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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
1 Corinthians 13

 

 

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Verse 1

1 Corinthians 13:1. Though I speak, &c.— St. Paul having told the Corinthians, in the last words of the preceding chapter, that he would shew them a more excellent way than the emulous producing of their gifts in the assembly, he informs them in the present admirable chapter, that this more excellent way is love, which he explains at large. The word ' Αγαπη is certainly rendered charity very improperly; for being in our language almost confined to the sense of alms-giving, it has led many into gross errors on this subject. The original must here be taken in the noblest sense, for "such a love to the whole church, and the whole world, as arises from principles of true piety, and ultimately centres in that God who is love." See 1 Corinthians 13:3. As a cymbal was made of two pieces of hollow brass, which being struck together madea tinkling with very little variety of sound, St. Paul chose to instance in this, rather than a harp or flute, or any other more harmonious instrument. It appears from many passages, both of Josephus and of the Jewish rabbies, that each of the things which St. Paul speaks of in this and the following verses as absolutely of no avail withoutlove, was regarded in the highest degree by the Jews.


Verse 2

1 Corinthians 13:2. All mysteries, and all knowledge Any predictions relating to our Saviour or his doctrine, or the times of the Gospel contained in the Old Testament, in types, or figurative and obscure expressions, not understood before his coming, and being then revealed to the world, St. Paul calls mysteries, says Mr. Locke, as may be seen all through his writings; so that mystery and knowledge are terms here used to signify truths concerning Christ to come, contained in the Old Testament; and prophesy, the understanding of the types and prophesies containing those truths so as to be able to explain them to others. See on chap. 1 Corinthians 12:8. By faith to remove mountains, or to do that which is impossible, except by a miracle, must be meant the miraculous faith spoken of ch. 1 Corinthians 12:9 and as it is here supposed that this faith might in fact be separated from love, it cannotsignify the same as in the Epistle to the Romans, where it is "such an assent to a divine declaration, as produces a suitable temper and conduct."


Verse 4

1 Corinthians 13:4. Charity suffereth long The Apostle here proceeds to give us sixteen characters of divine love;—upon which, if the compass of our work allowed, it would be well worth time to expatiate. 1st, Love suffereth long,—is long-suffering or patient towards all men: it suffers all the weakness, ignorance, errors, infirmities, all the forwardness and littleness of faith in the children of God; all the malice and wickedness of the children of the world;—feeding our enemy when he hungers; if he thirst, still giving him drink:thus continually heaping coals of fire, of melting love, upon his head: and in every step endeavouring to overcome evil with good. 2nd, It is kind,— χρηστευεται,— a word not easily translated:—It is soft, mild, benign; it stands at the utmost distance from moroseness, from all harshness, or sourness of spirit; and inspires the sufferer atonce with the most amiable sweetness, and the most fervent and tender affection. Consequently, love; 3rdly, Envieth not:—It is impossible it should; it is directly opposite to that baneful temper; it cannot be that he who has this tender affection to all, who earnestly wishes all temporal and spiritual blessings, all good things in this world and the world to come, to every soul that God has made, should be pained at his bestowing any good gift on any child of man. Ifhe has himself received the same, he does not grieve, but rejoice, that another partakes the common benefit. If he has not, he blesses God that his brother, at least, has, and is therein happier than himself: and the greater his love, the more does he rejoice in the blessings of all mankind; the more is he removed from every kind and degree of envy towards any creature. 4thly, Love vaunteth not itself,— ου περπερευεται,— is not rash or hasty in judging: it will not hastily condemn any one; it does not pass a severe sentence upon a slight or sudden view of things; it first weighs all the evidence, particularly that which is brought in favour of the accused. A true lover of his neighbour is not like the generality of men, who see a little, presume a great deal, and so jump to theconclusion. No: he proceeds with wariness and circumspection, taking heed to everystep, willingly subscribing to that rule of the ancient heathens "I am so far from lightly believing what one man says against another, that I will not easily believe what a man says against himself; I will always allow him second thoughts, and many times counsel too." 5thly, Loveis not puffedup; it does not incline or suffer any man to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but rather to think soberly; yea, it humbles the soul into the dust; it destroys all high conceits engendering pride, and makes us rejoice to be as nothing. They who are kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love, cannot but in honour prefer one another. Those who, having the same love, are of one accord, do in lowliness of mind each esteem others better than themselves. See Wesley, Stanhope, Clarke, and Bengelius.


