Recent Posts
Lowell Brueckner

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

1 Corinthians 13


Chapter 13

In order to properly enter this chapter, we must keep in mind, the last verse of chapter twelve: “Earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.” After giving this treatise on love, which we are about to study, Paul begins chapter 14 by stating, “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts (again the word gifts is not in the original Greek), and we must also take this command into account. It is part of the context of Paul’s entire discourse on spiritual gifts and love, and none of it stands by itself.

The gifts of the Spirit are all desirable and none of them are to be despised. Paul certainly does not disdain them, in fact, the verb desire is imperative, both in chapter 12 and 14. Paul commands the Christian to desire the gifts and gives them their place in the sacred Scriptures. He is quite clear as to what our conclusion should be. It is to pursue love, while you desire spiritual gifts. Adam Clarke comments: “There is nothing good, nothing profitable to salvation, unless it be done in the power of God communicated by Christ Jesus, and in that holiness of heart which is produced by his Spirit.”

The gifts are desirable and, as Matthew Henry adds, God gave them generously: “Concerning all these observe: The plenteous variety of these gifts and offices. What a multitude are they!   A good God was free in his communications to the primitive church; he was no niggard (not stingy) of his benefits and favors. No, he provided richly for them. They had no want, but a store – all that was necessary, and even more; what was convenient for them too.”

However, Paul counsels us to desire earnestly the best gifts and the best gifts, according to the Greek, are the strongest or the greatest gifts. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but we need to first see an illustration of this in chapter 14:1, where Paul shows that prophecy is greater, that is, more desirable and more useful than tongues, at least, when the gift of tongues is separated from the gift of interpretation. So then, prophecy is one of the greater and more desirable gifts. Paul says as much in 14:39: “Desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.” I am making the point, as strongly as I know how, that love does not replace the spiritual gifts; instead love is to be added to the gifts to raise them to the highest value possible.

Before we go on, I want to pause a moment longer to consider this more excellent way by quoting again from Matthew Henry: “He closes the chapter (12) with an advice… by giving them the hint of a more excellent way, namely, of charity, of mutual love and good-will. This was the only right way to quiet and cement them, and make their gifts turn to the advantage and edification of the church. This would render them kind to each other, and concerned for each other, and therefore calm their spirits, and put an end to their little piques and contests, their disputes about precedency. Those would appear to be in the foremost rank, according to the apostle, who had most of true Christian love. Note, True charity is greatly to be preferred to the most glorious gifts. To have the heart glow with mutual love is vastly better than to glare with the most pompous titles, offices, or powers.” To this proposition, we fully agree.

The way of love

1.      Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
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, but have not love, I am nothing.
3.      And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

The controversies in Corinth involved their preferences of leaders or teachers, their eating foods offered to idols, their treatment of the Lord’s Table and probably other matters that I have neglected to mention. Paul has been addressing this problem throughout his letter and now he deals with their attitudes concerning spiritual gifts. It is of greatest concern to him, but the fountain of his concern flows from the grieving and perfect heart of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The Corinthians “come short in no gift” (1:7), indicating that they possess all gifts, therefore their problem not only has to do with tongues, as some Bible teachers seem to suggest. The theme of chapter 13 will serve to enhance and improve the Corinthian involvement with the entire gamut of spiritual gifts. There is a paradox here, in that, while they are endowed with what the Greek terms as spirituals, yet nevertheless, they are carnal (3:1-4). Think of it, heavenly gifts are a cause for carnal envy and an arrogant sense of superiority in this church.  

There is no question that Paul is putting an argument before us, but the manner, in which he does so, is indicative and proof of the authorship and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He moves the apostle to compose a beautiful verse of love, worthy of being put to music. Some have done exactly that, including the beloved hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, who gleaned from verse 12, “And I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story saved by grace.” Those words are even more wonderfully moving, when we remember that Ms. Crosby was blind.

I certainly recognize my inadequacy in tackling these 13 verses and I have felt a bit of foreboding, as I neared this majestic passage. Now that we have arrived, I could wish myself a far better writer and, more importantly still, wished, in general, that I owned greater and deeper insight into the vast treasures of heaven’s truth. That confession may help bring you to a state of greater sobriety and, I hope, expectancy, as we explore these lines together. We need to do so prayerfully and trust the Lord to add to our appreciation for this outstanding chapter. May we reach out and take something of that, which Paul prayed that the Ephesians would comprehend: “To know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph.3:19).

The most gifted linguist, regardless of his mastery of multiple languages, and though he possesses the eloquence of angels, is reduced to voicing nothing beyond noise, if he does not speak in love. Sounding brass and clanging cymbal produce sounds without significance, beauty or melody. Communication is a powerful tool, useful in evangelization and in the edification of the church, but its highest form, turns to empty clanging and clatter, without love. That should show the vital need for God’s love, as an inaudible force behind all that can be spoken.  

