1 - 7 Love
1 If 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. 2 If 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. 3 And 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. 4 Love is patient, love is kind [and] is not jealous; love does not brag [and] is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong [suffered], 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
This chapter seems to be out of place as it is placed between chapter 12 and chapter 14, where Paul is dealing with the one body and gifts. Nevertheless nothing in the Bible is on the wrong place. Of course it could not be otherwise, because the real Author of the Bible is the Holy Spirit. And when you wonder why such a section, that at first glance seems to be put on the wrong place, but it is put there specifically, then your faith in the inspiration of the Bible only grows stronger. That is also the case here.
In chapter 12 Paul showed the diversity of the gifts. In chapter 14 he shows how these gifts should be effective in practice. In chapter 13 we see that love is like an axle, on which the chapters 12 and 14 revolve. For if you want to practice your gift properly and if you want to have the proper effect also, then love is the only way to make it happen.
Love exceeds every gift. That’s why it is the “still more excellent way” as it is written in the last verse of the previous chapter. Love, as it is meant here, is not just a feeling of affection. It is not the cheap love that is found in the world, where love is in fact self-love. No, here it is about the nature of God Himself. “God is love” (1Jn 4:8,16).
The great characteristic of the Divine love, thus from which you can recognize the Divine love, is because it is a perfectly selfless love. It is the giving love that is focused on the other. Was not that the purpose of the gift? Isn’t the gift focused on the other to be of profit for the other? Love gives you the strength to be able to do that, for you have received the Divine nature (2Pet 1:4).
In the life of the Lord Jesus, Who is God Himself, everything that is said about love in our chapter, is found in a perfect way. You may put this chapter, so to speak, right next to the Gospels and you will find the practice or application of it on every page. Then you will also see that Divine love goes much further than sympathy or human affection. You probably have no difficulty to practice your gift towards a brother or sister who suits you, but love goes much further than that.
Love, as it is presented here, gets to work, even if there is nothing attractive to be found with the other person. You may be very annoyed by a brother or sister. But you know, the Divine unselfish love is not offended by anything. Love gets to work, because it is love. To love, it makes no difference how the opposite is or responds.
The great example is God. I already pointed that out: God is love. Well, in 1 John 4 is written how God showed that (1Jn 4:9-10). He gave His only begotten Son. Even though God surely knew that man did not want Him and even though He knew what they would do to Him, He nevertheless gave Him! That is love. It is the same love that is needed to be able to practice your gift. Without this love everything means nothing. Things you want to impress others with, have no value at all, without love.
V1. Paul applies a lot of this chapter to himself. He often uses the word ‘I’. If you read this part, you might apply this to yourself as well. He starts with ‘speaking in tongues’. That was in high esteem with the Corinthians. They were proud of this gift. Just imagine that you were able to speak all the languages in the world, without having learned them and that you could even speak the language of the angels. That would be quite something! However, if you would not let yourself be guided by love in practicing them, it would be nothing more than hollow sounds that fade away after a short while and have no permanent effect.
V2. With the other gifts it is the same thing. Even if you would be able to, on the basis of the Bible, tell everything about the future (“prophesy”) and were introduced to the “mysteries”, the secrets of God and knew the Bible by heart (“all knowledge”) and do impressive acts of faith (“all faith”), you would be nothing; you would be zero point zero, zero and void indeed, if love has not been your inner motive to practice those gifts.
V3. And what about bestowing all your goods to feed the poor? Is that not a generous aim?! It would still be entirely useless if love were not the reason that activated you. People could give away all they possess to ease their conscience. They might have dishonestly gained many of their goods. They think to cleanse their conscience by giving away everything. But that will not profit them at all, because they lack love.
There were also people who even gave their body to be burned. They might have poured gasoline over themselves and set themselves on fire to draw people’s attention to something they sacrificed themselves for. They might have succeeded to appear in the media, but that did not profit themselves, because their dedication was without the Divine love. To God that meant nothing.
V4. Then in verses 4-7 a description follows of the way love reveals itself. In fact it says more about what love is not, than what love actually is. It is like the description of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 21, where you read about things that will not be there anymore (Rev 21:4). You live in a world wherein you have to do with the consequences of sin in every possible way. Divine love is not disturbed by that, but on the contrary sees that as a chance to prove itself. That is perfectly seen in the life of the Lord Jesus. This chapter is therefore, as it has already been said, a description of Him.
