Category Archives: 1 CORINTHIANS 13

The apostle paul shows the excellence of love, and also that sign-gifts will be done away.


This chapter is the cause of much disagreement between those who believe that sign-gifts such as tongues have ceased, and those who do not. As always, the question must be settled by reference to all that the Scriptures have to say on a subject, rather than by taking a verse out of context and building a doctrine upon it in isolation. We begin then by considering the subject of miracles gifts as a whole.

Miracles and wonders and signs Many today claim to be able to work miracles of one sort or another, and many more claim to be endowed with the sign-gifts that believers had in apostolic days. These claims often cause doubts and anxieties to arise in the minds of believers who do not possess such abilities. In the light of this, we do well to turn to the Scriptures of truth, so that we may be given guidance on these important and pressing issues.

Definition of miracles Miracles have been defined as “works of a supernatural origin and character, such as could not be produced by natural agents and means”, W.E.Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. They are exceptions to normal events, which occur due to the intervention of a power beyond natural power. We must beware of devaluing the word miracle by using it of happenings which are either simply out of the ordinary, or merely coincidences, or take place at a particularly opportune moment. We must also beware of labelling as miraculous events which would have occurred anyway. An example of this would be illnesses that are known to go into remission naturally. Nor does an event become a miracle because it is an answer to prayer. So we may say that a miracle is an event beyond the normal, with an effect beyond the usual, giving expression to things beyond the natural.

Wonders The apostle Peter coupled three words together in the phrase “miracles and wonders and signs”, Acts 2:22. The second of these words expresses the effect the miracle had upon those involved. At best, in the case of miracles wrought by Christ and the apostles, those around would be constrained to believe on the Lord Jesus. As He said in John 14:11 “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works’ sake”. (Note that belief in Himself is the goal in each case; it is not “believe Me or else believe the works”). At worst, there were those who responded to Christ’s miracles by wanting to make Him king simply because He could multiply loaves. He withdrew from such, John 6:15.

Signs This word reminds us that the miracles had a lesson to teach, they had sign-ificance. They were not simply acts of mercy and compassion, but doctrine made visible in vivid ways. We see this especially in John 6, where the Lord’s long discourse on the Bread of Life is based on His miracle of feeding the five thousand.

Satan’s counterfeit We must always remember that Satan is able to imitate God’s work to a certain extent, as Moses and Aaron discovered in Exodus 7:11,12,22. See also 2 Timothy 3:8,9. This will come to a climax at the end times, when the Lawless One is revealed “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,” 2 Thessalonians 2:8,9. Note that in this case the wonders are lying wonders, for they do not further the truth of God, but rather, the Devil’s lie.

A word of warning The current obsession in charismatic circles with happenings which are out-of-the-ordinary is conditioning professing Christians to look for exhilarating experiences, instead of being built up by the exposition of the Word of God. It is part of Satan’s New Age strategy to influence the minds of men so that they give themselves over to spirit-forces, and so further his end. His object is to draw believers away from the written revelation of the Word of God, and attract them to “spiritual” experiences.

The miracles of Christ Christ’s miracles were a witness to His own person. Those performed by the apostles witnessed to His person, too. They were certainly not performed to bear witness to themselves. See Acts 3:12; 14:8-18. They also were one of the ways in which God confirmed certain vitally important truths, as we shall see.

(i) The witness to His person as Son of God John chapter 5 contains Christ’s first public discourse as far as John’s record goes. Significantly, it concerns His Deity, and is preceded by the healing of the impotent man on the Sabbath day. The Lord Jesus establishes His authority for healing on the day of rest by saying “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work”, verse 17. The Jews understood very well what He was claiming by this statement, even “That God was His (own) Father, making Himself equal with God”, verse 18.

Later, in John 5:31-39, the Lord Jesus spoke of four witnesses to His person, these being John the Baptist, verse 33; the works which the Father had given Him to finish, verse 36; the Father, who bore witness at His baptism, verse 37; and finally the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures, verse 39. So the works which the Father had given to Christ to do were a testimony to the genuineness of His person, that He was indeed the Son of God. Hence John appeals to them in John 20:31 as the reason why men should believe.

The apostle Peter also appealed to the miracles and wonders and signs performed by Christ, but his purpose was to show that He was approved of God, Acts 2:22. So whether it is a question of His person or His character, the matter is settled when the testimony of the miracles is received.

(ii) The witness to His person as the Christ, or Messiah of Israel Not only did John record the miracles of Christ that we might believe that He is the Son of God, but also that we might know He is the long-promised Christ, or Messiah, John 20:31. The prophets had told of the Messiah as one who would come to bring in what the Jews called “the age to come”, when He would reign over them from Jerusalem. Hebrews 6:5 describes the miracles of Christ as the “powers of the world (age) to come”. Isaiah had written that in the time of the kingdom, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as the hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing”, Isaiah 35:5,6. The fact that these things did indeed happen when Christ was here, is proof positive that He is the Messiah.

So the miracles Christ did were not only expressions of compassion, but powerful and indisputable witness as to who He was. So confident is the apostle John of this witness, that, guided by the Spirit of God, he bases on it his appeal to his readers to believe that Jesus is the Christ, that no less a gift than eternal life may be theirs.

