Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
1Co 13:1-13. Charity or Love Superior to All Gifts.
The New Testament psalm of love, as the forty-fifth Psalm (see Ps 45:1, title) and the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament.
1. tongues—from these he ascends to "prophecy" (1Co 13:2); then, to "faith"; then to benevolent and self-sacrificing deeds: a climax. He does not except even himself, and so passes from addressing them ("unto you," 1Co 12:31) to putting the case in his own person, "Though I," &c.
speak with the tongues—with the eloquence which was so much admired at Corinth (for example, Apollos, Ac 18:24; compare 1Co 1:12; 3:21, 22), and with the command of various languages, which some at Corinth abused to purposes of mere ostentation (1Co 14:2, &c.).
of angels—higher than men, and therefore, it is to be supposed, speaking a more exalted language.
charity—the principle of the ordinary and more important gifts of the Spirit, as contrasted with the extraordinary gifts (1Co 12:1-31).
sounding … tinkling—sound without soul or feeling: such are "tongues" without charity.
cymbal—Two kinds are noticed (Ps 150:5), the loud or clear, and the high-sounding one: hand cymbals and finger cymbals, or castanets. The sound is sharp and piercing.
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, and have not charity, I am nothing.
2. mysteries—(Ro 11:25; 16:25). Mysteries refer to the deep counsels of God hitherto secret, but now revealed to His saints. Knowledge, to truths long known.
faith … remove mountains—(Mt 17:20; 21:21). The practical power of the will elevated by faith [Neander]; confidence in God that the miraculous result will surely follow the exercise of the will at the secret impulse of His Spirit. Without "love" prophecy, knowledge, and faith, are not what they seem (compare 1Co 8:1, 2; Mt 7:22; Jas 2:14; compare 1Co 13:8), and so fail of the heavenly reward (Mt 6:2). Thus Paul, who teaches justification by faith only (Ro 3:4, 5; Ga 2:16; 3:7-14), is shown to agree with James, who teaches (Jas 2:24) "by works" (that is, by LOVE, which is the "spirit" of faith, Jas 2:26) a man is justified, "and not by faith only."
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
3. bestow … goods … poor—literally, "dole out in food" all my goods; one of the highest functions of the "helps" (1Co 12:28).
give … body to be burned—literally, "to such a degree as that I should be burned." As the three youths did (Da 3:28), "yielded their bodies" (compare 2Co 12:15). These are most noble exemplifications of love in giving and in suffering. Yet they may be without love; in which case the "goods" and "body" are given, but not the soul, which is the sphere of love. Without the soul God rejects all else, and so rejects the man, who is therefore "profited" nothing (Mt 16:26; Lu 9:23-25). Men will fight for Christianity, and die for Christianity, but not live in its spirit, which is love.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
4. suffereth long—under provocations of evil from others. The negative side of love.
is kind—the positive side. Extending good to others. Compare with love's features here those of the "wisdom from above" (Jas 3:17).
envieth—The Greek includes also jealousy.
vaunteth not—in words, even of gifts which it really possesses; an indirect rebuke of those at Corinth who used the gift of tongues for mere display.
not puffed up—with party zeal, as some at Corinth were (1Co 4:6).
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
5. not … unseemly—is not uncourteous, or inattentive to civility and propriety.
thinketh no evil—imputeth not evil [Alford]; literally, "the evil" which actually is there (Pr 10:12; 1Pe 4:8). Love makes allowances for the falls of others, and is ready to put on them a charitable construction. Love, so far from devising evil against another, excuses "the evil" which another inflicts on her [Estius]; doth not meditate upon evil inflicted by another [Bengel]; and in doubtful cases, takes the more charitable view [Grotius].
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
6. rejoiceth in the truth—rather, "rejoiceth with the truth." Exults not at the perpetration of iniquity (unrighteousness) by others (compare Ge 9:22, 23), but rejoices when the truth rejoices; sympathizes with it in its triumphs (2Jo 4). See the opposite (2Ti 3:8), "Resist the truth." So "the truth" and "unrighteousness" are contrasted (Ro 2:8). "The truth" is the Gospel truth, the inseparable ally of love (Eph 4:15; 2Jo 12). The false charity which compromises "the truth" by glossing over "iniquity" or unrighteousness is thus tacitly condemned (Pr 17:15).