Because sin is still in you, the best proof of love you can give is by abandoning a number of things. However, the first two things that are mentioned have a positive effect. Be “patient” is not a favorite characteristic to the world we live in. It means that you can control yourself if you see things that are wrong, or if you yourself are cheated. Instead of demanding your rights you are patient with the other person. You even go further. You are ”kind” (good) to all the people around you. Is that not what the Lord Jesus was?
Then the characteristics follow that are not present in the Divine love. Who is never “jealous”? “Does not brag” you can compare most with not ‘acting like a braggart’ or showing how beautiful you are, or not displaying and promoting your latest purchase (whatever that may be). To be “arrogant” is wanting to be more than you are. Hasn’t that ever happened?
V5. Haven’t you ever behaved ”unbecomingly”? This means, haven’t you ever blatantly ignored somebody’s feelings? Have you always considered the other person’s concern only, without seeking your “own” interest? Has somebody wronged you by doing something against you? Are you willing to abandon all evil thoughts about that person and “not take into account” the wrong done to you? Isn’t it more usual that you are often more inclined to repay evil with evil? We rather wish evil on a person than not to impute it.
V6. Are there times you remember when you had pleasure in watching other people make a big mistake? Of course that was to ease your own conscience. Back then you did not like to hear the truth, while love on the contrary, has pleasure in that.
All these issues were not found with the Lord Jesus. Neither are they found in the love, the Divine nature, the new life you received, for that is the life of the Lord Jesus. If you give love priority, you will experience, that with you, the same wrong things are missing and the same good things are found as with the Lord Jesus.
Love “believes all things”. That is not the simple-minded naivety that believes everything. It means that love is not suspicious. You might say this: love trusts the other until the contrary shows otherwise.
Love “hopes all things”. Love knows that evil will not have the last word and it continues to hope (the biblical hope means: knowing for sure) that good will always conquer.
Love “endures all things”. That means it can stand a good deal. It goes on, right through all afflictions.
Now read 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 again.
Reflection: Which positive features of love do you encounter here and which negative features? What are your weak points? How can you change them?
8 - 13 Love Never Fails
8 Love never fails; 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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When 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. 12 For 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. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
V8. If it is said that love never fails, it cannot be otherwise than that it is about Divine love. That can never be said of human or natural love. That love can grow cold and even change into hatred.
In the practice of life it is no exception, unfortunately, when husband and wife separate, because they no longer have feelings towards each other. When they got married it all seemed so wonderful, but in a course of a short or longer time, the love they first had toward each other grew cold. That is because this love is based on what the other is or does.
Divine love on the contrary, always loves, no matter how the other person behaves. The cause of this is that God is the source of this Divine love. Therefore that love never fails. It has always been and will always remain. That cannot be said of the gifts. “Prophecy”, “tongues” and “knowledge” will cease.
We need prophecies as long as we live on earth. Two things are meant by prophecies. In the first place it is about predicting the future, things that are to happen. You find them through the whole Bible. Your expectation of the future destines your life on earth. If you for example know what will happen to the world, you will consider that in the way you live in the world and in the way you deal with it.
Secondly prophecy is in the sense of chapter 14 (1Cor 14:3), where it is about preaching in church. There it is not about a prediction about the future, but it is about an encouragement or exhortation that you need for your faith life.
In contrast to love, prophecies will be done away. When a prediction of the future has been fulfilled then the prophecy has been done away. That will happen to all prophecies, for God will surely do what He has said. Even the prophecy in the sense of encouragement or exhortation will be done away, namely when we shall be taken up to heaven. Then we will be in no need of any encouraging or exhorting word anymore.
The same goes for knowledge: it will be done away. Gaining knowledge is something that belongs to the imperfect life on earth. You go to school and after that you might follow some training to improve your knowledge, in order to improve your job. Gaining knowledge goes on as long as you live on earth. That also applies to the things of God. But in heaven that will not be necessary anymore; then knowledge will be done away, for we will know fully.
The tongues “will cease”. That will not only be in heaven, but, in my opinion, already on earth. To clarify why I think so, I would like to point at the word used in verse 8. That, at least, has helped me when I pondered on the gift of speaking in tongues and whether this gift still occurs. Of prophecies and of knowledge it is said that “they will be done away”, while of tongues it is said that “they will cease”. This distinction is important.