It must be understood that Paul is not calling us to culture and polish that, which is only a human trait or quality. As I teach, I never tire of saying that it is not the best of human faculties that are needed in bearing the light of the gospel before the world. If you listen carefully, you will hear the passion, as Christ intercedes for us before the Father, “that the love with which You love Me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn.17:26). To testify of Christ means that the attribute of God’s love may be experienced, as Christ manifests it through us to the world. He expressed the same to His disciples in 15:9: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” Meditate on this statement by John in his first epistle: “In this is (true, godly) love, not that we loved God (for that would be human love), but that He loved us (with divine, eternal love)(1 Jn.4:10). 
Jake DeShazer joined the U.S. Air Force during World War II with a fierce hatred for the Japanese. That hatred grew considerably, in a Japanese Prison Camp, after he was captured and tortured. Mysteriously, he was given a Bible by a Japanese prison guard and was converted to Christ. Immediately afterward, God called him to become a missionary to Japan. I do not have the quote on hand, but I remember well the essence of what he commented, concerning the love he had for the Japanese. “Love is not something innate in the human heart, which must be cultured and improved; God alone gives true love in a complete form and it comes supernaturally to a human being as a miracle."

In verse 2, Paul speaks of the awful destruction of wonderful, powerful gifts, in order to magnify the tragedy that occurs, due to the absence of God’s love. Understanding is nullified and the removal of mountains loses its wonder, when love is not present. God’s love is far superior to the gift of prophecy, the understanding of mysteries and knowledge, and the possession of great faith. The absence of the love of God reduces all these to nothing and the person who prophecies, understands, and does wonders through faith, himself becomes useless without love.

All humanitarian work and acts of charity are of no profit without God's love. We see non-Christian organizations and totally unconverted people working feverishly to aid their fellowman. Human compassion and concern can go as far as to empty oneself of his possessions and even sacrifice one’s life. A soldier on the battlefield can lay down his life to save his buddies, without the help of God. We may find it difficult to believe that human love can carry a person to such an extreme, but that is what Paul is teaching and that is what the Holy Spirit, who inspires Paul, knows to be true.  However, if the love of God is not the motivating force behind the acts, Paul tells us, no one has really and truly been helped (3).

Characteristics of love

4.      Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
5.      does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
6.      does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
7.      bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I think, it is probably not wise to be wordy or use an abundance of adjectives when writing, but because of the magnificence of our theme, I feel somewhat obligated to waive the rule in this article. We begin to consider the attributes of love in verse 4. We will see in them the opposite of carnality. You can be carnal, while preaching and teaching. You can be carnal while prophesying and operating in spiritual gifts. You can be carnally involved in humanitarian work, but you cannot be carnal in the love of God. The love of God is absolutely selfless. The person, who is acting in true love, does not think of himself or consider his own well-being.

Love suffers long. It bears up under insult, abuse, attack and persecution in all their different forms, whether physical, verbal or as an evil effort against someone’s reputation or character. Love is kind. Kindness is a subtitle under the heading of love. I suppose we have all known individual Christians, who are truly kind.  We all recognize kindness, when someone manifests it, but I find it difficult to define or describe it. Even if I can never find words to express exactly what kindness is, I want to know more about having a kind attitude towards others. I want to feel their hurts and desire the best for them. I want to try to help to lift them out of their suffering, especially the internal pain, sadness and hopelessness caused by the circumstances that they have experienced.

Love does not envy. It is happy over the success and good fortune of another. It rejoices when someone else is promoted, praised and awarded, due to being more talented, skillful and intelligent. To study the character of King Saul in the book of 1 Samuel will give a good idea of what it means to have great abilities without love. The gift of prophecy came upon him several times, but see how he reacts, when David receives due credit: “Saul was very angry… and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands’” (1 S.18:8). He is envious to the point of wanting to kill.

On the other hand, love does not parade one’s own achievements or strengths and is not puffed up. I always think of leaven, when I consider what it means to be puffed up. It causes bread to rise, beyond its material substance. It is indicative of pride, especially, but also hypocrisy and false doctrine. False teaching does not spring from ignorance, so much as from an arrogant animosity against biblical truth. Paul has already told the Corinthians in 8:2, “If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.” Pride has given him an exaggerated opinion of his knowledge. That is what the Bible calls leaven. Near the end of the letter to the Galatians (6:3), Paul stated, “If anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Here again, spiritual leaven has given the person an exalted view of his self-worth. God’s love is never guilty of praising or flattering men.

