Agape Love, Love The Greatest Gift Of All


1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (The Message)

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If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.


1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (New Living Translation)

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If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Many people speak in many different languages if I could speak if I could speak all human languages and of the angels but did not love others o would be noise interactions If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and miracles and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I own to the poor without a second thought and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. The Greatest gift is love. Love one another for Love comes from God God is Love.

1 Corinthians 13:1–3 reads as follows:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (verse 1).

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (verse 2).

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing(verse 3).

The typical interpretation of the words above is that if we do not have love, there is not any reward for whatever we do that is good in this earth. So then both Christians and non-Christians strive to attribute their actions to love — philanthropy is love albeit with a secular label. But is the conventional interpretation of the passage above really true? Must we have love in order for good actions to be rewarded by God? Does it matter for the reward that a great swimmer who rescues a child from drowning sees it as duty bestowed by his gift, not an act of love?

The first verse declares that an outcome of whatever does not proceed out of love is noise, meaning absent love, there does not exist any spiritual value for words not spoken in love. This is tantamount to saying preaching to people without love does not produce true discipleship within a Church or in society at large. Clearly, there does not exist any allusion to reward for actions in the first verse.

The second verse declares that another outcome of whatever does not proceed out of love is, ‘I am Nothing’, meaning there does not exist any increase in spirituality from an intellectual understanding of the gospel. The coupling of a brilliant understanding of the mysteries of the gospel with a rational faith in Jesus Christ — a faith arrived at in light of the convincing nature of the evidence — cannot generate any improvements in spirituality. Intellectual understanding within the mind produces spirituality only if the heart truly confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. In this regard, note that while we understand with the brain or the mind, it is within what we refer to as the heart that attitudes are formed. The second verse declares that absent the right attitude towards Jesus Christ, an attitude rooted in love for all He represents — patience, kindness etc. — a rational and brilliant understanding of the gospel does not possess any power for spirituality.

The third verse declares that absent a steeping of the decision to give up all earthly goods in love, it is foolish for a Christian to give away all that he or she owns. What the verse means is that a Christian cannot by giving away material possessions produce any increase in spirituality within his or heart. Remember also that if a person gives away all he or she has, there is nothing left for God to bless. Even Jesus did not give away all that He had when He came down to earth. He merely gave up something He had — equality with the Father — all so we can be saved. Jesus, who prior to His incarnation was and is the Word of God was, prior to His incarnation, a Spirit being just like the Father (the Word could not have needed to become flesh if He already was flesh, John 1:1,14). In order to save us, the Word gave up equality with the Father, took up a bodily form, the form in whose image we are created, so God could create a huge family made up of an only begotten Son, and many adopted sons. Note that God now is God not only to us, but also to Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3). The sacrifice in time made by Jesus Christ had then real consequences.

What then did the Father do in return?

For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father (John 5:22–23, NKJV).

But to the Son He says: Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom (Hebrews 1:8, NKJV).

With Father and Son, a sacrifice by the Son begets a reciprocal sacrifice by the Father. Love always is answer to Love between Father and Son. Without this reciprocal Love, our salvation would be impossible. While Jesus remains subject to His Father out of love, the Father bestows all of His rights on Jesus Christ. Since the Father is God, He has every right to do so, and we have no right as His creation to object. So we have just one God, the Father, yet honor God’s Son Jesus Christ as God because this is what God has demanded. We have then two persons we honor as God, yet only one God. Since the Holy Spirit brings to us both the Father and the Son, we honor the Holy Spirit as well, resulting in honoring of three entities as God, yet we continue to have only one God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We end up then with a mystery: a triune God who regardless is one God.

What then is the true meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:1–3?

No action undertaken by a person can cleanse the spirit, soul, and body. The Holy Spirit declares through the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1–3 that the precondition for spiritual growth (cleansing of spirit, soul, and body) is active, persistent walking in love — a walking in the faith that is grounded in love.

Any support for this? Consider, respectively Galatians 5:6, John 13:34, and John 14:21(words in brackets mine in spirit of an amplification of the words)

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision (nothing done by or to the body) has any value. The only thing that counts (the only thing that enables cleansing of the spirit, soul, and body) is faith expressing itself through love.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Whoever has my commands and obeys them (whoever takes to heart importance of attempting to love as He, Jesus has loved), he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him (only those who take walking in love of Jesus Christ to heart can receive revelations of who He is).