The miracles of the apostles, and sign gifts (i) Confirmation of Christ’s presence in heaven The resurrection and exaltation of Christ was confirmed by things that could be seen and heard, Acts 2:32,33. The seen things were the tongues of fire that sat upon each of the apostles. The heard things were the spoken tongues or languages which the apostles were miraculously able to use when speaking to the foreign Jews who had gathered at Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.

Note that Peter quotes from Joel 2 in his address on that occasion, not because all the events that passage mentions were coming to pass then, but because Joel spoke of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and also the opportunity to call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. Those two things, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and the salvation of some in Israel, were what were relevant at that time. Note also that Peter does not quote from the Old Testament passage which expressly speaks of tongues, namely Isaiah 28:11, because that was not so appropriate at that time.

(ii) Confirmation of the preaching of the apostles The prophecy of the Lord Jesus in Mark 16:17,18, was that certain signs would follow them that believe. What had been foretold indeed came to pass, for when Mark summarises the book of the Acts for us in verses 19 and 20, he writes in the past tense, and then ends with the words “confirming the word with (by means of) signs following”. So the signs manifested in apostolic days were a confirmation from the Lord in heaven that what was preached was indeed God’s word. With this agree the words of Hebrews 2:1-4, where the writer identifies three lines of testimony. First, that of the Lord Himself when here, as He spoke of “so great salvation”. Second, when those who heard Him confirmed to others what they had been taught, and third, when God bore witness to both these testimonies by enabling signs and wonders to be performed, giving added proof that what the apostles preached was of God.

(iii) Confirmation that non-Jews have received the Holy Spirit Apart from the initial pouring out of the Spirit on Jews only in Acts 2, there were certain groups that were dealt with separately by God, because they were special cases.

The Samaritans. These were potentially a cause of friction amongst the believers, if they allowed the enmity between themselves and the Jews to spill over into their new life in Christ. “The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans”, John 4:9. Hence in Acts 8:14-17, Peter and John are sent to Samaria to personally and directly lay hands on those who had believed from amongst the Samaritan nation, that they might receive the Holy Spirit after a delay. That delay was not normal, since the moment a person believes and receives the gospel the Holy Spirit is given. We know this from Galatians 3:2, where the apostle indicates that the Spirit is given when a person hears in faith. (The indwelling of the Spirit of God is never presented to us in the New Testament. as something that can be earned, but rather the gracious gift of God the moment true faith is exercised). But the Samaritan situation was not normal, given the bad relations between the two nations, so an unusual procedure was followed. And because the apostles themselves laid hands on the Samaritan believers that they might receive the Holy Spirit, they did not need confirmation of the fact, and therefore we do not read that the Samaritan believers responded by speaking in tongues. They may have done so, but we are not expressly told.

The Gentiles. Peter had needed a vision from the Lord to convince him that it was indeed the Lord’s purpose to call Gentiles to faith. He had taken certain believers with him on his visit to Cornelius in order that they might be fellow-witnesses of what took place. This was a wise precaution, for afterwards Peter was criticized for his actions. These fellow-believers who accompanied Peter were astonished that upon the Gentiles the Holy Spirit had been poured out, Acts 10:45. But how did they know this? Verse 46, beginning with “for” as it does, tells us that they knew they had received the Spirit “for they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God”. Hence, again, the speaking in tongues is audible proof of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The disciples of John. In Acts 19, the apostle Paul came across disciples of John the Baptist, who did not know that the Holy Spirit had been given at Pentecost. Having heard of the Lord Jesus from Paul, they believed and were baptized. Having received the Holy Spirit by the laying on of his hands, they spoke with tongues and prophesied. No doubt this was a great encouragement to them, confirming that they had been right to cross over from allegiance to John to faith in Christ, a step John would have encouraged, see John 1:35-37; 3:25-30.

We see then that various special groups are dealt with by God in ways that are not regular. Since they are special cases, they do not provide precedents for today. Believers today receive the Holy Spirit the moment they believe, and do not need any to lay hands on them before this can happen. Nor is the supposed speaking in tongues of some today, any evidence that they possess the Spirit of God. After all, the devil-worshipping “Whirling Dervishes” of the Middle East utter sounds indistinguishable from modern tongues-speaking!

(iv) Confirmation of the judgement on unbelief God had warned Israel of the penalty of unbelief, namely that a foreign power would carry them away, and they would hear strange languages spoken by their captors, Deuteronomy 28:45-51. He warned the people again of this danger in Isaiah 28:11. The judgement fell when the Assyrians took the ten tribes into captivity. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:21,22, used these Scriptures to show that tongues-speaking was a sign from God to those who believe not, just as the “tongues-speaking” of the Assyrians had been to unbelieving, idol-worshipping Israel in Isaiah’s day.

SUMMARY Clearly the things that are confirmed by the gift of tongues were new at the time. The gospel of a crucified and risen Christ; His ascension to heaven; the pouring out of the Spirit on the Gentiles; the particularly grave sin of rejecting a Saviour who had been received back into heaven, these were all fresh and different matters, and God graciously confirmed their reality by the exhibition of miracles. Once this confirmation has been done, it does not need to be repeated, or else doubt is cast upon the original confirmation, and upon the Scriptures which record it.

It is an historical fact that sign-gifts did cease. Chrysostom, the well-known “church father”, was unable to find them practised in his day. The onus is upon those who claim to perform miracles and speak in tongues today, to prove from Scripture that their return at the end of the age is to be expected. They should also offer evidence that what they do is identical in character to the signs of the apostolic age, and is accompanied by a strict adherence to apostolic doctrine and practice.

