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The Greatest of All Things
Summary —Christian Love Better than Miraculous Gifts. The Nature of Love and Its Action. All the Miraculous Gifts Shall Pass Away, but Love Endureth Forever. All Human Knowledge Imperfect, and Transient. But Faith, Hope, and Love Eternal. Of the Three, Love is Greatest.
“This praise of love, almost a psalm on love it might be called, is as rich in its contents drawn from deep experience as in rhetorical truth, fullness and power, grace and simplicity.”—Meyer.
1–3. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. In chapter 12 he has spoken of spiritual gifts, one of which was to speak with tongues. “A more excellent way” (12:31) is now to be shown. Hence, various spiritual gifts are taken up and shown to be useless and vain without love. If he spoke not only with the tongues of men, but even those of angels, it would be, without love (see Revision), an empty sound, like sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. The latter was a brazen basin, which was beaten. The sounds of these instruments would not be musical. 2. Though I have the gift of prophecy. Another and a high spiritual gift. See note on 12:10. And know all mysteries. Have supernatural wisdom so as to understand all the secrets of God. And all knowledge. See note on 12:8. Though I have all faith. See note on 12:9. The faith that imparts miraculous power, faith that could remove mountains. See Matt. 17:20. It is clear that Paul knew of the utterance of Christ, since the test of the power of faith is the same. 3. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor. Though he exhibit what the world calls charity in the highest degree, unless he is filled with love, it is nothing. One might give his goods from a desire of praise. Though I give my body to be burned. Gives not only goods, but his body itself. If, like a Buddhist ascetic, he leaps into the flames to burn away the dross and to etherialize his spirit. These sacrifices are useless unless consecrated by love. All these things are excellencies if sanctified by the divine principle of love, but are profitless without it.
4–7. The action of love is now described. Love suffereth long. Endures slights and wrongs patiently and long, and returns a kindly spirit. It is “slow to anger” (Psalm 103:8). Christ, “when he was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Peter 2:23). “The fruit of the Spirit is long-suffering” (Gal. 5:22). See also Rom. 2:4, and 2 Cor. 6:6. Love envieth not. How miserable is that envy which is made unhappy by the good fortune of another. Cain is an example. Love excludes it. A mother does not envy her child. Vaunteth not itself. Does not ostentatiously boast of superiority, nor is it inflated. 5. Does not behave itself unseemly. Discourteously and in a way to shock good manners or morals. Seeketh not her own. Is unselfish and disinterested. See Rom. 12:10. Is not provoked. Does not fly into a rage, but keeps the temper under control. Thinketh no evil. The idea of the Revision is that love does not keep a record of evil rendered so as to return it. 6. Rejoiceth not in iniquity. Instead of rejoicing, is filled with sadness by wrong doing of any kind, but does rejoice with the truth in its triumphs. 7. Beareth all things. Bears up in spite of all things evil, and is not overcome. This is the idea of “beareth.” Love bears up against the tide of evil, as the rock against the waves. Believeth all things. Is not distrustful and suspicious. Hopeth all things. Is hopeful instead of despondent, and hopes for the best. How hard for the loving mother to give up hope for her recreant son! Endureth all things. Endures patiently persecution and suffering. The cardinal quality of fortitude, hardihood, unyielding persistence is meant.
8–10. Love never faileth. The superiority of love over all besides is shown by its survival of all with which it is compared. It is eternal and imperishable. Whether there be prophecies. The gift of prophesying shall cease. As a matter of fact we know that it has long since done so. Whether there be tongues. The gift of speaking in unknown tongues was transitory. Knowledge. Even the supernatural knowledge, granted as a spiritual gift, is temporary. All these were only granted while the church was in an immature state. 9. For we know in part, and prophesy in part. A reason why these gifts should pass away. Our knowledge is now only partial, and the prophecy only gives glimpses. These are all imperfect and fragmentary, and hence must give way to something better. 10. When that which is perfect is come, then the partial knowledge and prophecy will be done away. The imperfect will give way to the perfect; the perishable to the enduring. “The perfect” was expected at the coming of Christ. Some think that it came when the church was fully matured, since the special gifts then ceased. If there is a reference to this, the final and complete reference is to the glorified church.
11–13. When I was a child. In these verses the change he has declared will take place is illustrated by the change from childhood to manhood. The speech, thoughts and feelings of the child give way to those of the man. So it will be when the church moves on from childhood to full development. 12. For now we see in a glass. In a “mirror.” The mirrors of the ancients were of polished metal, and were far inferior to ours. The images were indistinct in comparison. They were seen darkly, indistinctly, imperfectly. Thus in this state of our knowledge of divine things imperfect and incomplete. But then face to face. We will not look in a glass in the coming state, but will see face to face, without a veil, or obscurity. Now I know in part. There were limitations upon the knowledge even of Paul; only a part was seen. But then, when the veil is taken away, and the full revelation has come in the presence of Christ, he shall know fully, know God, eternity and its secrets, even as he is known to God. Thus it is shown that all these spiritual gifts are fleeting. 13. But now abideth faith, hope, love. These three shall survive. They are eternal. They continue to exist in the church, and shall not fail in its glorified state. As long as the redeemed saint shall have future ages before him, so long will trust in God and hope give them brightness, while love itself is the very atmosphere of the divine life. The greatest of these is love. The greatest because it glorifies both faith and hope, sanctifies every faculty and Christian grace, is the very moving impulse of the gospel, and is the one quality that is divine. “God is love.”
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