians 13:7. Bears all things: is not shaken by any sort of ingratitude. And we are ever ready to believe all things from those we love; and to cherish all sorts of expectations of good about them.
Endures: see Romans 2:7. Love prompts us to continue doing good to those we love in spite of difficulties and perils. Paul’s own example: 2 Timothy 2:10. The word bear refers probably to ungrateful conduct in the person loved, and is thus parallel to “longsuffering” in 1 Corinthians 13:4; endures refers to any hardship involved in helping those we love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 define clearly Paul’s use in 1 Corinthians 13. of the word love. It is a principle of action prompting us to use our powers and opportunities for the good of others, and to draw them to us that we may share, and thus remove, their sorrow, and that they may share our good. This principle appears, more or less perfect and intelligent, in all true human love. It is the mainspring of the entire activity of God. And so far as it rules our conduct are we like God. Of this principle, these verses are the strongest commendation. For the man in whom these traits of character meet commands, even though he have no special gifts, our highest respect. And all these traits of character are a natural outworking of the one principle of love. For a lack of any one of them proves that love is deficient. This practical picture of love also makes us feel by contrast the worthlessness of the character described in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
For shorter, but similar, personifications of love, see 1 Corinthians 8:1; Romans 13:10. In Clement’s Epistle, ch. 49, (see appendix A,) is an evident copy of these verses. Compare also the praise of “wisdom” in Proverbs 8:9.
1 Corinthians 13:8-13. After portraying in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 a man with various gifts in the highest conceivable degree but without love, and pronouncing him worthless, and portraying in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
the excellent practical outworking of love, even apart from gifts, Paul now shows that love surpasses gifts in that while they will pass away love abides.
Falls: as in Luke 16:17 : loses its position of dignity, by ceasing to be an active principle ever working out fresh results. For this is implied in the contrast of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. The gifts so highly prized will all pass away.
1 Corinthians 13:8-12. Will-come-to-nought: become inoperative, cease to produce results. Same word in 1 Corinthians 1:28 : see also Romans 3:3.
Knowledge: i.e. the special gift of knowledge, 1 Corinthians 13:2; 1 Corinthians 12:8. Notice that the gift of tongues will cease absolutely, when the tongue is silent in death; the gifts of prophecy and knowledge will cease practically. Of this last assertion 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 are a proof. That tongues will cease, needs no proof.
In part: in contrast to the fully developed. Our knowledge now embraces only fragments. This is true universally; but refers here to the special gift of knowledge.
In part we prophesy: we announce under the special influence of the Spirit only a part of the truth.
The fully-developed: the complete or full-grown, in contrast to the fragmentary. See note, 1 Corinthians 2:6. 1 Corinthians 13:10 states a universal principle; but refers specially to 1 Corinthians 13:9. It proves will-come-to-nought in 1 Corinthians 13:8. Knowledge and prophecy are but torches giving amid general darkness a partial light. Therefore, when dawns the eternal Day they will become useless. They who now know most and speak most fluently will then have no advantage over others.
1 Corinthians 13:11. Illustrates and confirms 1 Corinthians 13:8-10.
I thought: formed conceptions.
I reckoned: drew inferences. The child first speaks, then gives evidence of observation, and then of reasoning.
When I became: or “now that I-am-become,” “have-set-aside.” [The Greek perfects assert the permanence of the change from childhood to manhood, and the permanent dismissal of childish things.]
I-made-as-nought: as in 1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 13:10 : laid aside as useless the toys or schoolbooks which once I prized and used. This comparison, suggested probably by the word “full-grown,” (cp. Ephesians 4:13,) is an argument from the greater to the less. For the things of eternity are much more completely above and beyond our present thought than are the things of manhood to a child. Yet the mature knowledge of manhood makes schoolbooks etc. quite useless.
1 Corinthians 13:12. Proof that the comparison of childhood applies to the matter of 1 Corinthians 13:8; and thus parallel to 1 Corinthians 13:9.
Mirror: James 1:23; 2 Corinthians 3:18 : known in the earliest times, Exodus 38:8; Wisdom of Solomon 7:26; Sirach 12:11. They were usually circular plates of metal, with a handle. Their imperfect reflection suggested this metaphor. The Gospel is a mirror (2 Corinthians 3:18) showing us as in a camera obscura, but imperfectly, the things of eternity.
Dark-saying: the Greek original of our word “enigma.” It explains the foregoing metaphor. Our knowledge of eternity comes through the Gospel, which is, compared with the full light of eternity, a riddle difficult to solve: in other words, we see now through a mirror.
Face to face: Genesis 32:30; cp. Numbers 12:8. We shall stand before God, and look upon His face; (Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14;) and, seeing Him, we shall see all things.