The nature of the sign gifts Miracles and other signs did have an important role to play in the days when the record of the New Testament was not complete. In Mark 16:17,18 we read of the casting out of demons, speaking with new tongues, taking up of serpents, drinking of deadly things without harm, and the laying of hands on the sick, so that they recovered. Further on, in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, we find mention of the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. A further two, namely helps and governments, are found in 1 Corinthians 12:28.

God never wastes time or energy on mere entertainment. Each of these gifts had great usefulness. A brief notice of each will make this clear. The gifts of Mark 16:17,18 are mentioned in connection with the command of the Lord Jesus to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. It is no surprise, then, to find that they are especially of use in pioneer evangelism. (i) Gifts of use in evangelism When God embarks upon a new phase in His dealings with men, Satan is always ready with his opposition, which often takes the form of demon activity. This, however, was no problem to an evangelist penetrating a new area with the gospel, for he could cast out demons, being gifted to do so. He had no language problem, either, for he could speak with new tongues. By ” new” is meant “unaccustomed”; that is, the one speaking was not used to the language, it was not his native dialect. It does not mean new in the sense of newly-invented.

Hacking his way through the jungle, he inadvertently disturbs a sleeping cobra. But this is no problem, either, for he can handle serpents! Thirsty and hungry from his exertions, he drinks contaminated water, and eats the fruit of a poisonous tree, yet comes to no harm. He finds himself in a clearing, where malaria-ridden natives huddle in their mud huts. Imagine the effect upon these poor souls as he touches the untouchable, and they instantly recover. What an introduction for the evangelist as he brings to them the gospel!

Notice that this man does not need to learn a language, or take a course in a school of tropical medicine, or learn botany and zoology, to prepare him for his mission, for he had been gifted by God. But where is the missionary today who is so fitted? He does not exist, for the simple reason that these gifts have been withdrawn in the wisdom of God.

(ii) Gifts of use in the assembly The gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are useful too, but most of them in connection with the gatherings of God’s people, as again we might expect given the context in which they are found.

The gifts of wisdom and knowledge How valuable a word of wisdom would have been in those early days when so many new things were happening, and before the scriptures of the New Testament were written. Of course there was the written wisdom of the Old Testament, but it was not always relevant to the new conditions prevailing at that time. So, too, the word of knowledge, insight directly from God on a particular, and perhaps strictly local problem.

The gift of faith The tremendous challenges of those days would need to be met by men with the gift of faith, who could “move mountains” so that the work of God could go forward. Needless to say, this faith is not saving faith, which is the common possession of all the people of God.

The gifts of healing and miracles There were those with the gift of healing, (but with no mention of the laying on of hands), who like Paul in Acts 19:11,12, could heal from a distance. This gift is distinguished from that of working of miracles, for whereas healing was a beneficial thing, sometimes miracles of judgement were necessary to preserve the testimony, as in Acts 5:5-11 and Acts 13:8-12. The raising of the dead would also be classed as a miracle, rather than an act of healing.

The gift of prophecy The gift of prophecy, or the forth-telling of the mind of God, was vitally necessary if the saints were to be built up in Christian doctrine. The believers could not open their Bibles and find, say, Ephesians 3, for it had not yet been written. Nor could the apostles be everywhere at once to personally teach the saints. Hence the man gifted with insight into the mind of God filled a very real need.

The gift of discerning of spirits In those days there was no lack of imposters, and in order that the companies of the Lord’s people be not infiltrated by these, this gift was very necessary, so that the fraudulent might be kept out.

The gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues In the pioneer situation envisaged above in connection with Mark 16, the interpretation of tongues was not needed, for those addressed would all be of the same tongue. The same would be the case on the Day of Pentecost, for each nationality could gather round the particular apostle that was miraculously speaking their language.

In the assembly gatherings at Corinth, however, there might be several languages represented in the one company, especially as Corinth was a cosmopolitan city, and near to the sea-port of Cenchrea. If a brother began to speak the truth of God in the language of one of these groups, the fact that that group could testify to hearing their own language spoken accurately, (even though the speaker did not know the language), was in itself part of the object of that gift; it was a sign that God was at work. But all things, according to 1 Corinthians 14:26, must be unto edifying, and so far only the minority that knows the tongue has been edified. There needs to be, then, the interpretation of that particular tongue, for the benefit of the rest.

The gift of helps and governments As time went by, there would arise administrative needs such as distribution to the poor, so it was very necessary for some to be gifted with practical and organisational skills to enable this to be done without the work of preaching being held up.

The exercise of the gifts A reading of 1 Corinthians 14 will show clearly that the gifts, particularly of prophecy and tongues, were to be exercised with dignity and restraint. For instance, the maximum number allowed to speak in tongues during a meeting was three, verse 27, and that by course, or one after the other. The spectacle of large numbers of people all speaking with tongues at the same time, would raise questions as to their sanity, verse 23. The situation was similar with regard to the gift of prophecy. Verses 32 and 33 make it clear that those who were gifted in this way did not abandon self-control, (which after all is a fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:23), but in an orderly and becoming way they edified the gathered saints. If a revelation was given to a prophet sitting alongside the current speaker, then the latter was well able to hold his peace and defer to the other. “Let all things be done decently and in order”, is the final word of the apostle in chapter 14, for “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints”, verse 33. It is sadly true that many gatherings of those who claim to possess these gifts today, have not been notable for orderliness or dignity. This raises serious doubts as to the validity of what they claim.

