This was previously published by me on Truth in Palmyra
1 Corinthians 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. 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. 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. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 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. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 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. 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. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Love vs Charity
1 Corinthians 13:1
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
1 John 4:7
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
I am going to stir up a spot of trouble right away today. I am a King James Bible guy. After you all throw things at me, please hear me out. I also like lots of other translations and find them useful. I have numerous translations as well as numerous Study Bibles by different Bible teachers. It’s all good. I, however, do all of my reading from the King James Bible and that is what I use in this Blog. The main reason I do that is simple: those King James translators knew how to use some English! King James English is often difficult, but it is also often very accurately descriptive as well. We have a great case of that descriptiveness in the verses above.
1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4 are the two biggest descriptions of love found in the Bible and a verse from each is included in this article. See anything that arouses your interest? Of course you do! In 1 John the translators consistently used the word “love” to describe love; it is used some 27 times. In 1 Corinthians, they translators used the word “charity” to describe love; there is is used 9 times. What we have to understand is that the original word in all cases is some form of “agape”
Sometimes when we read 1 Corinthians 13, we tend to dismiss the word use by simply saying, “Oh, that just means love there.” Is it possible that there is more meaning there? Let’s look at that quickly. The King James translators were not stupid, they surely knew they could have just used our word “love” in each case; they didn’t just become confused. Additionally, language translation is sometimes both art and science and word for word translations do not always work. Translators sometimes have to look at the original intent of meaning they see in the original language and put the same meaning in the new language.
Let’s look briefly at the English language usage of the words, “Love” and “Charity.” I think in most of our minds a difference would come to mind immediately; it does in mine. The use of the word “Charity” seems to imply an action; it seems to apply that something is happening versus something simply being felt. Does that sound familiar?
Without Love Even Great Gifts are Useless
We often talk about 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 as, “The Love Chapter.” We treat it as some disembodied dissertation of brotherly love; when we do that we are somewhat misapplying it, to tell the truth. Paul had a point, other than just talking about brotherly love. Paul was addressing some very real problems in the Corinthian church, with very real ramifications.
In an earlier devotional we covered how Jesus said that all of God’s commandments hang on love: love for God and love for our fellow man. In other words, if we love correctly, we will do the other things as a natural outflow of that love; conversely if we do not love we cannot really do those other things.
Paul was addressing a group of people who were actually doing things; the church at Corinth was wonderfully blessed with an overflow of spiritual gifts. They had them all and they had them in abundance. So, this chapter has to be taken in it’s context to really reap the full meaning.
What was the problem in the Corinthian church? It wasn’t their doctrine; Paul hardly even talked to them about doctrine. It wasn’t gifts; they were overflowing with spiritual gifts. So, the church was full of good doctrine and full of gifts of The Spirit; the problem was that they were empty of love. They were thinking and doing, but not loving.
The point is, nothing we might do is worth anything without the right motivation. The wrong motivation is to be doing great things under the power of our flesh. The right motivation is to be doing things under the power of the Holy Spirit, as the fruits of the Spirit. One, of the fruits of the Spirit, perhaps the biggest one, is love.
Love is # 1
We already discussed the very major issue in the church at Corinth. This church was fairly straight doctrinally and full to overflowing with spiritual gifts, but seriously lacking in love. All that they were doing, they were doing for the wrong motivations.
Paul uses the first few verses in 1 Corinthians 13 to clearly establish where love ranks in the hierarchy of spiritual gifts. And without a doubt, he placed it clearly in the number one position as the most important thing.
It’s interesting how Paul did this. He takes some of his words to extremes to illustrate how useless any amount of gifts is without love. What we see here is Paul using hyperbole to illustrate his point. He exaggerates the potential level of gifts to show just how useless those gifts are if not done in love.
We aren’t going to have some theological discussion about tongues here; if you allow that Paul was using exaggeration to make his point, it seems that Paul is simply referring to someone who could speak numerous languages with skill and eloquence. This would be skill and eloquence far above the greatest of orators.
What Paul is saying here is that no matter how high the level of verbal skill a person has, if this skill is not used with love, it might as well somebody beating a gong or clanging cymbals for all the good it does.
Additionally, some of the pagan rituals going on at the time, many right in the city of Corinth, involved ecstatic rituals that used speaking in tongues, smashing gongs, cymbals and trumpets. The believers would have gotten this point as well: If you can say the most wonderful and important words on the planet, but do not say them with love, then it is no better than some pagan ritual.
All mysteries and all knowledge. That is a lot of information to be in possession of. Let’ take a look at that briefly. We are continuing in with the idea that Paul was using some exaggeration to make his point here.
By mysteries, Paul may very well be referring to all the divine mysteries revealed and unrevealed. We all know there are things God has not shared with us in His Word. We all know there are things that, even though they are in His Word, are still mysteries. Paul is saying that even if he had complete knowledge and understanding of all of them, without love they would be nothing.
By knowledge, we are going to approach it from the standpoint of factual human knowledge. Paul is saying that even if he understood to the smallest detail all the facts of creation, and knew every knowable fact, he would still be nothing.
If Paul is saying that even with all that immense understanding and knowledge and no love we are nothing, then how much closer to nothing are we with our very limited understanding and knowledge if not fueled by love?
This is the final discussion of the position of love as the primary spiritual gift. Paul closes this section with some more very graphic references to the importance of love.
Paul is just continuing on using what I believe to be some exaggeration to make his point. Apparently his reference to bestowing all of his goods to the poor is more than simply giving some stuff away. I’m no Greek scholar, but the consensus seems to be that that sentence is not just describing a person writing his monthly check to the feed the kids charity. It is a person systematically, piece by piece, giving away his fortune until he has nothing left. That is some serious giving there.
As far as giving oneself away to be burned? It could mean several things, one of which would be literally giving oneself as a martyr. Continuing in the thought of Paul’s writing here, that makes sense.
So, we could give away all of our assets, bit by bit until we are broke, then throw ourselves on a fire to be martyred and if done for the wrong motivation it would still be useless. The Corinthians were guilty of using their wonderful spiritual gifts for their own selfish motives; that rendered them useless because they were not done out of love.
If such major sacrifices such as Paul described are useless without love as the motivation, how useless are the fairly small and insignificant ones we make without it?