1 Corinthians 13:1-3
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.…
Again and again, in St. Paul's writings, we have an epistle within the Epistle. Thus, the summation of practical duties (Romans 12.), the argument on the resurrection (ch. 14.), and the portraiture of love in this chapter. By this means we get a well defined view of the object without losing its connections. It is not as if we were looking at the Peak of Teneriffe rising out of the loneliness of the sea, but rather a Mont Blanc, one with the Alps, and yet a solitary form of majesty. Grandeur, as distinct from beauty and sublimity, requires some degree of isolation so as to produce an adequate impression. Here, then, the apostle makes a space for this grand delineation, every feature of which may be seen in concentrated light, and not a thing allowed to distract the eye. This is in itself a call to attention, a summons to the activity of our whole nature, and, in accordance herewith, he presents something more than a mere sketch or profile of love. It is a complete portrait. The features are individually given, and, at the same time, the expression which combines them in a most striking unity. First, then, we have the supreme excellence of love in contrast with the worthlessness of other gifts unaccompanied by its presence. Great stress was laid at that time on the gift of tongues. We are all 'Relined to set a high value on an exceptional endowment of speech. Eloquence passes for much even in a rude age; the North American Indian and the barbarous tribes of Asia acknowledge its power, while cultivated society is never stinted in admiration of its influence. And the possessor of it seldom fails to exaggerate its worth. Stated roughly, eloquent men appear to have a peculiar intensity of consciousness as respects this gift. They are singularly open to the seductions of popular applause, so much so, indeed, that the public approval which a scientific man, or a statesman, or a military hero would he unharmed by, is often ruinous to an orator. Not the common air, but the breath of the multitude, fragrant with adulation, feeds his lungs. This it is that arterializes his blood and sends it hot and poisonous to his brain. Of course, these Corinthians were the very persons to overvalue the gift of tongues. It was in the channel of their tastes and traditions. But the apostle teaches them that this wonderful power holds a subordinate rank. He does not depreciate it; no, he appreciates it to the full: "tongues of men" are associated with "the tongues of angels;" and yet, without love, the endowment is as "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." What is it but mere noise, an idle tumult of the air? Unless love to God and man attend the gift, restrain its selfishness, destroy its vanity making tendency, and sanctify it to the welfare of others, it is worthless. But the second verse enlarges the thought. One may have the gift of prophecy and use his intellect with amazing skill and force so as to excite and captivate his hearers, and this, too, under the teachings of revelation, and, further, one may have insight into Divine secrets, and "understand all mysteries," and have them at command as "knowledge;" yet what is he without love? Can it be possible that this resplendent power could exist, and that other light kindled by love be utterly wanting? Observe, it is "all" mysteries and knowledge; the man explores every height and depth, and he has the freedom of the universe. Nay, superadd all faith, so that material nature falls in homage at your feet and the "mountains "remove in obedience to your will; but of what avail this expenditure of mighty energy, where the holiness of love is lacking? If, then, the man endowed with universality of utterance - "tongues of men and of angels;" and if the prophet with his clear and broad insight into the counsels of God, and before whose eye the panorama of distant events moves as a spectacle of today; if the miracle worker who transcends all natural capacities and exercises the delegated power of Jehovah in producing supernatural phenomena; - if these men and their gifts are compared to "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal," and verily are "nothing;" and though they are known as apostles, prophets, miracle workers, heroes of faith, instruments of the supernatural: if all these are nothingness itself without love, can anything more be said to intensify the excellence of love as a Divine principle and sentiment and impulse? The third verse answers this question. Charity, almsgiving, philanthropy, even self sacrifice at the stake, here come into view. How far may one go in the benevolent appropriation of earthly property and yet fall below the highest motive? St. Paul replies that he may "dole out" all he owns, do it gradually, do it cautiously, do it to the exhaustion of his resources, yet do it unmindful of that sovereign law which gathers into itself all other laws and imparts to them a virtue that makes them Divine. Nor is this all. One may have the philanthropic idea and sensibility so largely developed as to accept martyrdom, have the courage to face it unblenched, and to endure it with fortitude; but he may surrender life without the highest love. Love may be there - love of a truth, love of a cause, love of humanity - not necessarily the love, however, here under discussion; and hence, this distinctive Christian love, which includes the Divine and the human, being absent, the martyrdom is not for Christ's sake, and consequently is nugatory as to its Christian character. "It profiteth me nothing." If, now, such a doctrine as this rested on a ground solely ethical, we confess our inability to see how it could be accepted as a trustworthy view of human nature. Logic in itself has no fundamental principle from which it can be deduced. Philosophy as such, and as confined to what it finds in our constitution, would be compelled to reject a conclusion so alien to its spirit. On the other hand, the doctrine may be easily and heartily received On the score of Christian logic and philosophy. For, in the scheme of Christianity, human nature is a revelation from God. It is the Divine thought of this nature which we are to embrace, to cherish, to act upon. And if we admit, as we ought to do in the presence of such satisfactory evidence, that God has spoken to man of man, and disclosed to him the once hidden mystery of himself, as well as that other and infinitely greater "hidden mystery" of his redeeming purpose in Christ - if we acknowledge this, then we cannot impeach the wisdom, the justness, the stern truthfulness, of St, Paul's argument. The argument assumes that Christianity is of God, and, as such, advances to this point, namely, Christianity alone gives a full and complete view of our nature. Its ethical teachings, their reasons and motives and ends, are founded in Christ and in his relations to us. Our relations to him and to one another are subsequent considerations, and take their quality and bearings simply, solely, altogether, from him, the "Image of the invisible God," and the "Firstborn of every creature." Inasmuch, then, as the ideal of our nature is not as we see it in and by our own unaided consciousness, but in and by a consciousness illuminated and guided by the Holy Ghost, how could it be otherwise than that new intuitions occur, and that demands are made on us never imagined before? On this foundation St. Paul stands when he affirms that those endowments which charm, those splendid gifts that win enthusiastic admiration, even self sacrifice itself at the bidding of earth-born instincts, are nothing without that love which is purely a responsive affection, or, as St. John expresses it, "We love him because he first loved us. - L.
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.