“The Toronto Blessing” The current obsession with this phenomenon is a very grave matter. Far from being a repeat of apostolic practice, there is every indication that earnest, unsuspecting souls are being subjected to hypnosis in the name of Christ. If this is what is happening, then it is outrageous, because the unbelieving public looks on, and finds that what they think of as Christianity, is represented by those who seem intent on making fools of themselves, instead of preaching Christ.

It is said that 90% of the population can be hypnotised without much difficulty. Any run-of-the-mill secular hypnotist can induce feelings of being washed clean, of peace, of tingling sensations, of feelings of energy passing through the body, of seeing bright lights and so on. He can make people lay down, go stiff, laugh uncontrollably, and also heal minor ailments like migraine and back pain. And all this without the power of the Holy Spirit at all! Just unbelievers hypnotising unbelievers!

The methods by which these things are done in the world are in principle the same as are used in charismatic meetings. The persuasive voice of the leader; the mind-numbing use of repetitive music; the exhortations to relax and give way; the encouragement to look for an experience which the leader assures everyone is about to come; the testimonies of those who have had the experience before; all these things combine together to produce a situation where almost everything can happen under the control, and touch, of the plausible master of ceremonies. And all in the Name of the Lord!

“Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy…mind” It is highly dangerous for believers to abandon reason in favour of feelings. The service of God is to be “reasonable service”, Romans 12:1, intelligent action as a result of a careful understanding of what God requires, as detailed in His Word. We are NEVER called upon to abandon rational thought-processes, and give ourselves over to the influences abroad in the world. Satan is determined to control the minds of men, so that they willingly do his bidding. His strategy is to alter the state of a person’s consciousness, so that he may introduce a new set of perceptions, and cause the old values to be rejected, paving the way for the ultimate deception, the lie that the Antichrist is Christ. Any supposedly Christian activity, therefore, which displays so many of the classic features of hypnotism, and which encourages the abandonment of reason, is highly suspect.

The alternative What alternative is there then, to the practices of the signs and wonders movement? The answer is simple- the Scriptural alternative. The apostle Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that whereas prophecies, tongues and knowledge come to an end, faith, hope and love do not. This is true whatever the phrase “that which is perfect” means. The cultivation by the believer of these three cardinal Christian virtues will result in steady growth in Christ-likeness, which surely must be the main aim.

The apostle also makes clear in Ephesians 4 that the ascended Christ has given gifts to His people, which will ensure that they all “come…unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”, Ephesians 4:13. The gifts Christ has given are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Through their ministry the end-result God is looking for, even likeness to His Son, is certain to be achieved. May the Lord revive His people, so that they once again have a love for His Word, and an earnest desire to put it into practice, to His glory alone.

Having thought about the true nature of sign-gifts, and the purposes for which they were given, we are now in a position to consider 1 Corinthians 13.


Chapter 12 had ended with the words, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way”. The excellent way is the exercise of gifts in decency and in order, having due regard to the relative importance of different gifts. In 12:28 we find a list, “Firstly…secondarily…thirdly…after that”. The Corinthians, by emphasising tongues, (which the apostle very pointedly puts at the end of the list, with the accompanying gift of interpretation of tongues), were showing they had not understood this order of importance. In chapter 13 the apostle is proving that he is justified in suggesting that there is a more excellent way, and tells us what it is. It is the exercise of gifts in love. Hence in 14:1 he says “follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts”. So the teaching of chapter 13 does not lead us to dispense with gifts, but rather to exercise those gifts in a spirit of true love to God and His people. By emphasising spectacular and “showy” gifts like tongues-speaking, the Corinthians were drawing attention to themselves, and thus were not showing love to fellow-believers.


The three main sections of the chapter all have to do with the superiority of charity, otherwise known as love. In verses 1-3 the apostle teaches us that the exercise of sign-gifts did not make up for a lack of love. Even acts that we might think cannot be anything else than an exhibition of love, may not be so. In verses 4-7 we learn how to tell whether we are acting in love as we note the characteristics of love. In verses 8-12 the apostle shows that love never fails, whereas sign-gifts are temporary, and pass away. That sign-gifts will not be needed in heaven is self-evident. The apostle is preparing the believers for the time when they would no longer be necessary. When that time came, however, love would still be vitally necessary. That the apostle does not mean to suggest that sign-gifts are to be despised is shown by the fact that he afterwards writes a long chapter on how they should be exercised properly. That proper exercise, however, includes their exercise in a spirit of love, and this is true of the gifts that remain as well.


13:1 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.

13:2 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.

13:3 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.

13:4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

13:5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

13:6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

13:7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.


Verses 1-3 Outstanding actions.
Verses 4-7 Features that mark charity.
Verses 8-12 A series of contrasts, showing the superiority of charity.
Verse 13 Conclusion to be drawn.

Verses 1-3    Outstanding actions

13:1 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.

