The Agora
Bible Commentary
1 Corinthians

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1 Corinthians 13

1Co 13:1

1Co 13: See Article, Love one another.

In essential things, unity (Phi 1:27). In doubtful things, liberty (Rom 14:6). In all things, love (1Co 13:1,5).

BUT HAVE NOT LOVE: "Without love, your life will echo with emptiness. With it, your life vibrates warmth and meaning. Even during times of hardship, love always shines through. There is no force more potent than love. Take away love and your earth is a tomb. If you have it, you don't need to have anything else, and if you don't have it, it doesn't much matter what else you have. As you look back upon the events in your life you will find that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love. Therefore, search for love. Once you have learned to love, you'll have learned to live. Love is the most important ingredient of your success of hope and faith" (MT).

"There were serious problems of doctrine and behaviour affecting ecclesial life in Corinth... It is evident that there were nine serious problems, and one big issue. The nine problems were:
"Wisdom was needed to sort out this mess, for sure! Paul was more than equal to the task. The theme of the entire letter is absolutely clear: there were nine symptoms but only one disease. The big issue was: THERE WAS NO LOVE!

"1Co 13 is the most profound analysis of ecclesial life that we have. Time and again before and after this great chapter, throughout the epistle, Paul refers to the big issue, that love is the answer. He shows that it is the answer to every one of the nine problems besetting the ecclesia. Love of God, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love of our neighbour, will solve every problem rapidly and with ease. Jesus himself pointed the way: the greatest and preeminent commandment is love (Mar 12:28). Paul just follows through on Jesus' basic teaching and applies it to ecclesial life in Corinth and everywhere else. Look through the whole epistle with this big issue in mind and its relevance to us will be immediately apparent.
"There is the big issue. The diagnosis is evident. The medicine is available. No wonder Paul ends his magnificent letter with these serious words: 'If anyone does not love the Lord-- a curse be on him... My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen' (1Co 16:22,24)" (Peter Horne, CP 41:2:23,24).

LOVE: Agape, obedience (1Jo 5:2,3).

1Co 13:3

"Christ's is the law of love: and by that standard what is without love is without law. It therefore follows that 'though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.' But the man who makes God's will his own, will do the works as though it were by nature: he will not try to keep accounts with God; he will not count that he has done this and that; his right hand will scarcely know what his left hand does. He will have become an instrument through which God's will is fulfilled because through love his own will is absorbed in God's" (TM).

1Co 13:4

Vv 4-7: See Lesson, Love one another.

In essential things, unity: Phil 1:27. In doubtful things, liberty: Rom 14:6. In all things, love.

KIND: But sometimes a "kind" word is no more than hypocrisy (Jam 2:15,16).

1Co 13:5

Vv 5,6: "Keeps no score of wrong, does not gloat over other men's sins, but delights in truth" (NEB).

IT KEEPS NO RECORD OF WRONGS: Ah, if only we could all "keep no record of wrongs". In my work and personal affairs -- like many others, I suppose -- I have to keep records of... all sorts of things. Sometimes it seems as though my job description is really: "Making lists".

But here's an area where... I DON'T HAVE TO MAKE LISTS! Wonderful!

Why? Because -- I believe -- Christ is making his own lists. And his lists are complete, and accurate. And he will know what to do -- or what NOT to do -- about every item on every list.

NOT SELF-SEEKING: "For even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom 15:3).

"Love does not insist on its own way." Have you ever participated in a three-legged race? You may be the fastest runner at the picnic, but you'll wind up sprawled on the grass unless you can adapt yourself to the style of your partner. This principle also holds true in the ecclesia. We are all members of the one body, and we must learn to function as a unit. We are "yoked together" with our brethren in many endeavors; we cannot always choose the way that pleases us most.

Your way of doing things may always be the best, but I can guarantee you that it won't always be the one chosen by the majority. Then what do you do? Go along or "drop out"? There have been cases of members who have left meetings because of absolutely trivial disagreements, in which they failed to get their own way and just could not bend enough to go along with others. And they, and sometimes their families, have paid for that stubbornness with twenty or more years of self-imposed isolation.

