1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Submitted by admin on Wed, 2009-08-19 10:12.

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Using himself as an illustration, Paul said, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become [like] a resounding gong and a clashing cymbal.” His speaking in a human language that had been miraculously imparted to him or, even more impressively, in the language angels use when communicating with one another could indeed astonish others. The use of this gift, when devoid of love and so without any benefit to fellow believers, would amount to nothing more than a loud noise. (13:1)

Focusing on other divinely granted gifts, the apostle continued, “And if I have prophecy and know all the mysteries and all the knowledge, and if I have all the faith so as to transfer mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (13:2)

The use of the prophetic gift often served to edify, console, strengthen and encourage others. This purpose could be attained only when the prophet had love and concern for those to whom his words were directed. (13:2)

Knowledge of “all the mysteries” would include a full understanding of the formerly concealed things of God that had been revealed. (Compare Ephesians 3:1-6.) “All the knowledge” would relate to a complete understanding of God’s will. With a thorough understanding of the “mysteries” and the divine purpose, the individual would be able to teach others. (13:2)

The faith that could transfer mountains from one place to another would be an unshakable conviction that a seemingly impossible course could be undertaken, with good results to follow. One in possession of this kind of miraculous faith would be able to help a community of believers or individuals within that community to act appropriately when faced with what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. (13:2)

By means of these gifts, those to whom they had been granted could be a blessing to others. While they were impressive endowments by reason of their miraculous nature, these gifts had not been granted to exalt the recipients. They had been given to benefit fellow believers. Therefore, without love being the motivating and guiding force in the use of these gifts, Paul could rightly say that he would be “nothing.” His use of the divinely imparted gifts would have been an empty display, designed to draw attention to himself. (13:2)

If he were to give away all his possessions to help persons in need, and were to surrender his very body so that he might “boast” (form of kaucháomai), but did not have love, he would not gain anything. Without real love for fellow humans, great sacrifices undertaken merely for the purpose of being observed and lauded by others have no value in God’s eyes. Regardless of how noble a certain action may appear to be, the absence of love reveals it to be hollow and self-serving. The individual derives no lasting benefit from mere outward acts of generosity and self-sacrifice. (13:3; see the Notes section.)

Love is a selfless compassion and concern for the welfare of others. It “is patient,” manifesting itself in being forbearing and having the capacity to endure difficult or trying circumstances without giving way to complaint or resentment. “Love is kind,” responding in a caring and compassionate way to fellow humans. It is “not jealous,” looking with envy or resentment at what others may have or be able to enjoy. (13:4)

Love is not given to self-praise. Those who have genuine love for fellow humans do not resort to boasting or bragging so as to make themselves appear superior to them. Love has nothing in common with an inordinate view of self that causes one to look down on others. The loving person is not “puffed up” or swollen with conceit, putting on airs. (13:4)

Love never manifests itself in indecent, shameful, rude, or crude ways or acts. It is a quality that is devoid of any hint of seeking its own interests and demanding its own way. Love is actively concerned with the welfare of fellow humans and is the very opposite of selfishness. The loving person looks at others with a humane spirit and, therefore, is not easily provoked or irritated by their failings. Appropriately, Paul said of love, “It is not provoked.” Love is not resentful, keeping a tally of hurt (either real or imagined) that one may have experienced on account of the thoughtless words or actions of others. The loving person does not look for opportunities to even the score. (13:5)

When love is at work, injustices, wrongs, or harmful developments are never the basis for rejoicing. Those who care about fellow humans do not take advantage of them. They are not like those who find delight in besting others through manipulation and deceit. The loving person finds no delight when fellow humans disgrace themselves or experience humiliation. Even when others may have been hateful, the loving person does not take pleasure in their misfortune. (13:6)

Love “rejoices with the truth.” Whatever contributes to the advancement of the things that are true, right, or proper brings joy to those who seek to be loving persons. (13:6)