Rudeness demonstrates a lack of love. To de discourteous, abrasive, impolite, crude, insulting, offensive, insensitive, and inattentive to civility is to be manifesting traits that are synonymous, or close to being synonymous, with rudeness. These are not characteristic of the love of God. Do not excuse them as a character fault: “It’s just the way I am, or he or she is.” Some might even say that God made them this way. The love of God deals in careful consideration, so as not to wound or unnecessarily hurt anyone.

I have already stated that love is selfless and does not take its own wellbeing into account. David knew this principle: “Who may dwell in Your holy hill?... He who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps.15:1, 4). He saw this beautiful character trait in Jonathan, his best friend. Jonathan and David swore loyalty to one another. Jonathan was in line for the throne of Israel, but he desired it rather for his beloved friend, David, willing to take a secondary position: “You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you” (1 S.23:17). His father, Saul, saw this as weakness in him. He said to Jonathan: “Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame…? As long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom” (1 S.20:30, 31).

The high planes of love will come into our consciousness, when we meditate on the next two qualities: “Love is not provoked, thinks no evil.” (5). We cannot possibly dwell there, until God’s love dominates our personality. Love cannot be provoked to the point where the one, who is possessed by it, will begin to think evil thoughts against the one, who provokes him. Paul taught the Romans: “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not” (Ro.12:14). It is nothing more than what Christ taught and expected from His disciples: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Mt.5:44). We find it impossible to believe that any human being can fulfill His command. Oh yes, God’s love is miraculous and carries us beyond our own possibilities. It is super-human!

The next two characteristics are especially important to know in this day and age: First, love does not rejoice in iniquity; quite the opposite, love hates sin. It is a paradox, but it is true, that love can actually hate. In the love of God, His disciple, in order to love righteousness, will hate iniquity. Do not try to say that you are acting in love, if you are compromising with sin. The love of God is never comfortable around sin. Jesus could eat with sinners, but He never compromised with their sin. He always rose above it and demanded repentance. Notice, when He ate with the publicans: “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance(Mt.9:13).

In the second case, love rejoices in the truth. The love of God is never happy, when truth is dragged in the mud. On the contrary, love submits to truth and will not manifest itself to the one who insists on believing lies. God loves truth more than He loves people. Let me bring to your attention a verse, to which I often refer: “God will send strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth…” (v.6, 2 Thess. 2:11, 12). Jesus said, “I am the truth”, and the person, who loves Him, must, of necessity, love the truth.

Love can carry a heavy load, it bears all things. Love partners with faith, believing all things, and with hope, hopes all things. It believes all things. That does not mean, in any way, that love is gullible. No, it means that love triumphs over intelligence or mental knowledge. It does not need scientific proof to believe what God says. Then, biblical hope is not ‘hope so’ hope. It is “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast…” (Heb.6:19).  Love endures; it outlasts its enemies. It keeps on loving, even when rejected or ignored (7). This is certainly something that we have learned from the character of Christ, who loved His enemies, “endured the cross, despising the shame…”  (Heb.12:2). We are tasting that, which is sublime and heavenly. May God give grace, so that our souls can begin to digest it.

Love is perfect and eternal

8.      Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
9.      For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
10.  But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11.  When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13.  And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

We repeat, love endures all things, and if God is in love, then love cannot fail, for He will carry it through to victory. Because of time and space, I dare not get very far into the subject, which the writer of Hebrews teaches in chapter 7. I will only mention the spiritual principle, which he teaches: Only that which is permanent and eternal, is true. God is eternal and dwells in eternity; love is also eternal. Prophecy is not, neither are tongues and knowledge (8), referring to three spiritual gifts.

Love is also perfect. Prophecy, tongues and knowledge are not. We have already seen, and we will see more of it in chapter 14, that spiritual gifts can be misused. They are partial, not perfect. We live in an imperfect time, when we ourselves are imperfect, the church is also imperfect and our understanding is imperfect. That is an undeniable and obvious fact (9).

We will not find a perfect Christian or a perfect church at any point throughout this age. Neither will we find someone, who fully understands all that there is to be known. No one fully understands the Bible, which fact does away with the idea that “my Bible and I are enough.” It isn’t, because my knowledge is imperfect, and as long as I live, it will be imperfect. You and I need help, teaching from others, who understand things that we don’t understand. To help you understand, you need to read books, written by people that you cannot learn from in person, whether they are dead or alive. 

That which is in part is imperfect and temporal and will come to an end (10).  In the introduction to chapters 12-14, I quoted at length D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. You may want to go back to review his comments on these verses 9-12. A little later, I will simply remind you of the gist of his viewpoints on them. By the way, they are also my viewpoints and, I think, the viewpoints of most Christians down through the ages. Earlier, in my comments on this chapter, I also briefly referred to the musical composition by Fanny Crosby, And I Shall See Him Face to Face.

