1 Corinthians 13
1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
It is easy for believers to get caught up with gifting and to forget that love is so much more important. In fact, without love, the gifts are pointless and fruitless. Somebody could speak all kinds of other languages with the help of the Spirit, even an angelic language, and still it would be meaningless without love. Such giftedness is akin to an annoying, banging noise like a gong or cymbal. It is a self-centered distraction that creates division and irritates others in the body. If a person had the gift of prophecy and if he knew all mysteries and all knowledge, being able to unfold the truths from the Old Testament, it would be of no value without love. Even if that person had faith such that could move mountains as Christ had spoken of (Matthew 21:21), still his labor in the Lord would be in vain because of his lack of love. He might think highly of himself because of all of his knowledge, but in God’s eyes, he is nothing who is accomplishing nothing of spiritual value and adding nothing to his spiritual account in terms of eternal rewards. Even if a person was generous enough to sell all the he had so that he could feed the poor in an act of tremendous charity, it would have no eternal profit because there would be no love backing the action or motivating the decision. Love is driven by a desire to please God, not to draw attention to self. Even if a person was martyred for the sake of Christ but did so without love, it would be of no eternal value. It does no good to stand for truth and hate the opposition. We must love all people, both our brothers and sisters in Christ and our enemies. To love is the greatest accomplishment in Christ and the greatest gift one can experience or give.
4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,
The Corinthians needed love to rule in their fellowship such that the divisions would come to and end. They needed to be longsuffering with one another, not eagerly taking vengeance but rather bearing with one another. People are fallible, and even in the church, people do hurt one another, sometimes purposefully and sometimes unknowingly. We must be merciful in how we treat others, and they need to be merciful with us. Sin does need to be confronted, but it must be done in gentleness and compassion. Love is kind, valuing the interests of others ahead of one’s own and being eager and ready to forgive (Ephesians 4:32). It is not violent or cruel, but it is peaceful, gentle, and peacemaking. Love is not jealous in that it does not envy what others might have or be. It rejoices with the rejoicing of others and mourns with their mourning (Romans 12:15). Love is not in competition with other believers but in a compassionate cooperation. Love does not boast or draw attention to itself because it is interested in being the servant of all. Neither does it boast about vain accomplishments or take glory in self-achievement. It seeks to encourage others and to draw attention toward God.
5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
Love understands that to be a child of God is to be one who lives in holiness, generosity, compassion, care, and selflessness. To act unbecomingly would be to live as a child of the devil rather than as a child of God. Love moves a person to live as Christ would have them live, abhorring evil and clinging to what is good (Romans 12:9). Love does not seek its own agenda or selfish ambition, but it is looking to God for direction and viewing the well-being of others as a more important ambition than that pertaining to self. Love does not throw gasoline on the fire of somebody else’s aggression, mockery, or insult. It responds with a gentle answer to turn away wrath rather than stirring up the person’s anger even more (Proverbs 15:1). Love is not pugnacious, seeking a fight or conflict. Love doesn’t enjoy conflict, but it would rather be a peacemaker as much as is possible (Romans 12:18). Love is quick to forgive and forget, not holding grudges or being quick to remind people of their past failures and offenses. Love does not revile in return when it is reviled (1 Peter 2:23).
6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love abhors evil and the ways of the world, taking no joy out of seeing sin or sinning. Sin grieves those who are controlled by love. Love takes its joy in the truth and in the advancement of the principles of the kingdom. It rejoices to see a person come to faith in Christ, and it is glad when relationships are restored and conflict is resolved. Love enjoys seeing the truth set people free (John 8:31-32). Love bears all things, meaning that it is willing to cover the transgressions of others in that it doesn’t shout their failures to the world. It protects the dignity of others who have confided in them. It doesn’t break trust, but it always seeks the restoration and welfare of others. When others offend, love does not take things personally, but rather it begins praying and desiring the other to be forgiven and to see the truth. Vengeance is left to God as it should be (Romans 12:19). Loves puts utmost confidence in the Word of God and His eternal truths, holding to them in fervent faith. It also thinks the best of others, giving them the benefit of the doubt and not being unduly critical. Discernment and a forbearing spirit ought to go hand in hand. Love continually looks forward to the coming of Christ, and love keeps believing that God is still at work, able and willing to do great things in life while on earth. It doesn’t give up on people or lose faith, but it keeps hoping to see the power of God at work. When things are rough and persecution comes, love endures. It does not revile at the persecutors when ill treatment comes, but it trusts that God is in control and that there is blessing in suffering for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10). Love does not give up hope during the trials of life, but it keeps doing what it can to demonstrate the character of Christ to a world in need and to a church which needs good examples.
8Love never fails;
As believers, we never do wrong to love. Love is the fulfillment of the law of Christ as we value others ahead of ourselves and worship God with all of our being. No person can force us to not love them, so love is undefeatable. Love also moves people to see their own sin, and so love is powerful (Romans 12:20). If the church loses its identifying mark of love (John 13:34-35), it will lose its impact on society, for the world won’t be able to see Christ in it. If it does love, the church will continue to have a powerful effect on a watching world which is incapable of love without the power to defeat love. They will have to take notice of a church which loves one another and cares for those it doesn’t even know.
but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
9For we know in part and we prophesy in part;
10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
There will come a time when prophecy will cease along with tongues and the certain special revelatory aspect of the gift of knowledge. These gifts served the purpose of the church in its founding before the Word of God was complete, and they helped the world to know that God was behind the movement (1 Corinthians 14:21-22). Paul is not telling the Corinthians to ignore spiritual gifts but to use them (1 Corinthians 14:1). All of the gifts he had listed so far were still desirable and active at this point in time. His point was merely that without love, the use of the gifts is in vain. The world doesn’t care if a person can work miracles, but they can’t get along with their own family. Holiness is the greatest miracle of all, and it must be in place for these other signs and wonders to even matter. At this point, the church knew only in part and could prophesy only in part. With the written Word, we have much more knowledge and understanding from which to teach. Yet we are not perfect; however, the Word of God is (Psalm 19:7). So the perfect Word has come to us in the form of the Bible, and the partial (God’s revelation through the interpretation of tongues, prophetic utterance, and words of knowledge) has come to an end. Thus, we must study the Word and grow up to maturity so that we are no longer children who are tossed here and there by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). We should be anchored in truth and in knowledge because of our personal study, the work of the Spirit in our hearts, and the ministry of the teaching of the Word from gifted men of God. The childish ways of receiving God’s revelation can be put away because we no longer see dimly but face to face as we open the Word of God and encounter directly God’s heart for us. We can know His will and His desires for us outright in His Word (Psalm 119:105, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). We will know fully and have all things pertaining to life and godliness through Christ (2 Peter 1:3) in Whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). We will be fully adequate and complete for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Thus, we will know fully what we need to know, and the times of ignorance will be gone in the fullest sense (Acts 17:30). God has known us fully all along, but now is our chance to know Him to the full extent of His revelation to us in this time.
Paul’s foundational message to the Corinthians is that gifts are fine but useless and worthless without love driving their use. Some of the gifts will even die out, but faith, hope, and love will remain, with the greatest of these three being love. Thus, if the Corinthians can learn to love one another and the world, their testimony will be great. They will see God do great things, and the world will know that the church is of God. The gifts are good and should be used, but love must reign over all.