1 Corinthians 13
1 Corinthians 13
charity: Christian love: a. God's love to man; b. Man's love of God and his neighbour, commanded as the fulfilling of the Law, Matt. xxii. 37, 39; c. esp. The Christian love of our fellow-man; Christian benignity of disposition expressing itself in Christ-like conduct; one of the 'three Christian graces' fully described by St. Paul, 1 Cor. xiii. (Oxford English Dictionary)
I. This chapter is renowned as the “love chapter” of Scripture.
A. It was not that Paul just thought it would be nice to include some inspirational words about
love and so stuck this chapter in his epistle to Corinth.
B. This chapter is in the midst of Paul's detailed instructions about the use of spiritual gifts in
the church. 1CO 12-14.
C. Compared to the other gifts, charity is “...a more excellent way” (1CO 12:31).
II. The church at Corinth is a witness that a church may be full of disorder, yet still God's church.
A. This fact does not excuse churches from orderly operation, or the corrective measures of
the epistle would be nonsensical.
B. Corinth had disruptive problems with:
1. division. 1CO 1:10; 11:18; 12:25.
2. strife. 1CO 1:11; 3:3.
3. glorying in inclusiveness. 1CO 5:2, 6.
4. glorying in spiritual gifts. 1CO 14:12, 26.
5. heresies. 1CO 11:19; 15:12, 29.
6. confusion. 1CO 14:26-33.
C. Paul is not only giving a solid doctrinal and practical guide for the use of spiritual gifts, but also here shows a superior way of service to Christ and one another.
1. Near the conclusion of 1CO 12, Paul points out the order and value of the gifts.
2. They run from the most important gift (apostle) to the least important (tongues).
3. Paul here exhorts the saints to earnestly covet the best gifts he had just enumerated.
4. However, for those discouraged by his low estimate of their gift, frustrated without
a gift in the list, or simply desiring to serve the Lord more perfectly, he offers a superior alternative: the service of love. It is more excellent than being an apostle or any spiritual gift.
5. The power of love amongst brethren is not a particular (affecting a part, not the whole) gift as were others; it is available for all to exercise. 1TH 4:9.
III. Spiritual gifts without love are worthless. vs. 1-3.
A. Speaking in tongues without love is nothing but irritating noise. v. 1.
1. The tongues of men are the various languages of mankind. ACT 2:8.
2. The tongues of angels is hyperbole, emphasizing the greatness of this presumed gift
of tongues to make a greater appeal for love.
a. There is no Bible basis for a specific language of angels.
b. Compare this text's construction with ECC 6:6; AMO 9:2.
3. Paul begins with tongues, since it is apparent here is where the Corinthians had their greatest problems.
4. Tongues are obviously not a proof of true Biblical love.
5. Tongues exercised in any way outside his definition of love are mere clanging
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B. Prophecy, wisdom, knowledge and faith without love are vain. v. 2.
1. Prophecy, wisdom and knowledge were special abilities to know and reveal God's will by inspiration prior to the completion of the New Testament Scriptures.
2. Faith was that confidence and trust in God that could seek and expect great things from God. ACT 6:5, 8.
3. These gifts are exaggerated beyond their reality to make a greater appeal for the importance of love.
a. The gift of prophecy didn't know all mysteries. 1CO 14:29-32.
b. Whether or not Paul had faith that could remove mountains was not the
issue. It was that if he did have such exaggerated faith but had not love, he
C. Charitable giving and martyrdom without love are not profitable. v. 3.
1. Again, an extreme description is made here of giving and suffering to make the greater appeal for love.
2. Even those outward actions of charity or love do not prove the existence of the inward truth and reality of love. Men can have false motives for their outward actions. PRO 26:24-26; JOH 12:4-6.
IV. Love is the greatest measure of human relations. vs. 4-7.
A. By fifteen concise and eloquent statements, Paul clearly defines the nature of true love by
the highest standard ever given.
B. If Corinth would learn such love, their division and strife would shortly end, and they
would be using their spiritual gifts in a profitable way. c/w COL 3:14; 2:2.