Verse 5

1 Corinthians 13:5. Doth not behave itself unseemly This is the sixth character, and implies that love is not rude, or willingly offensive to any. It renders to all their due; fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour; courtesy, civility, humanity, to all the world, in their several degrees honouring all men. Good breeding, nay, the highest degree of it, politeness, is defined to be "a continual desire to please, appearing in all the behaviour;" If so, there is none so well-bred as the Christian,—a lover ofall mankind; for he cannot but desire to please all men for their good to edification: and these desires cannot be hid; they will necessarily appear in all his intercourse with man; for his love is without dissimulation: it will shew itself in his whole conversation and actions; yea, and will constrain him, though without guile, to become all things to all men, if by any means he may save some. And in the becoming all things to all men, love, 7thly, Seeketh not its own: In striving to please all men, the lover of mankind has no immediate eye to his own temporal advantage: he covets no man's silver, or gold, or apparel; he desires nothing but the salvation of their souls; nay, he may be said not to seek his own spiritual any more than temporal advantage; for while he is on the full stretch to save their souls from death, he, as it were, forgets himself, he does not think of himself, so long as that zeal for the glory of God swallows him up. See Exodus 32:31-32. Romans 9:3. No wonder that such love, 8thly, is not provoked;— ου παροξυνεται,— The word easily is not in the original. St Paul's words are absolute, love it not provoked; it is not provoked to unkindness towards any one. Occasions indeed will frequently occur, outward provocations of various kinds; but love does not yield to provocation; it triumphs over all, never exasperated and thrown into bitter and implacable resentments: in all trials it looks unto Jesus, its great exemplar, and is more than conqueror in his love. And it prevents a thousand provocations, which would otherwise arise, because, 9thly, it thinketh no evil. Indeed the merciful mancannot avoid knowing many things that are evil; he cannot but see them with his own eyes, and hear them with his own ears; for love does not put out his eyes, so that it is impossible for him not to see that such things are done; neither does it take away his understanding any more than his senses; but ου λογιζεται το κακον, it does not infer evil, where it does not appear; or reason out, or suppose what it has neither seen nor heard. This is what true love absolutely destroys; it tears up root and branch,—all imagining of what we have not known; it casts out all jealousies, all evil surmises, all readiness to believe evil; it is frank, open, unsuspicious; and as it cannot design, so neither does it fear evil.


Verse 6

1 Corinthians 13:6. Rejoiceth not in iniquity This is the 10th character of love, that it rejoiceth not in iniquity—common as it is even for those to do so who bear the name of Christ. The true Christian, however, is so far from this, that he laments over either the sin or folly of an enemy; takes no pleasure in hearing or repeating it; but rather desires that it may be forgotten for ever. Nay, 11thly, He rejoiceth in the truth, wherever it is found; in the truth which is after godliness, bringing forth its proper fruit, holiness of heart and conversation. He rejoices to find, that even those who differ from or oppose him, whether with regard to opinions, or some points of practice, are nevertheless lovers of God, and in other respects irreproachable. He is glad to hear good of them, and to speak all the good he can of them consistently with truth and justice. Indeed, good in general is his glory and joy, wherever diffused through the race of mankind. As a citizen of the world, he claims a share in the happiness of all the inhabitants of it. Because he is a man, he is not unconcerned in the welfare of any man; but enjoys whatever brings glory to God, and promotes peace and good-will among men.


