1 Corinthians 13:1-13
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.…
Each of the apostles had a predominant feature of character. Paul's was faith; John's love. And yet it was not to John that the office was assigned of expounding his own especial grace. The reason for this is, if Paul had exalted faith only, and John love only, we might have conceived that the judgment of each was guided by his peculiarities of temperament. But when the gifted apostle counts gifts as nothing in comparison of love, no doubt remains.
I. THE DESCRIPTION of this grace (ver. 4-7).
1. This is needed, because no single word can express its fulness. Many of these qualities are what we should assign to other graces, e.g., patience, "suffereth long"; generosity, "envieth not"; humility, "vaunteth not herself"; dignified demeanour, "doth not behave itself unseemly," etc. But it is in the co-existence of all that the real life of the under-root of love was shown.
2. The apostle here describes a Christian gentleman. The difference between high-breeding or courtesy, i.e., manners of the court, the characteristic of the high-born, and Christian courtesy is, that the former gracefully insists upon its own rights; the latter gracefully remembers the rights of others. The Spirit of Christ does really what high-breeding only does outwardly. A high-bred man is urbane even to persons whom he is inwardly cursing; and hence the only true deep refinement comes from Christian love. And hence, too, we understand what is meant by elevating and refining the poorer classes. Christianity desires to make them all gentlemen. Only read this description of Christian charity, and conceive it existing in a peasant's breast. Could he be rude, selfish, and inconsiderate? Would he not be a gentleman in heart?
II. THE REASONS FOR ITS SUPERIORITY TO GIFTS.
1. Its permanence — "Charity never faileth."(1) Prophecy — the power of interpreting Scripture, is a precious gift, but a time will come "when they shall not teach every man his neighbour, saying, Know the Lord, but all shall know Him from the least to the greatest."(2) Tongues, also, shall pass away. Suppose a man had known fifty languages in the days of St. Paul, how few would be of use now!
(3) Knowledge also "shall vanish away," for it is but a temporary state of the human mind, e.g., —
(a) That of the physician, which arises out of the existence of disease: were there no disease, his knowledge would disappear.
(b) It is the same with gifts of healing: when the time comes in which "they shall hunger no more, and thirst no more," when sickness and death shall cease, this power shall be needless.
(c) So also with the knowledge of the lawyer. Were there no wrongs done, the necessity of legal knowledge would be at an end.
(d) The same with science, which is ever shifting and becoming obsolete. The science of St. Paul's day is only curious now.
2. Its completeness. Gifts are only means to an end. Love remains, the perfection of our human being, just as stem, flower, bud, and leaf in the tree are all subservient to the fruit. St. Paul uses two illustrations to make this plain (ver. 11, 12).
(1) Just what childhood is to manhood, the most advanced manhood is to our heavenly being. There are many things now which subserve a high purpose, but do not belong to the highest state. Patriotism, ambition, exclusive friendship, will then disappear, and be succeeded by higher impulses.
(2) Just what the going out of a room lighted through horn windows into the clear daylight would be to us now, will be the entrance of the purified spirit into God's realities out of this world of shadows — of things half seen — of restless dreams (1 John 3:2).
(F. W. Robertson, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.