Note how clearly Jesus states that only the person attempting to love as He has loved can receive a revelation of Him, meaning absent attempts at loving as Jesus loved, spiritual growth is impossible. If absence of love renders spiritual growth impossible, absent love, cleansing of spirit, soul, and body of intrinsic evil is impossible.


est the allusion to cleansing of body, soul, and spirit be misunderstood, I illustrate as follows. A person can by willpower refuse to smoke for 5 years. All of the 5 years, however, the temptation to smoke can be real, yet it is withstood by the mind, willpower, and rationality. When we are cleansed of sin, or equivalently, cleansed from propensity for evil, it is not that we struggle with desire to sin, it is that the desire to sin no longer remains. All that is left in us is love for what is good. It is this perfect cleansing, cleansing which rips the desire for sin out of our hearts that is impossible to achieve without help from God.

What then is a Christian to do?

In order to walk in love, we need to believe Jesus Christ that Love Never Fails. We also need to ask for the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is the one who brings to us the love of God.

Romans 5:5 (words in brackets mine) declares:

And hope (the hope of becoming like Jesus Christ in glory, character, gifting) does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love (the capacity we require for loving as Jesus loved) into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.


ut do we need to be Christians in order to be rewarded for the good we do in this life? Absolutely Not. Jesus Himself declares in Matthew 10:41–42, and the Holy Spirit through Apostles John and Paul corroborates in Revelation 22:12, or Galatians 6:7–8, as follows:

Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.

Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Even for those who are Christians (Galatians 6:7–8), reaping or reward is a function of actions, decisions. If it is so for the Christian who professes faith in Jesus Christ, meaning there isn’t any partiality from God based on profession of faith in Jesus Christ, it of necessity must be so for the person who does not profess faith in Jesus Christ.

God rewards everyone — Christian or non-Christian for actions. But there are actions that help purify the spirit, soul, and body (actions that are rooted in the love of God), and there are actions that are moral and good that, regardless of lack of rooting in love of God, are rewarded by God. Since the Christian becomes progressively more like Jesus Christ whenever he or she walks in love, over time, doing of what is right, and earning of reward for what is right becomes easier for a Christian. In addition to reward for actions, presence of God the Father, and Son in a Christian’s life brings access to inner peace, serenity, and healing, things that cannot be bought with money or right actions.

So then, do you want to grow through all of eternity, becoming the best you ever can be, all of this while shrouded with inner peace, serenity, and healing, or do you merely want to do good and live forever?

1 Corinthians Chapter 13

1 Corinthians 13 – Agape Love

G. Campbell Morgan wrote that examining this chapter is like dissecting a flower to understand it. If you tear it apart too much, you lose the beauty. Alan Redpath said one could get a spiritual suntan from the warmth of this chapter.

A. The supremacy of love.

1. (1-2) Love is superior to spiritual gifts in and of themselves.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 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, but have not love, I am nothing.

a. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels: The Corinthians were enamored with spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues. Paul reminds them even the gift of tongues is meaningless without love. Without love, a person may speak with the gift of tongues, but it is as meaningless as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. It is nothing but empty noise.

i. “People of little religion are always noisy; he who has not the love of God and man filling his heart is like an empty wagon coming violently down a hill: it makes a great noise, because there is nothing in it.” (Josiah Gregory, cited in Clarke)

b. Tongues of men and of angels: The ancient Greek word translated tongues has the simple idea of “languages” in some places (Acts 2:11 and Revelation 5:9). This has led some to say the gift of tongues is simply the ability to communicate the gospel in other languages, or it is the capability of learning languages quickly. But the way tongues is used here shows it can, and usually does, refer to a supernatural language by which a believer communicates to God. There is no other way to understand the reference to tongues of… angels.

i. In Paul’s day, many Jews believed angels had their own language, and by the Spirit, one could speak it. The reference to tongues of… angels shows that though the genuine gift of tongues is a legitimate language, it may not be a “living” human language, or may not be a human language at all. Apparently, there are angelic languages men can speak by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

ii. Poole has a fascinating comment, suggesting that the tongues of… angels describes how God may speak to us in a non-verbal way: “Angels have no tongues, nor make any articulate audible sounds, by which they understand one another; but yet there is certainly a society or intercourse among angels, which could not be upheld without some way amongst them to communicate their minds and wills to each other. How this is we cannot tell: some of the schoolmen say, it is by way of impression: that way God, indeed, communicates his mind sometimes to his people, making secret impressions of his will upon their minds and understandings.” Poole was not correct in his suggestion that angels can’t speak – in many places in the Bible, angelic beings speak, both in heaven, and on earth. Yet, it is interesting to consider angels may have capacities for communication that we do not have, and will not have until believers are glorified in their resurrection bodies.