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
7. Beareth all things—without speaking of what it has to bear. The same Greek verb as in 1Co 9:12. It endures without divulging to the world personal distress. Literally said of holding fast like a watertight vessel; so the charitable man contains himself in silence from giving vent to what selfishness would prompt under personal hardship.
believeth all things—unsuspiciously believes all that is not palpably false, all that it can with a good conscience believe to the credit of another. Compare Jas 3:17, "easy to be entreated"; Greek, "easily persuaded."
hopeth—what is good of another, even when others have ceased to hope.
endureth—persecutions in a patient and loving spirit.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
8. never faileth—never is to be out of use; it always holds its place.
shall fail … vanish away—The same Greek verb is used for both; and that different from the Greek verb for "faileth." Translate, "Shall be done away with," that is, shall be dispensed with at the Lord's coming, being superseded by their more perfect heavenly analogues; for instance, knowledge by intuition. Of "tongues," which are still more temporary, the verb is "shall cease." A primary fulfilment of Paul's statement took place when the Church attained its maturity; then "tongues" entirely "ceased," and "prophesyings" and "knowledge," so far as they were supernatural gifts of the Spirit, were superseded as no longer required when the ordinary preaching of the word, and the Scriptures of the New Testament collected together, had become established institutions.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
9, 10. in part—partially and imperfectly. Compare a similar contrast to the "perfect man," "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph 4:11-13).
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
10. that which is in part—fragmentary and isolated.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
11. When … a child—(1Co 3:1; 14:20).
I spake—alluding to "tongues."
understood—or, "had the sentiments of." Alluding to "prophecy."
I thought—Greek "reasoned" or "judged"; alluding to "knowledge."
when I became … I put away—rather, "now that I am become a man, I have done away with the things of the child."
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
12. now—in our present state.
see—an appropriate expression, in connection with the "prophets" of seers (1Sa 9:9).
through a glass—that is, in a mirror; the reflection seeming to the eye to be behind the mirror, so that we see it through the mirror. Ancient mirrors were made of polished brass or other metals. The contrast is between the inadequate knowledge of an object gained by seeing it reflected in a dim mirror (such as ancient mirrors were), compared with the perfect idea we have of it by seeing itself directly.
darkly—literally, "in enigma." As a "mirror" conveys an image to the eye, so an "enigma" to the ear. But neither "eye nor ear" can fully represent (though the believer's soul gets a small revelation now of) "the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (1Co 2:9). Paul alludes to Nu 12:8, "not in dark speeches"; the Septuagint, "not in enigmas." Compared with the visions and dreams vouchsafed to other prophets, God's communications with Moses were "not in enigmas." But compared with the intuitive and direct vision of God hereafter, even the revealed word now is "a dark discourse," or a shadowing forth by enigma of God's reflected likeness. Compare 2Pe 1:19, where the "light" or candle in a dark place stands in contrast with the "day" dawning. God's word is called a glass or mirror also in 2Co 3:18.
then—"when that which is perfect is come" (1Co 13:10).
face to face—not merely "mouth to mouth" (Nu 12:8). Ge 32:30 was a type (Joh 1:50, 51).
know … known—rather as Greek, "fully know … fully known." Now we are known by, rather than know, God (1Co 8:3; Ga 4:9).
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
13. And now—Translate, "But now." "In this present state" [Henderson]. Or, "now" does not express time, but opposition, as in 1Co 5:11, "the case being so" [Grotius]; whereas it is the case that the three gifts, "prophecy," "tongues," and "knowledge" (cited as specimens of the whole class of gifts) "fail" (1Co 13:8), there abide permanently only these three—faith, hope, charity. In one sense faith and hope shall be done away, faith being superseded by sight, and hope by actual fruition (Ro 8:24; 2Co 5:7); and charity, or love, alone never faileth (1Co 13:8). But in another sense, "faith and hope," as well as "charity," ABIDE; namely, after the extraordinary gifts have ceased; for those three are necessary and sufficient for salvation at all times, whereas the extraordinary gifts are not at all so; compare the use of "abide," 1Co 3:14. Charity, or love, is connected specially with the Holy Spirit, who is the bond of the loving union between the brethren (Ro 15:30; Col 1:8). Faith is towards God. Hope is in behalf of ourselves. Charity is love to God creating in us love towards our neighbor. In an unbeliever there is more or less of the three opposites—unbelief, despair, hatred. Even hereafter faith in the sense of trust in God "abideth"; also "hope," in relation to ever new joys in prospect, and at the anticipation of ever increasing blessedness, sure never to be disappointed. But love alone in every sense "abideth"; it is therefore "the greatest" of the three, as also because it presupposes "faith," which without "love" and its consequent "works" is dead (Ga 5:6; Jas 2:17, 20).
but—rather, "and"; as there is not so strong opposition between charity and the other two, faith and hope, which like it also "abide."