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- outstanding actions are spoken of by the apostle, things that are all at the highest level of achievement. The first is the ability to speak with the tongues of men and angels. To do so, but without love, is to simply make a noise, as far as God is concerned. Cymbals and brass instruments have their uses, such as waking people up, but they do not make a pleasing sound. So gifts exercised without love merely make an unpleasant noise. Notice it is the tongues of men and of angels, and not “tongues of men or of angels”, as if they alternative options for Paul to use.  When angels speak to men they do so in the language of the person they are speaking to. There is no reason to suppose that they speak to one another in a special language. To suggest that the unintelligible “tongue” uttered by some in the charismatic movement is the tongues of angels and therefore we cannot expect to understand them is a mere smokescreen. The whole point about a language is that it communicates. A language that does not communicate is a non-language.

13:2 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 have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge- the second high achievement is to have the gift of prophecy, and therefore able to understand all the mysteries that the New Testament tells us of, and thereby have all the knowledge that is available at that point in time. The third and fourth achievements are to have understanding of all mysteries, (those New Testament mysteries that the Spirit revealed through the apostles, Ephesians 3:1-13), and all knowledge, (the sum total of truth that has been revealed to us in the Scriptures, John 16:13), but without love the passing on of the information is as nothing, as far as God is concerned. The purpose for which the gifts were given has not been achieved.
And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing- the fifth achievement. Not only does this imaginary “Paul” have all insight into mysteries, and all knowledge of Divine truth, but is also to be able to accomplish literally, that which the Lord Jesus spoke of figuratively. When He spoke of faith moving mountains, He was speaking metaphorically. But here the apostle, exaggerating to make his point, imagines someone able to literally move a mountain; yet if he did so without love as the motive, (as might very well be the case, since there are very few instances, if any, in which love needs to move a physical mountain), then he would be nothing.

13:3 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.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor- the sixth achievement is the giving of all one’s possessions to feed the poor. If this total giving up of everything material, (which the world would think of as an exhibition of great love), is in fact done with some other motive than that of love to others, it will gain no profit in terms of Christ’s approval at the Bema.
And though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing- this is the seventh and final achievement. The apostle would not have given the illustration of cremation, since that is a pagan practice, and abhorrent. Possibly he has in mind the self-less act of risking the flames of a burning building to rescue someone inside. As a result, the would-be rescuer is burnt to death. Even such an apparently self-less action can be done without deliberately being an expression of love. And when that is the case, the great and heroic deed will not profit the doer at the Judgement Seat of Christ. This is a very startling statement, based as it is on a very dramatic and extreme example, and jolts us into the realisation of the vital importance of love.

Verses 4-7 Features that mark charity

We now learn sixteen features that mark charity, so that we may be able to judge whether the actions of verses 1-3 are, in fact, acts of charity, or whether there is some other motive. It is the motive that determines the quality of an action. The climax to them all is the statement that “charity never faileth”, which leads on to the subject of things that do fail. The section has value on its own, telling us as it does of the desirability of charity. But it has special value in the context, for it show “the more excellent way” the apostle referred to in 12:31. So we should note the way in which the exercise of gift and the display of charity need to interact.

13:4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Charity suffereth long- it is not impatient when it is told that prophesying is a better gift.
And is kind- it is not ungracious, but has a desire that another believer with a gift should have opportunity to exercise it.
Charity envieth not- does not begrudge others their gift, but profits by it, and seeks to exercise its own gift in its own sphere.
Charity vaunteth not itself- those with public gifts must not push themselves forward. By the nature of their gift they have to be prominent, but it is Christ alone who is pre-eminent.
Is not puffed up- true love is not proud, especially in the matter of gifts, because, as we have seen, they are grace-gifts, given solely at God’s discretion, and manifesting, not the person with the gift, but the Holy Spirit’s working.

13:5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Doth not behave itself unseemly- a warning to those who insisted on exercising their gift in an improper manner, with the response from the outsiders, “Ye are mad!”, 1 Corinthians 14:23.
Seeketh not her own- does not seek to edify self and gain a reputation, but seeks the building up of others.
Is not easily provoked- true love is patient with those who are carnal. There are limits to this patience, however, when the honour of the truth is involved, hence “not easily”, not “never provoked”. God can be provoked to anger, so there are occasions when being provoked to action is not a sin. See Deuteronomy 32:21, quoted by the apostle in 10:22, “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?”
Thinketh no evil- does not harbour wrong thoughts about others in the assembly.

13:6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity- does not go against the commandments of the Lord, 14:37. The word iniquity is the opposite of what is right.
But rejoiceth in the truth- has a joyful attitude to the truth of God, glad to put it into effect, a contrast to the previous statement.

13:7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Beareth all things- those with prominent gifts will be criticised, so must be prepared by love to endure that.
Believeth all things- lays hold of all the truth of God wholeheartedly. Hopeth all things- has a firm expectation that all God is seeking to achieve by the exercise of gift will be full accomplished.
Endureth all things- is persevering in the exercise of gift, because the truth of God is not always welcomed by believers.


13:8 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.

13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

13:11 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.

13:12 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.

13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.


8-12 A series of contrasts, showing the superiority of charity

It helps to an understanding of verses 8-12 if we notice the structure of the passage: the main statement is “love never faileth”. There follow five statements of the way sign-gifts do fail in some way. Each one is begun by the word “but”, introducing the way the sign-gifts fall short.

FIRST STATEMENT: 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.

Conclusion: That which remains is superior to that which passes. That which remains is love, whereas that which passes is the result of the exercise of the gifts of prophecy, knowledge and tongues.