Verse 7

1 Corinthians 13:7. Beareth all things, &c.— The twelfth character of love is, that παντα στεγει, it coveteth all things, as the word should undoubtedly be translated; for otherwise this character would be the very same with the last in this verse, παντα υπομενει, endureth all things. See 1 Peter 4:8.—Because the merciful man rejoiceth not in iniquity, neither does he willingly make mention of it. Whatever evil he sees, hears, or knows, he nevertheless conceals, so far as he can, without making himself partaker of other men's sins. Wherever, or with whomsoever he is, if he see any thing which he approves not, it goes not out of his lips unless to the person concerned, except where the interests of the church of Christ essentially require it,—if haply he may gain his brother. So far is he from making the faults or failings of others the matter of his censure or conversation, that of the absent he will say nothing at all, if he can say nothing good. A tale-bearer, a backbiter, a whisperer, an evil-speaker, is to him like a murderer. He would just as soon take away his neighbour's life as thus murder his reputation: just as soon would he think of diverting himself with setting fire to his neighbour's house, as of thus scattering abroad arrows, fire-brands, and death, and saying, Am I not in sport? He makes only one exception. Sometimes he is convinced, that it is for the glory of God, or, which comes to the same, the good of his neighbour, that an evil should not be covered. In this case, for the benefit of the innocent, he is constrained to declare the guilty; but he always in this instance acts with the greatest care and caution, lest he should transgress the law of love by speaking too much, more than he would have done by not speaking at all. 13thly, Love believeth all things. It is always willing to think the best; to put the most favourable constructionon every thing: it is ever ready to believe whatever may tend to the advantage of any one's character: it is easily convinced of what it earnestly desires,—the innocence or integrity of any man; or at least of the sincerity of his repentance, if he has once erred from the way. It is glad to excuse whatever is amiss; to condemn the offender as little as possible; and to make all the allowance for human weakness which can be done, without betraying the truth of God: and when it can no longer believe, then, 14thly, love hopeth all things. Is any evil related of any man? Love hopes that the relation is not true; that the thing related was never done. Is it certain that it was?—But perhaps it was not done with such circumstances as are related; so that, allowing the fact, there is room to hope it was not so bad as it is represented. Was the action, apparently, undeniably evil?-Love hopes the intention was not so. Is it clear the design was evil too?—Yet it might not spring from the settled temper of the heart, but from a start of passion, or from some vehement temptation, which hurried the man beyond himself; and even when it cannot be doubted that all the actions, designs, and tempers, are equally evil; still love hopes that God will at last make bare his arm, and get himself the victory; and that there shall be joy in Heaven over this one sinner that repenteth. Mean time, 15thly, it endureth all things; whatever the injustice, the malice, the cruelty of men can inflict, love is able to endure. It calls nothingintolerable; and never says of any thing, "This is not to be borne." A true believer can not only do, but suffer all things, through Christ that strengtheneth him.


Verse 8

1 Corinthians 13:8. Charity never faileth This is the sixteenth and last character of love: It never faileth. It accompanies and adorns the faithful to all eternity, and makes a very essential part of their preparation for the heavenly world: in which it has an apparent advantage over many of those gifts which some are so ready to emulate and pursue, to the neglect and injury of this all-important love. But whether men admire prophesies, it is fit they should know, that these shall be abolished, when the faith of God's people shall, no longer need to be encouraged, nor their devotion to be assisted by such exhortations and instructions as are necessary now: or, whether they boast themselves of the variety of tongues, they shall cease in those celestial regions. One speech and one language shall prevail among all the blessed inhabitants, and the languages of earth be forgotten, as too low and imperfect: yea, a great deal of that knowledge which we now pursue with the utmost eagerness, and which is very conducive to our present usefulness among mankind, shall then be abolished and superseded, as referring to things altogether antiquated and passed away; or swallowed up in discoveries so much clearer, stronger, and more important, that it shall appear, in comparison of them, as nothing. As star-light is lost in that of the mid-day sun, so shall our present knowledge be lost in the glorious light of eternity. Instead of they shall fail, some read, shall be out of use, or done away.


Verse 9-10

1 Corinthians 13:9-10. For we know in part, &c.— The wisest of men have here but short, narrow, imperfect conceptions even of the things round about them; and much more of the deep things of God: and even the prophesies which men deliver from God, are far from taking in the whole of future events, or of that wisdom and knowledge of God, which is treasured up in the Scripture revelation. But when we are arrived at that perfect and heavenly state—both that poor, low, and glimmering light, which is all the knowledge we can now attain to, and all the present slow and unsatisfactory methods of obtaining it, shall be exchanged for the more extensive views of whatever it can be desirable to know; opening upon the mind in the most easy, clear, and delightful manner.


Verse 11

1 Corinthians 13:11. When I was a child "The future shall indeed be like a state of adult age, when compared with that of feeble infancy; just as when I was a child, I spake as a child would naturally do, a few imperfect words, hardly at first articulate and intelligible, and often in themselves unmeaning. I wasaffected as a child;thrown into transports of joy or grief upon trifling occasions, which manly reason soon taught me to despise. I reasoned as a child, in a weak, inconclusive, and sometimes ridiculous manner; but when my faculties ripened, and I became a man, I put away the things of the child, and felt sentiments, and engaged in pursuits, correspondent to such advancements of age and reason. Such shall be the improvements of the heavenly state, in comparison with those which the most eminent Christian can attain h


Verse 12

1 Corinthians 13:12. For now we see through a glass darkly For now we see in an ambiguous manner, by means of a mirror; δι εσοπτρου . The LXX. use this word for the women's looking-glasses, or mirrors of metal, out of which Moses made the laver, Exodus 38:8. It is well known that the use of dioptric glasses in telescopes did not prevail till many ages after the date of this Epistle. The meaning of the verse is, "We now see the most noble objects of our intellectual view in an ambiguous and obscure manner; as we discern distant objects by means of a glass or mirror, which reflects only their imperfect forms; so that, as when riddles are proposed to us, our understandings are often confounded with the uncertain and indeterminate appearances of things.—But then we shall see, not the faint reflection, but the objects themselves, face to face, in as distinct a manner as we could wish.—Now I know but in part;and though the light ofan immediate revelation from heaven has been imparted to me in many instances, and in an extraordinary manner, I am sensible how great a part is still kept under the veil. But then it shall be taken off, and I shall know, even as I also am known, in an intuitive and comprehensive manner: so that my knowledge shall bear some infinitely faint but fair resemblance to that of the Divine Being, which, while our notices of things hover about the surface, penetrates to the very centre of every object, and sees through my soul and all things as at one glance."