c. Prophecy, knowledge, and faith to do miracles are likewise irrelevant apart from love. The Corinthian Christians missed the motive and the goal of the gifts, making them their own goal. Paul draws the attention back to love.

i. Paul, quoting the idea of Jesus, refers to faith which could remove mountains (Matthew 17:20). What an amazing thing it would be to have faith that could work the impossible! Yet, even with that kind of faith we are nothing without love.

ii. A man with that kind of faith can move great mountains, but he will set them down right in the path of somebody else – or right on somebody else – if he doesn’t have love.

iii. It isn’t an issue of love versus the gifts. A church should never be forced to choose between love and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul is emphasizing the focus and goal of the gifts: love, not the gifts for their own sake.

iv. “Possession of the charismata is not the sign of the Spirit; Christian love is.” (Fee)

d. Have not love: Paul uses the ancient Greek word agape. The ancient Greeks had four different words we could translate love. It is important to understand the difference between the words, and why the apostle Paul chose the Greek word agape here.

i. Eros was one word for love. It described, as we might guess from the word itself, erotic love. It refers to sexual love.

ii. Storge was the second word for love. It refers to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child, or between family members in general.

iii. Philia is the third word for love. It speaks of a brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. It might be described as the highest love of which man, without God’s help, is capable of.

iv. Agape is the fourth word for love. It is a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting repayment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when it is rejected. Agape love gives and loves because it wants to; it does not demand or expect repayment from the love given. It gives because it loves; it does not love in order to receive. According to Alan Redpath, we get our English word agony from agape. “It means the actual absorption of our being in one great passion.” (Redpath) Strictly speaking, agape can’t be defined as “God’s love,” because men are said to agape sin and the world (John 3:19 and 1 John 2:15). But it can be defined as a sacrificial, giving, absorbing kind of love. The word has little to do with emotion; it has much to do with self-denial for the sake of another.

v. We can read this chapter and think that Paul is saying that if we are unfriendly, then our lives mean nothing. But agape isn’t really friendliness; it is self-denial for the sake of another.

2. (3) The most dramatic renunciations of self are, in the same way, profitless without love.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

a. Bestow all my goods to feed the poor: This is what Jesus told the rich young ruler to do (Matthew 19:16-30), and he refused. But even if the rich young ruler had done what Jesus said, yet had not love, it would have been of no profit.

b. Though I give my body to be burned: Even if I lay my life down in dramatic martyrdom, apart from love, it is of no profit. Normally, no one would doubt the spiritual credentials of someone who gave away everything they had, and gave up their life in dramatic martyrdom. But those are not the best measures of someone’s true spiritual credentials. Love is the best measure.

i. There were some early Christians so arrogant as to think that the blood of martyrdom would wash away any sin. They were so proud about their ability to endure suffering for Jesus, they thought it was the most important thing in the Christian life. It is important, but not the most important. Without love, it profits me nothing. Even if it is done willingly (Poole notes “and not be dragged to the stake, but freely give up myself to that cruel kind of death”), without love, it profits me nothing.

ii. Some believe the burning referred to here is not execution, but branding as a criminal or as a slave for the sake of the gospel. The more likely sense is execution, but it really matters little, because the essential meaning is the same – great personal sacrifice.

iii. As well, some ancient Greek manuscripts have if I give up my body that I may glory instead of though I give my body to be burned. Again, the meaning is the same, and the difference is really minor.

iv. Many Christians believe the Christian life is all about sacrifice – sacrificing your money, your life, for the cause of Jesus Christ. Sacrifice is important, but without love it is useless, it profits me nothing.

c. Each thing described in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 is a good thing. Tongues are good, prophecy and knowledge and faith are good, sacrifice is good. But love is so valuable, so important, that apart from it, every other good thing is useless. Sometimes we make the great mistake of letting go of what is best for something else that is good, but not the best.

B. The description of love.

“Lest the Corinthians should say to the apostle, What is this love you discourse of? Or how shall we know if we have it? The apostle here gives thirteen notes of a charitable person.” (Poole)

1. (4a) Two things love is: longsuffering and kind.

