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.
1. This passage stands alone in the writings of St. Paul, both in its subject and its style. It is the climax of the Epistle. The evil tendencies of the Corinthian Church met their true correction in this gift, without which the Christian society would fall to pieces — just as the civil society had appeared to philosophers and statesmen to be doomed to dissolution without φιλία or mutual harmony. Unlike mere rhetorical panegyrics on particular virtues every word tells with double force because aimed against a real enemy. It is as though wearied with discussion against the sins of this Church, Paul had at last found the spell by which they could be overcome, and uttered sentence after sentence with the triumphant "Eureka."
2. But the very style shows that it rises above any immediate or local occasion. On each side of this chapter argument and remonstrance still rage; but within it all is calm; the sentences move in almost rhythmical melody; the imagery unfolds itself in almost dramatic propriety; the language arranges itself with almost rhetorical accuracy. We can imagine how the apostle's amanuensis must have paused, to look up into his master's face at the sudden change in his style, and seen it as it had been the face of an angel, as this vision of Divine perfection passed before him.
I. THE WORD Αγάπη, IS PECULIAR TO THE NEW TESTAMENT. The verb is used in classical Greek, but only in the lower sense of acquiescence, esteem, or caressing. It is in the LXX we first find it employed to designate what we call "love"; and it is there introduced (probably from its likeness in sound to the Hebrew words to represent ahab and agab, both expressive of passionate affection, drawn from the idea of panting after a desired object. The Greek world exhibited in a high degree the virtue of personal friendship, which was so highly esteemed as to give its name (φιλία) to affection generally. Domestic and conjugal affection, strictly speaking, there was not. The word which most nearly approaches to the modern notion of love (ἐρος) expressed either a merely sensual admiration of physical, or an intellectual admiration of ideal beauty. The Alexandrians expressed benevolence to man by the word "philanthropy" which was, however, an abstraction to be panegyrised, not a powerful motive to be acted upon. In contradistinction to all these, and yet the crown and completion of them all, is the "love" of the New Testament. It is not religion evaporated into benevolence, but benevolence taken up into religion — love of man for the sake of love to God; love to God showing itself in love to man.
II. ITS ORIGIN. It is perhaps not too much to say that it was derived expressly from "the revelations of the Lord." It is, in all probability, from the great example of the self-sacrificing love shown in the life and death of Christ, that love to man for the sake of love to God is the one great end of existence (John 13:34; John 15:13). Until Christ had lived and died this virtue was almost impossible. The fact of its having come into existence, the urgency with which the apostle dwells upon it, is itself a proof that He had lived and died as none other had lived and died. This is confirmed by observing that the word and idea which thus first appear in the writings of St. Paul receive their full meaning and development in those of St. John, who, without doubt, received them from the example and teaching of Christ.
III. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE APOSTOLICAL VIEW OF LOVE AND LATER REPRESENTATIONS.
1. Usually it is employed for almsgiving, yet this is the very sense with which the apostle expressly contrasts his own employment of the word (ver. 3).
2. Sometimes it is used for "toleration" or "forbearance," as when we speak of a "charitable construction," in "charity with our neighbours." But this sense, though founded on "charity thinketh no evil," and "is not easily provoked," is inadequate. As there may be almsgiving without love, so there may be toleration without love. Here our conceptions of charity soon come to an end, but this new commandment of Christ and His apostle is exceeding broad.
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.