I am always wary of things, of which you must learn from other human beings. I mean, in saying that, that you will find teaching, which is not supported by the Scriptures, in general. It is so obscure that the general body of Christians could never arrive at such a conclusion, by studying on their own. This kind of doctrine can only be sustained by a chain of teaching, handed down from one person to another. I often tell cultists: “Somebody had to teach you these strange doctrines that you hold to, because you would never have learned them in the privacy of your own devotions.”

So it is with a popular teaching on this portion of Scripture, from verses 9 through 12, relating it to the completion of the New Testament canon. There is nothing in this chapter that gives a hint that Paul is referring to the completion of the New Testament canon. There is nothing that tells us that “that which what is perfect” is the completion of the Scriptures and that we will know face to face, when the book of Revelation is finally written. The Holy Spirit will never teach you that, as you wait on your knees for illumination. Someone else has to teach it to you.

Therefore Fanny Crosby said: “If I had a choice, I would still choose to remain blind… for when I die, the first face I will ever see will be the face of my blessed Savior.” We already quoted her hymn, “And I shall see Him face to face.” That is the most reasonable understanding of what Paul is writing. Fanny Crosby saw that that which is perfect and face to face, will occur, when Christ returns for His church or in death, when He takes His child to glory with Him. This is what John teaches in 1 John 3:2: “We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  Paul is referring to the same truth in verse 12: “Then I shall know just as I also am known.”

Lloyd-Jones shows a hint of sarcasm as he counters the fore mentioned doctrine, which he said is “nonsense”, and nonsense is worthy of some sarcasm. As Lloyd-Jones continued, he noted that Paul included himself, the writer of at least 13 epistles in the New Testament, when he said, “I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” Of course, Paul did not survive until the New Testament was completed by John. Are we to suppose that he always remained a child (11), and never grew up into spiritual maturity? Did Paul, then, and all those who died before the Scriptures were completed, only know in part?

Well, that is true, they did only know in part and they never arrived at the place Paul is talking about in verse 11, until they went to be with the Lord, which Paul said is far better (Phil.1:23). Here is what is not true and is, in fact, ridiculous! If the perfection that Paul is talking about in verse 10, was the completion of the canon, then all those who lived since that time, can come to spiritual manhood. They are superior to the Christians, who lived before the canon was complete, because it is possible now for them to know as they are known. Prophecy, tongues and knowledge have vanished away, because we have the full canon, and they are no longer necessary. In these times only faith, hope and love abide,

That is false teaching! Here is the truth: All those who lived beyond the time, in which the book of Revelation was completed, bringing the New Testament to completion… they, and we also, know in part, just as Paul did. They and we, as Paul, speak, understand, and think in an imperfect way. This is true, because it has nothing to do with the canon, but everything to do with the time, before and after Christ returns for His church, or when we die and go to be with Him in glory. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, The ‘now’ and the ‘then’ are not the time before and after the Scriptures were given. The ‘then’ is the glory everlasting. It is only then we shall see him as he is. It will be direct and ‘face to face’.” Until then, prophecy, tongues and knowledge are still in play. As I quoted Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Wesley, as well, nothing in Scripture whatsoever limits the spiritual gifts to the time of the apostles and until the time, when the New Testament was completed.

Finally in verse 13, Paul speaks of three things that abide, after the gifts of the Spirit will no longer be necessary, and they are faith, hope and love. Love is superior to faith and hope, but faith and hope equally abide with love. Hope is sure; it is not an ‘I hope so’ hope. It is total and perfect assurance and it will abide throughout eternity. If that is not true, then eternity is unsure, but hope, in a biblical sense, cannot fail. Nothing can possibly enter in to spoil heaven for eternity. Here is the biblical definition: “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil.” Hope is an anchor that is sure and steadfast. Where is it? It is in the Holy of Holies, in the very throne room of God. It will be there throughout eternity to forever secure our position before Him.

I think some have a very limited view of faith. They see it only as something which carries us through this world, until Christ returns for us. Until then, they think, it sees the invisible and, when Christ appears the second time, it will no longer be necessary. However, even after the invisible becomes visible, faith continues to work. A. B. Simpson believed and taught that God created the world through faith and faith brought into being, that which did not exist before. Jesus worked in faith to do the miraculous. As believers, we enter into His faith. Paul said, “I live by the faith of the Son of God” (Gal.2:20) and the accurate translation of Mark 11:22 is: “Have the faith of God.”

The word faith, so abundant in the New Testament, is only used twice in the Old Testament. However, in Hebrews 11, we find that all the Old Testament saints worked by faith. A synonym for faith is trust, and that is the word found throughout the Old Testament. Faith is trust, trust or confidence in His person and confidence in His work. To have faith in the work of Calvary is to trust only in that work. To have faith in God is to trust Him. And we will do that throughout eternity. Therefore, faith, hope and love abide forever… but the greatest of these is love. 


Post a Comment