SECOND STATEMENT: 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.

Conclusion: That which is complete is better than that which is partial. . Because the statement begins with “for”, we know it is an explanation of the previous statements. So “that which is in part” refers to knowledge and prophesying. The words “that which” refer to things, so “that which” comes must be a thing also. And when that “thing” comes, it is not that the prophecies and knowledge will then become complete instead of being in part, they will be done away, meaning they will be reduced to inactivity. That which is perfect will replace them, not complement them.

THIRD STATEMENT: 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.

Conclusion: That which is mature is better than that which is immature. So that which is perfect enables believers to be mature in knowledge and insight.

FOURTH STATEMENT: For now we see through a glass, darkly; BUT then face to face:

Conclusion: That which is seen face to face is better than that which is seen in a mirror. It is far better to have contact with a person directly, than it is to have that contact indirectly.

FIFTH STATEMENT: now I know in part; BUT then shall I know even as also I am known.

Conclusion: To fully know is better than to partly know.

We now look at these five statements in more detail.

First statement: That which remains is better that that which passes.

13:8 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.

Charity never faileth- because charity is the nature of God, for “God is love”, 1 John 4:8, then it must be superior to any gift, however lovingly exercised. Charity never faileth as a principle; the apostle is not saying it will never fail, or that it never has failed, (even though these statements are true), but that it is inherently unfailing. The word “fail” means to fall off. Love will never be displaced from its high position as the superior virtue. God is light as well as love, of course, but light is not a virtue in itself, but manifests itself in such things as justice and holiness.
But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail- the words “there be” are in italics, and have been supplied. The thought is “whether you think of prophecies…whether you think of tongues…whether you think of knowledge”. In other words, whichever of these three things you are thinking of, one thing is common to them all, and that is that they will not last, whereas charity will. By “prophecies” the apostle means the results of a New Testament prophet unfolding the mind of God. We should remember that a prophet did not only predict the future; his main task was to unfold the mind of God, whether that was about the future, the present, or even the past. This was true of both Old Testament and New Testament prophets. In the main, the Old Testament prophets did more predicting, whereas the New Testament concentrated on unfolding the mind of God for the present. “They shall fail” does not mean, obviously, “their predictions shall fail to come to pass”, or else they would be false prophets, and the apostle would not include them in his argument. The word “fail” means “to be reduced to inactivity”. We are being told here that the ministry of the prophet will come to an end, since the prophecies will come to an end at some point. It is interesting to notice that the apostle Peter did not warn his readers about false prophets, but about false teachers. His words were, “But there were false prophets among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you”, 2 Peter 2:1. So in the Old Testament times there were false prophets amongst Israel, and in New Testament times after the apostles had gone, (for Peter wrote his first epistle knowing that he would soon die, 2 Peter 1:14), there would be, not false prophets, for there would be no true ones, but false teachers, for true teachers would replace the apostles, and the Devil would seek to imitate them. Having said that, it is important to notice that it is not the prophet that is reduced to inactivity, but the prophecies. Those ongoing revelations that were current in the early years of this age would be done away, even though the prophets who had the gift continued. So when the apostle John is given insight into the future, as recorded in the Book of Revelation, it is not through the exercise of his prophetic gift, but through a revelation given to him by way of visions. The prophecies have been done away, but the prophet continues for a while.
Whether there be tongues, they shall cease- here a different word is used, and it is in the Middle Voice, which means that there is something built into the gift of tongues which causes it to cease at a particular point. In days past, some manufactured goods had in-built obsolescence, for the makers only wished the article to last a limited period. The same is true here. With prophecies and knowledge it is different, for there the verb is in the Passive Voice, meaning the inactivity is imposed on them from without, by God. The reason for the difference is that the gift of tongues was used in the service of other gifts. If an evangelist had the gift of tongues, as indicated in Mark 16:17, then his gift was subservient to his evangelism, and assisted it. So with prophecies in the assembly, if those of other languages were present in the company, the man with the gift of tongues was at hand to enlighten them in their own tongue, so his gift was to assist the prophetic gift. Clearly, then, if the prophecies and knowledge are done away, the tongues cease too, by default, for the need for them is gone. Not only so, but the tongues were a sign as well as a service. That sign was mainly to the nation of Israel, as chapter 14:22 will explain. With the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the nation of Israel was set aside by God, and so the sign-gift of tongues was no longer needed, for the threatened punishment had been inflicted, and the Jews were scattered throughout the earth amongst those whose language was strange to them.
Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away- this is clearly not an absolute statement, as if we shall know nothing eventually. The apostle will speak of knowing after having known in part, in verse 12, so he is not suggesting knowledge will be absent at some point. He is saying, however, that as some point the gift of knowledge, (mentioned in 12:8 as “the word of knowledge”), will cease, and hence the knowledge that comes from the exercise of that gift will cease, for it will no longer be needed. The need to have knowledge supernaturally revealed will go at some point.

Second statement: That which is complete is better than that which is partial.