Verse 13

1 Corinthians 13:13. And now abideth faith, &c.— "There are, then, only these three things which last, in opposition to the spiritual gifts before spoken of, which were to be of short continuance in the church. Faith, hope, love, are the sum of perfection on earth; love alone is the sum of perfection in Heaven: nay, it is Heaven itself; for

——In obedience to what Heaven decrees, Knowledge shall fail, and prophesy shall cease; But lasting charity's more ample sway, Not bound by time, nor subject to decay, In happy triumph shall for ever live, And endless good diffuse, and endless praise receive."

See Mr. Prior's paraphrase of the whole chapter.

Inferences.—How ambitious should we be of abounding in every exercise of so amiable a grace, as brotherly Christian love, which results from faith in Christ, and from love to him, and to God through him! What are all miraculous gifts of tongues, of prophesy, of immediate revelations, of working wonders, and of a firm assent to the great truths of the Gospel, whereby we might be fitted for service in the church? And what are all external acts of the most generous liberality to the poor, and suffering martyrdom itself for our profession of Christ's name, without a principle of grace in the heart, and particularly the grace of love, to animate, spiritualize, and improve them for the glory of God, and our own and other's good? They may appear with specious and noisy pomp; but, without love, will be of no saving advantage to us, and will leave us miserable creatures for ever. How admirable is evangelical love in its benevolent temper and behaviour, meekness, patience, humility, and forbearance; in its candour, and willingness to believe and hope the best; in its sympathy, disinterestedness, and generosity; and in its tender, touching, and friendly care, for the welfare of others! And of how much longer duration is this excellent grace in the faithful saints of God, than all spiritual gifts, which may be lost, even here below, and will have their period with this world at farthest, and be useless in the next; and which at best leave us very imperfect in our knowledge, like children in understanding, while we are here! And though faith and hope may abide with us, and are as necessary as love, during our continuance in this world; yet love is the most eminent of these graces, as on many other accounts, so especially, because it will abide, and be consummately perfected in the saints, together with their knowledge of divine things, in Heaven; where, not only all spiritual gifts, but faith and hope themselves, in their present use and exercise, as well as several other graces, that are suited to this state of warfare, shall cease; and they shall have no further occasion for them, to all eternity.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The more excellent way, which the Apostle had been recommending, he here describes; and that is love, which is the greatest of graces, shall endure for ever, when gifts are vanished away; and without which they are nothing worth.

1. Though I speak with the tongues of men, in all the various languages of the globe, or even of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal (so inharmonious), and a mere empty noise. Little reason, therefore, had the Corinthians to value themselves upon the gift of tongues, when, through their abuse of that excellent gift, it afforded them too much occasion for pride and contention. And,

2. Though I have the gift of prophesy, can foretel future events, and understand all mysteries, through divine illumination discovering the meaning of the most abstruse prophesies and figures; and have all knowledge, such as never mortal man attained before, and have not love, it signifies nothing to my salvation. Such light would only be sufficient to lead me into eternal darkness.

3. And though I had all faith, to work the most stupendous miracles, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing in God's account, and utterly destitute of the spirit of vital Christianity.

4. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, it would be utterly unprofitable to myself, if divine love was not the principle from which my alms-giving proceeded. Note; Many give largely to the poor, who never did a truly charitable act in their lives.

5. And though I give my body to be burned for my profession of the Gospel, and have not love to God, and to men for his sake, it profiteth me nothing. The affectation of leaving a great name, or the conceit of the meritoriousness of such a sacrifice, may even lead a man to a stake. He may burn for Christ, and yet be disowned by him, if this genuine mark of discipleship be wanting.

2nd, We have the true properties of that most excellent of graces, love.

1. It suffereth long, patiently enduring provocation, unruffled with affronts, passing by offences, and suppressing every motion of resentment which would rise within the soul.