‘Will be done away’ refers to an event, an action, through which both prophecies and knowledge will come to an end. This event or action is at the coming of the Lord Jesus to collect the church and to take it to heaven. Then the perfect situation has come and therefore prophecy and knowledge will not be needed anymore.
Regarding the tongues it is different. ‘They will cease’ means that they will end spontaneously after a course of time, namely when they have fulfilled their service. The ending does not happen by an action, but it happens gradually. This gift gradually extinguishes, as it were.
What was the function of the tongues? That was to make clear at the beginning of the church that God was in action. In the book of Acts, where the early days of the church are described, you read several times in the first chapters about speaking in tongues. But the further you read in this Bible book, the less you encounter this gift, until it entirely vanishes. The meaning of speaking in tongues will be commented on in detail in chapter 14, but here you already find an indication, which you ought not to ignore.
V9. Then Paul will speak further only about prophecy and knowledge. Both are “in part”, that means that prophesying and knowing happens little by little. With God perfect knowledge is present, but with us there is partial knowledge. You might compare this to getting to know a city. You can only know a city well by walking through all its roads. After you’ve been in each road, you’ve got to know the city little by little. That is meant by ‘in part’, thus partially.
V10. Only when you fly in an airplane above the city, you can get the big picture and you see how each road is connected to the other. The truth of God is like that. You can be occupied with your blessings as a Christian at one moment and at the other moment with the future of Israel, but not with both of them at the same time. Of course you will see more of the wonderful unity of the Bible if you are more and more occupied with the Bible. Nevertheless you will only be able to see the big picture of God’s plan when the perfect situation has come, that is when we are glorified.
V11. That there is also a mention of growth in spiritual view, appears from what Paul says about a child and about a man. What applies to nature also applies spiritually. I do not know how long you’ve already known the Lord. I surely know that, in a course of time, you will find some things more important than you did in the past. You will get to know the value of certain things better.
A little child loves to play with all kinds of things. It is not conscious of the value of those things and it is not even interested in that. To have fun with it, is the only thing that counts. A toy-car is fun and sitting behind the wheel of a real car is also fun. But he who has become a man will surely have discovered in the meantime the big difference between the value and the use of it. That’s how it is in spiritual view. The Corinthians loved to speak in tongues in the ‘childhood’ of the church. They were not aware yet of the real value of the church.
V12. The reason why we still see everything “dimly” is because of the limitations we have as humans. This doesn’t mean that we do not need to learn to know God’s Word, as if it is, after all, difficult and inconceivable. No, he who really loves God and the Lord Jesus will make every effort to learn to know Them better. And the Bible is the only way to do that. Haven’t you ever experienced that by reading the Bible, certain things suddenly become clear? It is the desire of the Lord Jesus that we grow in insight.
Seeing “dimly”, as if you “see in a mirror” that does not reflect your face entirely clearly, you should compare to the perfection of heaven. When we are there, each limitation and dimness we experience here on earth will disappear. I will then know in the same way as God has always known me.
V13. But as long as I am on earth, “faith, hope, love” remain available to me. To each Christian these are the three pillars on which his life rests and the power through which he lives in a world that lies under the sway of the wicked one (1Jn 5:19).
“Faith” is the same as confidence. A Christian has confidence in God and in the Lord Jesus for now, despite the resistance and difficulties he experiences.
“Hope” looks forward to the time when we will be perfect. In Hebrews 6 hope is called the “anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:19). An anchor is very important for a ship to be kept in the right place and that it will not be dragged by the stream. A captain once told me that not all anchors are equally reliable. When he doesn’t trust his anchor he has no rest. When he can trust his anchor he can sleep quietly. If you rely on the Lord Jesus like that and continue to look forward to His coming, nothing will turn you upside down.
Finally “love”. It is the “greatest” of the three. Love is ‘the greatest’ because it does not only consider God and the Lord Jesus, as it is the case with faith and hope, but also here on earth it considers other people to do them well. Love is also ‘the greatest’, because it remains in eternity, while faith will be changed by seeing and hope will be fulfilled.
Now read 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 again.
Reflection: Faith, hope and love together occur approximately ten times in the New Testament, for example in 1Thes 1:3. Try to find other examples yourself.