Verses I to 3 of this chapter show the necessity of love; verses 4 to 7 the characteristics of love; and verses 8 to 13 its permanence.
And in the first section, verse I deals with what I speak; verse 2 with what I have; and verse 3 with what I do. Though spoken in most sublime language, "tongues of men or of angels," my words are merely as a brass sounding instrument or a clanging cymbal, if love is not present. The warmth and reality of a proper personal element is lacking: this cannot rightly represent God. Or if one possesses the excellent gift of prophecy, and is exceptionally well taught; and though faith is such as to remove mountainous obstacles, yet if love is not the power in which this is exercised, "I am nothing." In such cases the motive for using the gift is selfish: it is not that of genuine concern for others, and for the glory of God. Thus, in my every effort to be something, "I am nothing."
And verse 3 still more strongly indicates the importance of proper motives. For one may do remarkably good things, as giving all his goods to feed the poor, or giving his body to be burned in martyrdom, and yet be lacking in the genuine motive of love in so doing. A philanthropist may give merely to draw attention to his liberal character; or one may give liberally in order to salve a bad conscience, troubled because his wealth has not been honestly gained. But let the believer always be moved by love toward the Lord, and toward others.
Otherwise his works will bring no real profit to himself. One may be a martyr too, simply from a strong-willed determinaÂtion not to give in to his oppressor; but this is not pure love toward Him who alone is worthy of the sacrifice of our lives.
But what is love? Verses 4 to 7 show how it expresses itself. It suffers long, and in suffering still remains kind. It "envieth not," for it is honestly glad that another is favoured. Nor does it vaunt itself: unseemly advertising of oneself is not love for others. "Is not puffed up." However one may be used of God, if love is the motive, he will not be thinking of his own importance, but still of the need of others. Its conduct is not unseemly, not offensive to any sense of decency. It does not seek its own, for it is an outflowing stream. Nor is it easily provoked, because not occupied with its personal feelings. And it does not suppose evil, apart, of course from manifest evidence. It rejoices not in evil, but in the truth: being genuinely ungrudging. Believing all things is being not suspicious without clear reason; then even when things seem to the contrary, love continues to hope all things. And finally it endures all things: it does not give up.
Verses 8 to 13 now deal with love's permanence. It never fails. So it is put in contrast to prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. Prophecy is only for a condition in which souls require edification, exhortation, comfort. Even in the millennium, prophecy will no longer be necessary (Zechariah 13:2-5).
Tongues would cease. After they had fulfilled their purpose, God would no longer communicate this as a gift. Indeed, they are not even mentioned again in Scripture after the writing of Corinthians, and it seems that they very early disappeared. Their purpose was simply temporary, for the
establishing of the Church in unity at the beginning.
Knowledge also, in the way in which we gain it today, shall be done away. It is not that we shall no longer be intelligent, but that at present there is constant exercise necessary in gradually gathering the knowledge of spiritual things, learning from the viewpoint of our own imperfect, partial knowledge. Not one of us can see things totally objectively, from the viewpoint of the perfect, overall knowledge of God. And our prophesying too is "in part." It should humble us always to remember this, so that we do not dare to make the ministry of any man a set standard for doctrine or practice. We are only servants, limited to a very small sphere.
But when, in the presence of the Lord, we have reached the state of perfection, or of full maturity, then all that is merely partial will have fulfilled its purpose, and therefore be no longer necessary.
Verse 11 illustrates our present, immature condition by that of childhood. A child's viewpoint is totally different from that of a man: it is necessarily restricted to his own small sphere of observation or instruction. He speaks as a child, and perhaps properly too, in accordance with his knowledge, but it is very limited, as is our own ministry of the Word of God. Conceptions and feelings too in childhood are necessarily childish, for they are formed by this limited knowledge. And reasoning also takes its character from this: I do not reason as an adult until I become one. But just as a maturing adult puts away childish things, so in glory will we leave behind such limitations.
Another illustration in verse 12 emphasizes this. At present we see as through a mirror in an enigma, but then face to face. Spiritual things now are learned with the help of reflections, types, symbols, and faith of course must be in exercise to discern in its measure the significance of all these teaching aids. It is not like seeing the object itself, but its reflection as in a mirror. We learn what the Church of God is by symbols, such as the Pearl of Great Price, the Building of God, the One Flock, the One Body, the Epistle of Christ, the Bride, and the Holy City. Thus now we gradually learn; but then what may seem too abstract to us now, will be seen in its full reality and blessedness.
This is not the same as 2 Corinthians 3:18, for there the words, "in a glass" are not included in more correct translations. For in that case, it is not merely spiritual things in view, but "looking on the glory of the Lord." There is no veil between, no hindrance whatever to the eye of faith in seeing the glory of the Person of Christ at God's right hand, and by the power of the indwelling Spirit. This is not partial knowledge.
But our partial knowledge of the truth will give place to knowledge in the measure in which "I am known." This is not by any means omniscience (knowing all things), but knowing all that relates to my position and condition in manhood, as God knows it. This of course involves a great deal more than is seen on the surface; and all will be seen then in a perfect perspective, not influenced by our present limited, unbalanced condition. These are necessary reminders when considering the actual exercise of ministry in chapter 14.
At present, faith, hope, and love are all essential in both practical life and in ministry. "But the greatest of these is love." It will of course abide in eternal beauty and fullness and sweetness, long after faith gives place to sight; and when hope has realized its precious, perfect fulfillment in eternal glory. For "God is love:" this is His very nature; and through knowing the love of Christ, we are "filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 2:19). We shall know Him in His full outflow of unhindered love, no longer through trial and sorrow and experiences that humble the heart, precious as these are too in our present conditions of learning by experience. But if His love has so proven its preciousness in His absence, what indeed will be its fullness in His blessed presence?
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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