Love suffers long and is kind.

a. Love: At the beginning, we see love is described by action words, not by lofty concepts. Paul is not writing about how love feels, he is writing about how it can be seen in action. True love is always demonstrated by action.

b. Love suffers long: Love will endure a long time. It is the heart shown in God when it is said of the Lord, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). If God’s love is in us, we will show longsuffering to those who annoy us and hurt us.

i. The ancient preacher John Chrysostom said this is the word used of the man who is wronged, and who easily has the power to avenge himself, but will not do it out of mercy and patience. Do you avenge yourself as soon as you have the opportunity?

c. Love is kind: When we have and show God’s love, it will be seen in simple acts of kindness. A wonderful measure of kindness is to see how children receive us. Children won’t receive from or respond to unkind people.

2. (4b-6) Eight things love is not: not envious, not proud, not arrogant, not rude, not cliquish, not touchy, not suspicious, not happy with evil.

Love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.

a. Love does not envy: Envy is one of the least productive and most damaging of all sins. It accomplishes nothing, except to hurt. Love keeps its distance from envy, and does not resent it when someone else is promoted or blessed. Clarke describes the heart which does not envy: “They are ever willing that others should be preferred before them.”

i. Is envy a small sin? Envy murdered Abel (Genesis 4:3-8). Envy enslaved Joseph (Genesis 37:11, 28). Envy put Jesus on the cross: For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy (Matthew 27:18).

ii. “Many persons cover a spirit of envy and uncharitableness with the name of godly zeal and tender concern for the salvation of others; they find fault with all; their spirit is a spirit of universal censoriousness; none can please them; and every one suffers by them. These destroy more souls by tithing mint and cummin, than others do by neglecting the weightier matters of the law. Such persons have what is termed, and very properly too, sour godliness.” (Clarke)

b. Love does not parade itself: Love in action can work anonymously. It does not have to have the limelight or the attention to do a good job, or to be satisfied with the result. Love gives because it loves to give, not out of the sense of praise it can have from showing itself off.

i. Sometimes the people who seem to work the hardest at love are the ones the furthest from it. They do things many would perceive as loving, yet they do them in a manner that would parade itself. This isn’t love; it is pride looking for glory by the appearance of love.

c. Love… is not puffed up: To be puffed up is to be arrogant and self-focused. It speaks of someone who has a “big head.” Love doesn’t get its head swelled; it focuses on the needs of others.

i. Both to parade itself and to be puffed up are simply rooted in pride. Among Christians, the worst pride is spiritual pride. Pride of face is obnoxious, pride of race is vulgar, but the worst pride is pride of grace!

ii. William Carey is thought by many to be the founder of the modern missionary movement. Today, Christians all over the world know who he was and honor him. He came from a humble place; he was a shoe repairman when God called him to reach the world. Once when Carey was at a dinner party, a snobbish lord tried to insult him by saying very loudly, “Mr. Carey, I hear you once were a shoemaker!” Carey replied, “No, your lordship, not a shoemaker, only a cobbler!” Today, the name of William Carey is remembered, but nobody remembers who that snobbish lord was. His love showed itself in not having a big head about himself.

d. Love… does not behave rudely: Where there is love, there will be kindness and good manners. Perhaps not in the stuffy, “look at how cultured I am” way of showing manners, but in the simply way people do not behave rudely.

e. Love… does not seek its own: Paul communicates the same idea in Romans 12:10: in honor giving preference to one another. Also, Philippians 2:4 carries the same thought: Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. This is being like Jesus in a most basic way, being an others-centered person instead of a self-centered person.

i. “Love is never satisfied but in the welfare, comfort, and salvation of all. That man is no Christian who is solicitous for his own happiness alone; and cares not how the world goes, so that himself be comfortable.” (Clarke)

f. Love… is not provoked: We all find it easy to be provoked or to become irritated with those who are just plain annoying. But it is a sin to be provoked, and it isn’t love. Moses was kept from the Promised Land because he became provoked at the people of Israel (Numbers 20:2-11).

g. Love… thinks no evil: Literally this means “love does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received.” Love will put away the hurts of the past instead of clinging to them.

i. One writer tells of a tribe in Polynesia where it was customary for each man to keep some reminders of his hatred for others. These reminders were suspended from the roofs of their huts to keep alive the memory of the wrongs, real or imagined. Most of us do the same.

ii. Real love “never supposes that a good action may have a bad motive… The original implies that he does not invent or devise any evil.” (Clarke)

h. Love… does not rejoice in iniquity: It is willing to want the best for others, and refuses to color things against others. Instead, love rejoices in the truth. Love can always stand with and on truth, because love is pure and good like truth.

3. (7) Four more things love is: strong, believing, hopeful, and enduring. Spurgeon calls these four virtues love’s four sweet companions.

Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

a. All things: We might have hoped Paul would have chosen any phrase but this! All things covers everything! We can all bear some things, we can all believe some things, we can all hope some things, and we can all endure some things. But God calls us farther and deeper into love for Him, for one another, and for a perishing world.

i. “You must have fervent charity towards the saints, but you will find very much about the best of them which will try your patience; for, like yourself, they are imperfect, and they will not always turn their best side towards you, but sometimes sadly exhibit their infirmities. Be prepared, therefore, to contend with “all things” in them.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “Love does not ask to have an easy life of it: self-love makes that her aim. Love denies herself, sacrifices herself, that she may win victories for God, and hers shall be no tinsel crown.” (Spurgeon)

b. Love… bears all things: The word for bears can also be translated covers. Either way, Paul brings an important truth along with 1 Peter 4:8: And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”

i. “Love covers; that is, it never proclaims the errors of good men. There are busybodies abroad who never spy out a fault in a brother but they must hurry off to their next neighbour with the savoury news, and then they run up and down the street as though they had been elected common criers. It is by no means honorable to men or women to set up to be common informers. Yet I know some who are not half so eager to publish the gospel as to publish slander. Love stands in the presence of a fault, with a finger on her lip.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “I would, my brothers and sisters, that we could all imitate the pearl oyster. A hurtful particle intrudes itself into its shell, and this vexes and grieves it. It cannot eject the evil, and what does it do but cover it with a precious substance extracted out of its own life, by which it turns the intruder into a pearl. Oh, that we could do so with the provocations we receive from our fellow Christians, so that pearls of patience, gentleness, long-suffering, and forgiveness might be bred within us by that which has harmed us.” (Spurgeon)

c. Love… believes all things: We never believe a lie, but we never believe evil unless the facts demand it. We choose to believe the best of others.

i. “Love, as far as she can, believes in her fellows. I know some persons who habitually believe everything that is bad, but they are not the children of love… I wish the chatterers would take a turn at exaggerating other people’s virtues, and go from house to house trumping up pretty stories of their acquaintances.” (Spurgeon)

d. Love… hopes all things: Love has confidence in the future, not pessimism. When hurt, it does not say, “It will be this way forever, and even get worse.” It hopes for the best, and it hopes in God.

e. Love… endures all things: Most of us can bear all things, and believe all things, and hope all things, but only for a while! The greatness of agape love is it keeps on bearing, believing, and hoping. It doesn’t give up. It destroys enemies by turning them into friends.

i. “If your brethren are angry without a cause, be sorry for them, but do not let them conquer you by driving you into a bad temper. Stand fast in love; endure not some things, but all things, for Christ’s sake; so you shall prove yourself to be a Christian indeed.” (Spurgeon)

4. The best way to understand each of these is to see them in the life of Jesus.

a. We could replace the word love with the name Jesus and the description would make perfect sense. We can easily say, Jesus suffers long and is kind; Jesus does not envy… and make it through the whole chapter.

b. We can measure our spiritual maturity by seeing how it sounds when we put our name in place of the word love. Does it sound totally ridiculous or just a “little” far-fetched?

c. There is a reason why Paul put this chapter in the midst of his discussion of spiritual gifts. Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to remember that giftedness is not the measure of maturity, the display of love is.

C. The permanence of love.

1. (8-10) Love will outlive all the gifts.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

a. Love never fails: Paul addresses the over-emphasis the Corinthian Christians had on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He shows they should emphasize love more than the gifts, because the gifts are temporary “containers” of God’s work; love is the work itself.

b. Therefore, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are appropriate for the present time, but they are not permanent. They are imperfect gifts for an imperfect time.

c. That which is perfect: Paul says when that which is perfect has come, then the gifts will be “discontinued.” But what is that which is perfect? Though some that believe the miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles say it refers to the completion of the New Testament, they are wrong. Virtually all commentators agree that which is perfect is fulfilled when we are in the eternal presence of the Perfect One, when we are with the Lord forever, either through the return of Christ or graduation to the eternal.

i. The ancient Greek word for perfect is telos. Considering the way the New Testament uses telos in other passages, it certainly seems to speak about the coming of Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:8, 15:24, James 5:11, Revelation 20:5, 20:7, 21:6, and 22:13).

d. Whether there are tongues, they will cease: Many who believe the miraculous gifts ended with the apostles (such as John MacArthur) claim since the verb will cease is not in the passive, but in the middle voice, it could be translated, tongues will stop by themselves. Their analysis sounds scholarly, but is disregarded by virtually all scholars of ancient Greek.