V. Love is the enduring grace and gift for Christians to seek. vs. 8-13.
A. “Charity never faileth” describes the enduring character of love: it will always be the basis
for conduct pleasing to God and man.
B. Prophecies, tongues and knowledge shall come to an end. v. 8.
1. Prophecies would not fail in the sense of God not keeping or performing His word, but rather the temporary gift of prophecy would end. 1CO 12:10; 13:2.
2. Speaking in tongues for a sign would likewise end.
3. Knowledge would not vanish away in the sense of all men becoming senile or
ignorant; but rather the temporary gift of divine knowledge would come to an end
4. Paul continues to reason with the Corinthians not to put so much stock in their
temporary spiritual gifts. These were not the enduring aspects of Jesus Christ's
C. The gifts of knowledge and prophecy were only imperfect gifts. v. 9.
1. Those having the gift of knowledge did not know everything but rather only a part of the knowledge God had for the church.
2. Those having the gift of prophecy did not all have the same specifics of revelation given them, but only a portion.
3. Such gifts of the Spirit were limited to any individual, so order and cooperation had to occur for learning. 1CO 14:29-32.
4. Paul implies that even he had imperfect knowledge by his appeal to perfect knowledge and prophecy. vs. 2, 12.
D. Perfect knowledge and prophecy would then end partial gifts. v. 10.
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1. The perfect thing coming is set in careful contrast to those things that were in part: knowledge and prophecy. vs. 9-10.
2. The complete and inspired Scriptures with the New Testament are “...that which is perfect...”
a. David called the O.T. law of God perfect. PSA 19:7.
b. Paul said Scripture could perfect Timothy. 2TI 3:16-17.
c. James called Scripture the “...perfect law of liberty...” (JAM 1:25).
d. The completion of the Scriptures meant the end of the apostles and the signs
and wonders accompanying them to confirm the word.
MAR 16:20; HEB 2:4.
e. Paul is dealing particularly with revelatory gifts (knowledge and prophecy), but he includes tongues due to their great abuse at Corinth.
E. Maturity should cause a change in our conduct. v. 11.
1. Paul simply draws an illustration of maturity.
2. If the Corinthians would mature in their understanding of spiritual gifts, they would
recognize the superiority of enduring love to the temporary gifts they had.
3. Paul had already referred to their immaturity. 1CO 3:1.
4. He would shortly encourage them to not be children in understanding. 1CO 14:20.
F. Their grasp of God and truth was inferior to what it would be. v. 12.
1. The focus shifts here from the perfection (completion) of the Scripture to the
perfection of the individual.
2. The theme of the chapter remains unchanged: the superiority of things perfect and
permanent (which accord with maturity) to things partial and temporary (which accord with immaturity).
a. The body of knowledge which is the complete revelation (the Bible)
superates and displaces the temporary gifts of knowledge and prophecy.
(1) Immature saints dwell on temporary expedients like gifts.
(2) Mature saints thrive on Scripture.
b. The knowledge and understanding of Christ which is peculiar to the heavenly state superates and displaces the temporary current state of what
we can know now through grace and Scripture.
(1) The Apostle Paul knew much about Christ but looked forward to an
even fuller knowledge.
(2) Our understanding is currently clouded by our infirmity, but that
shall someday be changed.
(3) We now see Christ through the eyes of faith and hope.
1PE 1:8; ROM 15:13.
(4) At the coming of Christ we will see and know Him perfectly.
PHIL 3:21 c/w 1JO 3:2.
G. Love is greater than faith or hope. v. 13.
1. Faith and hope, like charity, are not particular gifts but universal to all believers. All three of these gifts “abide,” i.e., last longer than the temporary expedients.
2. Neither faith nor hope will be needed or helpful in heaven. HEB 11:1; ROM 8:24.
3. Faith and hope are helpful for that which is not seen. Love is helpful for that which
is seen (1JO 4:20; COL 3:14) and therefore suited to both the present
circumstance and when all the elect family see each other in heaven forever.
4. Though faith and hope abide much longer than other spiritual gifts, yet even they
are exceeded by love. Charity never faileth.
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