"Love is swift, sincere, pious, joyful, generous, strong, patient, faithful, prudent, long-suffering, courageous, and never seeking its own; for wheresoever a person seeketh his own, there he falleth from love" (Thomas a' Kempis).

1Co 13:8

"In 1Co 13, only a few verses after his long chapter about the Holy Spirit's gifts of healing, knowledge, tongues, and so on, he declared plainly: 'As for prophecy, it will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge it will pass away' (1Co 13:8).

The pronouncement of this inspired apostle is surely decisive. The superhuman gifts of the Spirit were given to the church only for a time, until new believers were firm in the faith and a good sound pattern of Christian belief and living had been established. Today the completed Bible is all that is needed for that purpose. [As already mentioned, in the days of the apostles the New Testament was only gradually coming into existence. When the apostles died, few churches would have copies of a complete New Testament]" (WGHS). See lesson, Holy Spirit gifts, available today?

1Co 13:10

PERFECTION: Teleios, "maturity" (cp RSV). Cp usage: 1Co 2:6; 14:20; Phi 3:15; Heb 5:13,14. Knowledge is the subject here, either partial knowledge or complete, mature knowledge. The canon of Scripture was completed in first century. Therefore, the main purpose of Holy Spirit (ie to produce and confirm inspired Bible) was accomplished. Historical evidence demonstrates that speaking in tongues ceased shortly after 100 AD.

1Co 13:11

Paul's personal maturity // ecclesial development. Note subtle allusions to various Holy Spirit gifts: "speak, understand..."

I BECAME A MAN: Growing in knowledge to become a perfect (ie mature, complete) man (1Co 14:20). Then no need for "childish" ("in part") things.

1Co 13:12

A POOR REFLECTION: "By means of a mirror, darkly": a mirror of polished metal, not glass (Str Scr 45). Cp the mirrors of the women (Exo 38:8).

FACE TO FACE: As God spoke to Moses (Num 12:8). Reflecting the glory seen in Christ (2Co 3:18; 4:4,6), as Moses reflected God's glory (Exo 33:11-13; 34:30). Thus the elements of the law are contrasted with the way in which Moses had close communion with Yahweh. Moses, not the law, is OUR pattern.

KNOW FULLY: Ref to time of completed Scriptural revelation (cp idea in 2Co 1:13,14).

EVEN AS I AM FULLY KNOWN: "There is one to whom all hearts are 'naked and laid open' (Heb 4:13). Darkness is as light to Him, the thought unspoken is heard by His ears, because He is beyond 'things seen' -- beyond the visible phenomena of the universe which He has created: and therefore because the Father is in secret, He seeth in secret; and to the invisible One the invisible things are known. Along with awe at that penetrating knowledge, and grief at the frailty which it reveals, there is joy for disciples in the fact that they are truly known. In private prayer they need not fear men's malice or misunderstanding, and they cannot seek men's praise -- unless (God forbid) it be their own. Here if anywhere in the world, they will be true, because they are alone with the God of Truth. And from such communion a fellowship may grow to reach its fullness in the day when they shall 'know even as they are known', being like the Son in whom the Father is made manifest, for they shall 'see him even as he is' (1Jo 3:2)" (TM).

1Co 13:13

REMAIN: Or "abide", without interruption (unlike Holy Spirit gifts, which are intermittent). Key point!

FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE: From an unknown author:

F = Fervently praying
A = Accepting whatever outcome from prayer
I = In tune with Jesus Christ
T = Teaching others about Jesus Christ
H = Hope keeps me going in my daily walk

H = Helping others see Jesus Christ
O = Offering my life to the service of Jesus Christ
P = Praying always for others, lost or not, to see Jesus Christ
E = Encouraging others to follow Jesus Christ to God's Kingdom

L = Looking to God and Jesus all the time
O = Opening my heart to His ways only
V = Verifying everything in God's Holy Word
E = Extending myself to help others in their walk with the Lord

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