i. Even if this translation is correct, it does nothing to suggest when tongues will cease. John MacArthur claims, “tongues ceased in the apostolic age and that when they stopped, they stopped for good.” But this passage doesn’t tell us “tongues will stop by themselves,” and it tells us tongues will cease only when that which is perfect has come.

ii. John Calvin thought the will cease spoke of the eternal state. “But when will that perfection come? It begins, indeed, at death, because then we put off many weaknesses along with the body.” (Calvin)

e. Whether there are tongues, they will cease: In his use of will fail and will cease and will vanish away, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is not trying to say that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge have different fates. He is simply writing well, saying the same thing in three different ways. They will end, but love never fails.

i. “There is virtually no distinction between the two Greek verbs that describe the termination of both prophecies and tongues. True, the verb with prophecies is in the passive voice (believers are the implied agents), while the verb with tongues is interpreted as the active voice. The difference is only a stylistic change and nothing more.” (Kistemaker)

f. We prophesy in part: This is airtight evidence prophecy is not the exact same thing as preaching, or even “inspired” preaching. Who can listen to a preacher drone on and on, and say they only prophesy in part? It seems like a lot more than a part!

i. “Preaching is essentially a merging of the gifts of teaching and exhortation, prophecy has the primary elements of prediction and revelation.” (Farnell, cited in Kistemaker)

2. (11-12) Illustrations of the temporary nature of the gifts and the permanence of love.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

a. When I was a child: Childish things are appropriate for children, and the gifts are appropriate for our present time. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit will not be appropriate forever.

i. Paul is not trying to say that if we are spiritually mature, we will not need spiritual gifts. But he does say that if we are spiritually mature, we will not over-emphasize spiritual gifts, especially at the expense of love.

b. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face: When we can fully see Jesus (not as in a poorly reflected image), the need for the gifts will have vanished, and so the gifts will pass away. The gifts of the Holy Spirit will be overshadowed by the immediate presence of Jesus. When the sun rises, we turn off the lesser lights.

c. Face to face: Paul uses this term to describe complete, unhindered fellowship with God. 1 John 3:2 tells us when we get to heaven, we shall see Him as He is. There will be no more barriers to our relationship with God.

i. In Exodus 33:11, it says the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. In Exodus 33, face to face is a figurative expression, meaning free and open fellowship. Moses had not – and could not – see the actual face of God the Father in His glory. This is the sense in which John says No one has seen God at any time (1 John 4:12). In the spiritual sense which Moses had a face to face relationship with God, we can have a free and open relationship with God. But in the ultimate sense, it will wait until then, when we are united with Jesus in glory.

ii. In a passage like Numbers 12:8, where the Lord says of Moses, I speak with him face to face, the phrase face to face is a figure of speech, telling of great and unhindered intimacy. Moses’ face was not literally beholding the literal face of God, but he did enjoy direct, intimate, conversation with the Lord. But the face to face Paul speaks of here is the “real” face to face.

d. For now we see in a mirror: This speaks again to the perfect fellowship with God we will have one day. Today, when we look in a good mirror, the image is clear. But in the ancient world, mirrors were made out of polished metal, and the image was always unclear and somewhat distorted. We see Jesus now only in a dim, unclear way, but one day we will see Him with perfect clarity. We will know just as I also am known.

i. The city of Corinth was famous for producing some of the best bronze mirrors in antiquity, but at their best, they couldn’t give a really clear vision. When we get to heaven, we will have a really clear vision of the Lord.

i. We couldn’t handle this greater knowledge on this side of eternity. “If we knew more of our own sinfulness, we might be driven to despair; if we knew more of God’s glory, we might die of terror; if we had more understanding, unless we had equivalent capacity to employ it, we might be filled with conceit and tormented with ambition. But up there we shall have our minds and our systems strengthened to receive more, without the damage that would come to us here from overleaping the boundaries of order, supremely appointed and divinely regulated.” (Spurgeon)

e. Then I shall know just as I also am known: God knows everything about me; this is how I also am known. But in heaven, I will know God as perfectly as I can; I will know just as I also am known. It doesn’t mean I will be all knowing as God is, but it means I will know Him as perfectly as I can.

i. Heaven is precious to us for many reasons. We long to be with loved ones who have passed before us and whom we miss so dearly. We long to be with the great men and women of God who have passed before us in centuries past. We want to walk the streets of gold, see the pearly gates, see the angels around the throne of God worshipping Him day and night. However, none of those things, precious as they are, make heaven really “heaven.” What makes heaven really heaven is the unhindered, unrestricted, presence of our Lord, and to know just as I also am known will be the greatest experience of our eternal existence.