Now I know etc.; continues the contrast, which is individualized and thus intensified by the change, as in 1 Corinthians 13:11, from we to I. The change was prompted by Paul’s intense and personal conception of his own thought.
Understood: an intelligent comprehension which looks down upon and through a matter. Same word in 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Corinthians 16:18; 2 Corinthians 1:13 f; 2 Corinthians 6:9; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Romans 1:28; Romans 1:32; Romans 3:20; Romans 10:2.
I-have-been-understood: a silent reference to Him by whom all things are fully known. Cp. 1 Corinthians 8:3.
According as etc.: corresponding with God’s perfect knowledge of him. In other words, the light of eternity, which is the outshining of the mind of God, will reveal fully and accurately to each man his own inner self.
Those who now know most, and, moved by the Spirit, proclaim most fully the things of God, know and speak only a fragment of what will in that Day be known universally. Consequently, their gifts, so valuable now, will then be of no worth. For, compared with that time, our present life is but childhood; and the gifts we prize now will then be thrown aside as useless, like the toys we have already thrown aside. If so, knowledge and prophecy have only a passing value. And the gift of tongues will evidently cease soon in the silence of death.
From 1 Corinthians 13:12 it is quite clear that the light which will supersede the gifts of knowledge and prophecy is that of eternity. Consequently, 1 Corinthians 13:8 refers, not to the cessation of extraordinary gifts in the later ages of the Church, but to the end of the present life, either at death or at the coming of Christ. But it would be unfair to infer from this that Paul expected these gifts to continue till Christ comes. For, about this he says nothing; but declares only that sooner or later, to the individual and to the race, these gifts will pass away.
1 Corinthians 13:13. But now etc.: as contrast to 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, as in 1 Corinthians 12:18. While prophecy etc. will pass away, faith, hope, love, remain. This is evidently equivalent to “never falls,” in 1 Corinthians 13:8; and therefore denotes continuance in the life to come. For it is a clear contrast to “will be set aside” in 1 Corinthians 13:8; which declares, as we have seen, that the partial knowledge of time will be displaced by the perfect knowledge of eternity.
Faith: assurance that God’s word will come true, as a general principle. This will remain, although the special application of it in 1 Corinthians 13:2 will pass away.
Hope: that which looks forward to, and grasps before hand, things to come. Paul leaves us to test for ourselves the assertion of 1 Corinthians 13:13 a. But the contrast of knowledge and prophecy enables us to do so. For it is evident that the change which will make these valueless will not set aside faith, hope, love. That our happy state will continue for ever, we shall know simply because God has promised it, i.e. by a faith similar to our present belief of the Gospel. And we shall have the joy of looking forward to a further and ceaseless and infinite development of happiness and glory. Thus, amid glory already seen and possessed there will still be further glories not yet seen, (Romans 8:24,) and matter of continued faith and hope. And mutual love, animating and binding together the many members of that glorified family, will shine through every face and breathe in a thousand ever recurring words and acts of heavenly kindness.
These three; seems to imply that these are in some sense a complete description of our abiding state. Among these three continuing gifts love stands out as greater than the others. This is implied in “but have not love,” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3; and is proved by 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 which surpass anything that can be said of faith or hope. The passing mention of these strengthens the contrast between love and spiritual gifts. For these last, as passing away, are evidently inferior to faith and hope; which nevertheless are inferior to love.
The argument of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 involves the important truth that the continuity of human character is not broken either by death or judgment, any more than it is now broken by change of circumstances. For we are told explicitly that when human knowledge fades in the light of eternity even then love will abide. Now knowledge refers, not to the abstract principle, which will never pass away, but to the superiority of knowledge possessed now by an individual. And, to give force to Paul’s argument, love must refer to the degree of Christian love attained here by each individual. Only thus can the permanence of love be a motive for the pursuit of it. Moreover, what is true of knowledge and prophecy is true of all other capacities for usefulness, wealth, rank, learning, eloquence, mental power. We learn, therefore that although before the gates of death we shall lay down for ever the various weapons with which God has armed us to fight for Him, we shall carry through those gates the moral character which the conflict of life has developed within us. And this gives to moral excellence an infinite superiority over the most brilliant powers for usefulness.
With love, which in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 had a place absolutely unique, are now associated, though in a subordinate place, faith and hope. Yet, though subordinate, they are here mentioned before love. Notice a similar association in Romans 5:1-5. All this suggests that faith, the entrance (Romans 5:1) into the Christian life, and hope, the immediate result (Romans 5:2) of faith, are designed to lead to love; and that the degree in which they do this is the measure of their abiding and practical worth.
That Paul says nothing about the eternal results of a right use of knowledge and prophecy, results which seem at first sight to place these gifts on a par with love, suggests that these results will be of eternal worth to us only so far as they have been an outcome of Christian love. And if so they do not in the least degree lessen the superiority of love.
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Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25