13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

For we know in part- the apostle includes himself in this statement. He is writing in AD 59. At that point he himself was not in possession of the whole truth into which the Spirit was leading the apostles. The Lord Jesus had said in the upper room that “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you,” John 16:12-14. Now clearly the apostles were not immediately guided into all truth at Pentecost when the Spirit came initially, for Peter needed to have the truth that the gospel is for Gentiles revealed to him in Acts 10, which was eight years later. The truth was revealed gradually, as the believers were able to take it in, just as the Lord had revealed truth to His disciples gradually as He taught them when He was upon earth. The Spirit made known truth as He Himself heard it from the Father, just as the Lord Jesus taught as He heard from the Father, John 8:26. It is not that the Spirit and the Son are ignorant until the Father enlightens them, for that would deny their Deity.  It is said of the Lord Jesus prophetically, “The Lord God hath given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth Mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened Mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back”, Isaiah 50:4,5. Note that the Lord Jesus hears as a learned one, not as an ignorant one. He and the Spirit are both privy to the Divine conversation, of which we gain some small insight in such Scriptures as Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man”; and Genesis 3:22, “The man is become as one of us”. God created all things by Jesus Christ, Ephesians 3:9, so He was in control of all things from the beginning, yet He chose not to reveal certain things to Old Testament prophets, choosing to disclose them through the New Testament prophets. This disclosure was made initially through the apostle Paul, and was then transmitted to the other apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This is why the writings of the apostle Paul are the ones we turn to in order to learn church truth, for it was through him that the Spirit revealed these truths to others. Now the epistle to the Ephesians was written in AD 64, five years after the writing of the epistle to the Corinthians. During that period, even the apostle had to say, “I know in part”.
And we prophesy in part- Paul and his fellow apostles knew in part, and now we learn that he and his fellow prophets prophesied in part. Now that does not mean that they only half-revealed what they were guided to make known by the Spirit. They fully revealed what it was appropriate to tell the saints at a particular point, but they could not disclose the full body of truth simply because they themselves had not received it. This state of affairs in AD 59, is going to be replaced by the state of affairs described in Ephesians 3 in AD 63. Then the apostle will be able to say, “as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit”, Ephesians 3:5.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away- it is important to notice two things about this phrase. First, that it has to do with a thing, not a person. The statement is set in contrast with a thing in the second half of this verse, “that which is in part”. It is not “He who…that which”, as if a person is contrasted with a thing, which in fact cannot be done. The second thing to notice is that the thing which is in part is to be done away; it is not completed by the thing that is perfect. The thing that is perfect is not the thing that was in part now made complete. The thing in part and the thing perfect are separate things. The perfect thing replaces the thing in part, but it has some point of contact with the thing in part, or the contrast would not be meaningful. So there is no moment when the partial and the complete coexist, even though, as we have seen, those who had the gifts of prophecy and knowledge when the apostle was writing, (Peter, Paul and John, for instance), would continue after the perfect thing had come. The partial thing is not the information that the exercise of the gift of prophecy made known. The partial thing is the exercise of the gifts of prophecy and knowledge, so we know what is going to be done away. It is not that the gifts are to be given in a fuller and perfect way, but that they are to be replaced by the perfect thing. Notice there is no mention of speaking in tongues here, because that cannot be done in part. Those with the gift of knowledge and prophecy, however, might speak in tongues to convey partial truth, to convince their hearers that what they were hearing was of God. That tongues will cease, however, is clear from verse 8.

There are those who seek to avoid the in-context meaning of this passage, and wish to import into the reasoning an alternative to the idea of the time of full revelation. Some say “that which is perfect” is Christ, and when He comes the gifts will be done away. This cannot be correct for two reasons. First, as we have seen, a thing cannot be contrasted with a person. No believer doubts that the Lord Jesus is perfect, but that is not the issue. It is simply not true that when the Lord comes knowledge will cease, for in verse 12 Paul looks on to a future time when he will know as he is known by God. Nor is it true that when the Lord comes prophecies shall cease, for Joel 2:28 has not yet been fulfilled, so that after the Lord has come for the church it is said of Israelites that “their sons and their daughters shall prophesy”. This also disposes of the idea that it is the kingdom that is perfect, and when that comes prophecies shall cease, for Joel 2:28 refers to the kingdom. Second, “that which is perfect” is not a reference to heaven, even though it goes without saying that heaven is perfect. Heaven is not coming to us, but we are going to heaven. Of course it might be argued that heaven is coming into our experience, but that idea meets the objection that knowledge will not cease in heaven. The only interpretation that fits the context is the one which says that the thing which is perfect is the full disclosure of the truth that God has for His people at this time. No doubt in eternity there will be further revelations, but the mystery of the church and the Christian’s position in Christ, which was hidden from the Old Testament prophets, is now revealed, and the inspired writings of the apostles preserve it for the rest of the age. There does not need to be a constant revelation of fresh truth through the ministry of prophets and those with the gift of knowledge, for their gift has been made redundant by the coming of the full revelation of the truth promised by the Lord Jesus. He said the Spirit would guide into all truth, and this has happened, and that which is perfect has come. The apostle Paul was entrusted with the task of fulfilling the Word of God, Colossians 1:25. By this is meant the filling up of the body of doctrine. So when the apostle had completed his writings, the sum total of what the Lord had for us during this age was available. No longer did there need to be a man stand up in the assembly and declare that the Lord had given him a fresh revelation. Nor a prophet unfolding the mind of God without recourse to the Old Testament. Now the teacher could take over, and unfold and explain what was found written in the New Testament scriptures that had so far been written. So it is that in AD 70 Jude could write about the faith once delivered to the saints. The whole body of doctrine, which Jude calls “the faith” had been delivered once-for-all to the saints, so that they could defend it and contend for it. That which was written after this, finishing with the Book of the Revelation, added nothing to this faith.