ii. “The streets of gold will have small attraction to us, the harps of angels will but slightly enchant us, compared with the King in the midst of the throne. He it is who shall rivet our gaze, absorb our thoughts, enchain our affection, and move all our sacred passions to their highest pitch of celestial ardour. We shall see Jesus.” (Spurgeon)

f. Now I know in part: The gifts of the Holy Spirit are necessary and appropriate for this present age, when we are not yet fully mature, and we only know in part. There will come a day when the gifts are unnecessary, but that day has not come yet.

i. Clearly, the time of fulfillment Paul refers to with then face to face and then I shall know just as I also am known speaks of being in the glory of heaven with Jesus. Certainly, that is the that which is perfect spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13:10 as well. According to the context, it can’t be anything else.

3. (13) A summary of love’s permanence: love abides forever.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

a. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three: The three great pursuits of the Christian life are not “miracles, power, and gifts”; they are faith, hope, and love. Though the gifts are precious, and given by the Holy Spirit today, they were never meant to be the focus or goal of our Christian lives. Instead, we pursue faith, hope, and love.

i. What is your Christian life focused on? What do you really want more of? It should all come back to faith, hope, and love. If it doesn’t, we need to receive God’s sense of priorities, and put our focus where it belongs.

b. Because faith, hope, and love are so important, we should expect to see them emphasized throughout the New Testament. And we do:

i. Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father. (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

ii. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:8)

iii. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:5-6)

iv. Who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart. (1 Peter 1:21-22)

v. Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel. (Colossians 1:4-5)

vi. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:12-13)

c. But the greatest of these is love: Love is greatest because it will continue, even grow, in the eternal state. When we are in heaven, faith and hope will have fulfilled their purpose. We won’t need faith when we see God face to face. We won’t need to hope in the coming of Jesus once He comes. But we will always love the Lord and each other, and grow in that love through eternity.

d. Love is also the greatest because it is an attribute of God (1 John 4:8), and faith and hope are not part of God’s character and personality. God does not have faith in the way we have faith, because He never has to “trust” outside of Himself. God does not have hope the way we have hope, because He knows all things and is in complete control. But God is love, and will always be love.

i. Fortunately, we don’t need to choose between faith, hope, and love. Paul isn’t trying to make us choose, but he wants to emphasize the point to the Corinthian Christians: without love as the motive and goal, the gifts are meaningless distractions. If you lose love, you lose everything.

©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Categories: New Testament Paul’s Letters

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What Does 1 Corinthians 13:1 Mean? ►

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

1 Corinthians 13:1(NASB)

Verse Thoughts

In many church assemblies today there is much emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and though the gifts of the Spirit are wonderful and exciting, if they are not administered in love, they are of little worth and can even become abused and destructive.

Spiritual gifts from the Spirit are bestowed on every child of God, but they are a privileges that must be used wisely, for when abused by the carnal believer, that can cause confusion in the body of Christ and deliver a distorted gospel.

The gifts of the Spirit to be managed under God’s authority. Gifts must flow from the fruit of the Spirit, which is rooted in LOVE and which overspills into joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness meekness and self-control.

Like all scripture, 1 Corinthians 13 must be read in its correct context, which stems from Paul’s deep concern and lengthy instructions to the carnal Christians in Corinth, for unless all the gifts of the Spirit are administered in love, they degenerate into a noisy gong or a clanging symbol..

Let us walk in the spirit; live in the spirit and pray in the spirit and let us administer the gifts we have been given in spirit, in truth and in love.

Let us seek to honour God in the way that we practice. whatever gift or gifts the Spirit has graciously bestowed upon us – and let us do it in LOVE.



What Does 1 Corinthians 13:2 Mean? ►

If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:2(NASB)

Verse Thoughts

There are many gifts that are given through the Holy Spirit, as He chooses, but unless those spiritual gifts are ministered to one another, through love, they are of little significance and of no spiritual value at all. We read that the carnal Christians in Corinth, could not be considered spiritual believers. Paul addressed them as babes in Christ, even though they had an over-abundance of spiritual gifts.

Indeed, they did not lack in any spiritual gift but had been enriched in every way, with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge. But unless a spiritual gift is administered in love, it is like a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

Every gift that does not yield to the Spirit’s promptings, is on little worth Every spiritual gift from above that is not used to the glory of God, is of no worth whatsoever.

