One Corinthians Thirteen

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

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1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

speak with the tongues. Paul has just noted that there was “a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) to manifest Christ than by manifesting one's spiritual gifts. Then he first deprecates the gifts of tongues, probably because this gift was being particularly misused in the Corinthian church.

charity. It is well known that this word “charity” (Greek agape) is often translated “love” in the King James Version (more than three times as much as “charity,” in fact). In view of the almost universal misuse of the English word “love” today—generally denoting either romantic love or erotic love or possibly just a happy feeling (e.g., “I love a parade!”), it would probably be better to retain the Old English concept of “charity,” meaning a generous and unselfish concern for others. This meaning is very close to the true meaning of agape and its correlative verb forms. That is certainly the message of this famous so-called “love chapter.”

1 Corinthians 13:2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

feed the poor. Thus, giving to the poor, in itself, is not “charity” as defined in this chapter. Without true Christian charity, I both “am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2), and “have nothing.”

1 Corinthians 13:4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Charity suffereth long. Note that “charity” (or agape “love,” if preferred) is defined by verbs rather than adjectives—by what it does, instead of what it is.

1 Corinthians 13:5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

1 Corinthians 13:6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

1 Corinthians 13:7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

1 Corinthians 13:8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

they shall fail. “Fail” is the same as “vanish away” (Greek katargeo, meaning “become useless”). “Cease” (Greek pauo, from which we derive “pause”) means simply “come to an end.” Thus all three of these supernatural gifts (and perhaps other supernatural gifts as well) would eventually become useless and would therefore be withdrawn by the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

know in part. The gifts of knowledge and prophecy at that time had conveyed only a part of God's intended revelation to His people. In fact, the only earlier epistles by Paul were Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Eventually, however, more would be forthcoming through the various apostles and prophets.

1 Corinthians 13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

that which is perfect. “That which is perfect” cannot refer to Christ at His second coming, for “that” is a neuter pronoun. Since the previous verse refers to the incompleteness of the divine revelation at that time, “that which is perfect [that is, “complete”] almost certainly refers to the completion of Biblical revelation, as finally announced by John, the last of the apostles (Revelation 22:18-19). We now have all the prophetic truth needed in the Scriptures for the guidance of the church until Christ comes again. With few, if any, exceptions, we also have all the attestation we need to its veracity and power, so there is little need any more for miraculous signs, even though many still desire them.

1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

a child. This word actually means “babe,” the same as in 1 Corinthians 3:1, where the identifying characteristic of “babes in Christ” was carnality in the form of congregational divisions. The implication follows here that the misuse of the spiritual gifts, instead of glorifying God and building up the church, may lead instead to dissension, division, and even flagrant sin.

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

through a glass, darkly. Compare James 1:23-25. The completed Scriptures are like a mirror which shows us as we are, and encourages us to make needed changes. In the ultimate sense, we shall know in full only when God's plan, as revealed in Scripture, is complete.

1 Corinthians 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

these three. The ordinary gifts of the Spirit will no doubt continue until Christ comes. At that time, even faith and hope will no longer be needed. Charity, however, will continue forever.