2. It is kind, courteous, affable, benevolent, and opens the lips, the hand, and heart, to every good word and work.

3. Love envieth not the superior gifts, graces, attainments, honours, or affluence, which others enjoy; but takes due pleasure in them as if they were her own.

4. Love vaunteth not itself, is not ostentatious of any excellencies or superior advantages; does not treat inferiors with contempt and insolence, nor rashly or perversely utter any thing to a brother's disadvantage.

5. It is not puffed up, does not fill the mind with vain conceits of man's importance, nor suffer us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think.

6. It doth not behave itself unseemly, admits of no conduct unsuitable to the age, station, or circumstances, of the person; suffers nothing mean, indecent, or dishonourable, to enter the mind, or be carried into act.

7. Seeketh not her own, is influenced by no mercenary motives, nor pursues any private ends, inordinately craving honour, gain, or applause; but is generous, noble, and disinterested, sacrificing her own advantage for the good of others.

8. It is not provoked; but, under the most exasperating insults, can preserve a holy serenity; and even be angry, and not sin; displeased at the sin, yet pitying the sinner; always restraining just resentment within bounds, and ready to be reconciled.

9. It thinketh no evil, never seeking to pry into the conduct of others to discover faults, but ever ready to put the best construction on their words and actions; entertains no undue suspicions; and is willing to forget as well as forgive every injury.

10. It rejoiceth not in iniquity, looks not, but with grief and sorrow, on the sins, perverseness, and infirmities of others. But,

11. Rejoiceth in the truth, glad of the success of the Gospel; pleased with beholding its influence, wherever it appears; and ever delighting to bear testimony to the truth, and speaking from the heart.

12. It beareth all things; covers men's faults with the mantle of love; pities their weakness, and suffers without the thought of retaliating their perverseness.

13. It believeth all things; willing to entertain the most favourable opinion of all, averse to every ungrounded suspicion, and candidly disposed to receive the excuse and explanation where any thing may have been mistaken.

14. It hopeth all things; where matters appear dark, and cannot but raise doubts, still Christian love will not despair but that they can yet be cleared up satisfactorily, or, where the evil is evident, that the fault will be repented of and amended.

15. It endureth all things, with unshaken fortitude bearing up under every affliction, temptation, and persecution, and for the sake of Christ and his people ready to undergo any sufferings.

Such is the transcendant grace of love: in the glass of which we should often look, compare our features with this perfect pattern, and daily seek that we may grow more like him whose nature and name is Love.

3rdly, The Apostle proceeds in his commendation of love, not only as superior to all gifts, but as the chief of all graces.

1. Love never faileth. All gifts must quickly have an end; whether there be prophesies, the gift of foretelling future events, or interpreting the Scriptures, they shall fail, and be of no farther use in the eternal world; whether there be tongues, they shall cease, when they have answered their present use of spreading the Gospel through the world; and in Heaven the faithful shall have but one language; whether there be knowledge, the extraordinary insight into divine truth, it shall vanish away; in glory this knowledge will be no longer needed; all will be intuitively clear.

2. All gifts are suited only to a state of imperfection; when we arrive to maturity in glory, we shall be above them. For we know in part, and prophesy in part, our greatest attainments are at present defective; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away; and the nature of the saints of God being exalted to the highest pitch of which it is capable, all imperfection will be swallowed up in the utmost perfection of knowledge and holiness, absolute and everlasting. Our present and future state differ as much as manhood does from infancy. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; and such he insinuates were all their highest present attainments, no better than the poor conceptions and lisping of babes: but when I became a man, I put away childish things; and in the heavenly state so low thoughts shall we entertain of all our present most esteemed acquisitions; we shall despise what in the days of childish folly we valued, and view everything, with a distinctness of spiritual vision as much above our present state, as the thoughts of manhood are superior to the fancies of infancy: for now we see through a glass darkly, the mirror reflecting the object indistinctly, and, like a riddle, the truth is enveloped with obscurity; but then face to face, clearly and fully, by intuition, without any darkening medium. Now know I in part, with all my singular gifts I know but in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known, comprehending heavenly objects with the most distinct knowledge, and in the same way that God who is a Spirit, and his angels, know me.

3. Love is the most excellent of graces, as well as above all gifts. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three cardinal graces, inseparable from the Christian character, and which till death must be in constant exercise, if we be finally saved; but the greatest of these is love, the others being as means to this as the end. And when faith is swallowed up in sight, and hope in the fruition of eternal blessedness, love, the bright image of the Deity, shall glow towards the eternal Three, and towards the celestial hosts, in every bosom of the faithful, and continue to burn, with unextinguished ardour throughout the countless ages of eternity.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/1-corinthians-13.html. 1801-1803.

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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