When spiritual gifts are self-centered or are used self-righteously for self-gratification; self-exultation; self-interest or self-seeking, God is not glorified, and the gift is rendered invalid. If gift of prophecy, faith, knowledge or understanding are not ministered in love, it means nothing. 

Even if we were endowed with prophetic utterances; enabled to understand all God’s secret purposes; obtained all knowledge or endowed with  enough supernatural faith to move mountains, it is of no consequence, without love for one another.

The Word of God teaches that we are to deny ourselves by keeping ‘Self’ in the place of death, so that we may love and serve the Lord our God in spirit and truth, and encourage and edify our brothers and sisters in Christ. We do this by allowing the love of God to flow into us; through us and out to others. 

Let us love one another in spirit and truth, for love is of God, and he who loves as Christ loves, will both edify the body of Christ and glorify our Father Who is in heaven.



What Does 1 Corinthians 13:3 Mean? ►

And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:3(HCSB)

Verse Thoughts

Love is the primary characteristic that we see in the Father’s gift of His Son to the world and in Christ’s sacrifice of Himself for His church, and throughout the Church epistles we are called to love one another in the same way that Christ loved us, for love is enriching and fulfilling for the one who loves as well as for the one who is loved.

But when the gifts of the Spirit are administered apart from love they are of no value, either to the one who ministers or to the one to whom he is ministering. Speaking is tongues without love becomes a clamouring noise, and without love, prophesying or preaching, knowledge or faith demeans the preacher, dishonours the Lord and does not edify the saints.

Indeed should one feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the destitute, tend to the sick, visit prisoners, educate the disadvantaged or even become a martyr for ones faith.. without love, we are told that we gain nothing.

Love of God and His Spirit of love pulsing through our lives and streaming out to others is the most important ministry any one of us can be called to undertake. Little children, let us love on another, as Christ loved us – for love is of God.

My Prayer

Heavenly Father, may the love of God stream through me so that by Your Spirit my life may enrich the lives of others, and glorify my Father in heaven, in Jesus name I pray, AMEN.



What does 1 Corinthians 13:3 mean? [ See verse text ]

The Corinthians, apparently, had decided that some among them were “spiritual” while others were not. Or, that some were less spiritual on the basis of having less-prestigious spiritual gifts. Paul has shown that to exercise even the most powerful and impressive spiritual gifts without love makes those gifts meaningless and the one using them “nothing.” Paul uses one of several Greek terms for love here: agape, referring to a godly love that puts others first.

Now Paul moves beyond spiritual gifts to the most profound acts of spiritual self-sacrifice a Christian may make. Jesus told a rich young ruler to sell all he had and give the money to the poor (Mark 10:17–22). Surely anyone who would actually do such a thing would have reached the height of Christian spirituality. And yet, Paul insists, to do so without love for others gains the giver nothing at all.

Then he moves to the ultimate sacrifice. What if a person gives his own body to be burned to death for the Lord? Again, Paul describes this sacrifice as meaningless if made without love for others.

Paul is not describing burning oneself to death in a kind of religious suicide to make a point. Instead, he seems to be referring to those who refuse to reject faith in Christ even to avoid the most painful death imaginable. Paul had made—and survived—such choices, as had others in the early days of the church.

Why would someone give away all their money or even their life if not out of love for Christ and others? Perhaps a person might do such a thing for pride or glory or in a foolish attempt to earn God’s favor. Love, though, is the only motive that makes such sacrifices worthwhile.

Context Summary

First Corinthians 13:1–13 is one of the most loved and well-known passages in the Bible, but Paul places it after his teaching on the spiritual gifts for a specific reason. Some of the gifts may seem impressive, but if attempted without self-sacrificing love for others, they become meaningless, even destructive. Paul uses 14 verbs to describe what love does and does not do. Love is the foundation for Paul’s teaching in the following chapter on prophecy, tongues, and even orderly worship. While this section is often quoted in romantic settings, such as a wedding, the concept in mind is that of agape: a self-sacrificing, godly love.

Chapter Summary

Paul responds to the Corinthians’ over-emphasis on certain spiritual gifts by showing them that all gifts are worthless if not practiced through godly love. Paul provides 14 descriptors of love, all action verbs, all choices made out of a commitment to set self aside and serve others. Choosing to love each other in this way would solve many of the problems Paul has confronted in this letter. The spiritual gifts provide a glimpse of what is knowable, but when the perfect comes, we will know all. Love is the greatest of all the virtues. Love came first

Author: J. Palmer

Living under the wings of God and the angels around me keeping me going and safe. Sharing the love of Christ.

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