Third statement: That which is mature is better than that which is immature.

13:11 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.

When I was a child- the word for “perfect” in verse 10 was used in classical writings of that which was “full-grown”, “adult”, “of full age”, so it is appropriate that the apostle now uses an illustration on that line. He had spoken in the abstract in the first illustration in verse 8, then generally in the second, in verses 9,10, but now he is speaking personally, no doubt to avoid the charge that he is calling the Corinthians childish.
I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child- this is a list of actions in the reverse order in which they happen. The child Paul speaks, for he has understood; he understands because he has thought or reasoned. But the point is he has done all these things in a way fitting for a child. He has not got the capacity to understand and reason as the mature Paul has, nor perhaps has he the vocabulary to speak in an advanced way. When a man prophesied, he was passing on the thoughts of God; when he gave out knowledge, he for the first time understood, and imparted that understanding to others; when he uttered these things, he used his tongue and spoke a language.
But when I became a man, I put away childish things- when Paul grew up, he dispensed with the immature way of reasoning, understanding and speaking. Notice that the apostle does not need to apply this illustration. With the knowledge we have gained by reading this chapter we know that there was a time when believers could not speak as those fully-informed and fully-developed. A child cannot speak and understand as a adult because his reasoning powers have not developed. The brain he will use as an adult was fully developed from the age of two, but his experiences of life have not been sufficient to train that brain to think, understand and speak as a mature person. So the early believers were dependant on a gradual advance in truth, as the Lord saw they were able to take it in, until the point came when the whole revelation had been made. Since the apostle has used himself as the illustration, we may say that it was true for him also that he now understood in a mature way, whereas before the full revelation of truth was entrusted to him, he did not.

Fourth statement: That which is seen face to face is better than that which is seen in a mirror.

13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:

For now we see through a glass, darkly- we have another “for” here, suggested an unasked question. This question might go something like “Will the perfect thing that is coming, be any better than the partial thing we have been used to?” After all, toys were perfect for children. To answer this the apostle uses the idea of looking into a mirror, so the physical seeing will instruct us as to mental seeing. Ancient mirrors were not made of glass, but highly polished metal. See Exodus 38:8, where the metal laver was made of looking-glasses. The word “through” is a preposition that can either be used literally or metaphorically. The latter must be the case here, for one could not physically look through a brass mirror; but one could look by means of it, which is the metaphorical use of the word “through”. So in the early days of this church age, it was as if things were not sharply focussed, and there were things that were not understood. There came a change, however, as the full revelation was made known.
But then face to face- although ancient mirrors could be very effective, nonetheless they did not give a perfect reflection. The apostle is using what is said about Moses in Numbers 12:8, where God says, “With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches”. The Lord spoke to Moses “face to face”, Exodus 30:11; Deuteronomy 34;11. He did not communicate truth to him in obscure ways, but directly and apparently, which means Moses saw God as He was speaking to him. He did not see a reflection of God, as if in a mirror, but had a face to face interview with Him, in order that Divine truth might be communicated to him. Darkly means obscurely, and that was how things were in early apostolic days, for the truth was being made known piecemeal; the whole picture could not be seen, but now it is as if God is speaking to us directly, through His word. Confusion has arisen by the use of this phrase as if it refers to believers seeing Christ in heaven. Our doctrine should be based upon careful exposition of the statements of Scripture, not the words of hymns that misapply Scripture.

Fifth statement: To fully know is better than to partly know.

now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Now I know in part- again the apostle uses himself as the illustration, this time, not to avoid offending the Corinthians, but to show that even he, as an apostle, was not at that point in the full possession of the facts of Christianity. The date is AD 63, and was not until AD 68 that the epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians would be written, in which the full revelation was available.
But then shall I know even as also I am known- Paul looked on to the time when that which it was appropriate for believers of this age to know would be made known, and Paul would be able to say with confidence “I know”. That knowledge would be in the same manner as he himself was known. God had known Paul perfectly in eternity, and he was an important instrument that would be used to reveal Divine truth to the saints. Paul, when the full truth was revealed, would himself know the immensity of the purpose of God, as disclosed in the mystery of the church and allied doctrines. The apostle wrote in Ephesians 3:19 of being “filled into all the fulness of God”. The believer’s mind is being increasingly filled with Divine truth, the goal in view being, (hence the “into”), that the fulness of God’s knowledge may be appreciated in eternity. Of course, there are some things that God reserves for Himself, but, that said, it is still God’s intention to tell us as much as we can possibly take in. So God’s grasp of things is the standard now, not our feeble grasp, or even that of apostles.

13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

So it is that the apostle can conclude the section by declaring that, without argument, faith hope and love abide; they are lasting, and shall never pass away, but the pinnacle of Christian virtues is love, and this should govern us at all times. The reason charity is greater even than faith and hope is that charity is what God is in His essential being, for “God is love”, 1 John 4:8. Love believeth, and love hopeth, verse 7, so love is in harmony with faith and hope, but is superior to them. No wonder the apostle exhorts us to follow after charity in the first verse of the next chapter, given that it is so desirable a feature. But in following charity we should desire spiritual gifts too, for they are not incompatible, which is why at the beginning of chapter 14 the apostle is able to exhort, “follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts”.