Love “bears all things,” distinguishing itself by a willingness to make allowances, to forego personal rights out of regard for the conscientious scruples of others, and to view fellow humans with a reasonable disposition. When described as believing “all things,” love is not being identified as gullible and ready to believe lies and misrepresentations. This would not agree with the description that love “rejoices with the truth.” Love “believes” in that it is not suspicious, putting the worst construction possible on the words and actions of others. Unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, the loving person is willing to give fellow humans the benefit of the doubt. (13:7)

Love “hopes all things,” not easily giving up on others. Those who endeavor to be loving in their dealings believe in the possibility for improvement and betterment and are willing to wait patiently as they seek to be a positive influence for good. Love “endures all things,” not lashing out or complaining bitterly when difficulties are encountered. The loving person seeks to make the best of the existing circumstances and does not resort to lawless ways in an attempt to force changes. (13:7)

“Love never fails.” The context suggests that this is not to be understood to mean that love always succeeds. Rather, as a quality, love is eternal. Unlike a stream that may fail, drying up during the hot summer or a period of drought, this will never happen to love. The miraculous gifts that existed when Paul addressed his words to the Corinthians were not to continue indefinitely. “Prophecies,” “tongues,” and “knowledge” would all cease. The gift of miraculous knowledge did not mean that the possessors thereof had the fullness of knowledge. For this reason, this gift of knowledge would cease upon being replaced by that which was complete. (13:8)

Paul acknowledged that both the knowing and the prophesying were solely “in part.” God had not revealed everything. The full revelation would come at a future time, and whatever is partial would then come to an end. Paul did not specify what he meant when referring to the coming of the “complete,” the “perfect,” or the “finished.” What he wrote in his preserved letters reveals that he looked forward to Jesus’ return in glory. So it seems reasonable to conclude that, upon Christ’s return with power and great splendor at a time that has not been disclosed, everything that had only been dimly or partially perceived will become clear. One’s recognizing the partial nature of present knowledge should restrain dogmatism and speculation, which often give rise to an unloving and divisive disposition. (13:9, 10)

Illustrating that growth in knowledge is to be expected, Paul referred to his own infancy or childhood. As a “babe” or a young child, he spoke, thought, and reasoned like a child. Upon becoming a man, he did not retain these childish ways, but he gave them up. (13:11; see the Notes section.)

Applying the illustration involving the end of the ways of childhood, the apostle continued, “For now we see obscurely [literally, ‘in an enigma’ or ‘in a riddle’] by a mirror, but then [it will be] face to face. Now I am known in part, but then I will know fully even as I have been fully known.” The commonly used metal mirrors of ancient times did not provide a clear reflection. Likewise, the existing partial knowledge did not and still does not enable one to ascertain the fullness of the knowledge yet to be revealed. When the Son of God returns in glory, all that is partial will give way to that which is complete, making it possible to know fully or to perceive as one does when seeing face to face. Paul’s reference to having been fully known (literally, “I was recognized” or “I was [fully] known”) does not appear to apply to the kind of knowledge humans had of him. Not even he knew himself fully, but Jesus Christ and his Father truly did know him. Viewed from the standpoint of Christ’s return, Paul would come to have the kind of knowledge that the Son of God had of him. (13:12; see the Notes section.)

Whereas the apostle had indicated that the miraculous gifts would cease, faith, hope, and love would remain. An approved relationship with God and Christ continues to rest on faith, and the fulfillment of the divine promises is yet future, making hope essential. Faith relates to the things we do not see. When that which is yet unseen becomes a tangible reality, faith in connection with that particular aspect is no longer needed. Likewise, hope is no longer needed when what we hope for becomes our possession. Faith or trust finds its fulfillment through sight. Hope is realized when the hoped-for object comes into one’s possession. Accordingly, in relation to their object or objects, faith and hope are subject to transformation. Love, however, is constant. In the case of love, sight and possession do not produce the kind of change that is associated with faith and hope. This makes love the greatest of the three. God is neither faith nor hope. He is love. This is the attribute that is the manifestation of his complete identity. (13:13)


In 1 Corinthians 13:3, numerous later manuscripts do not contain the Greek word meaning “boast” (kaucháomai). Instead, they use a form of the Greek word (kaío), which means “kindle” or “burn.”

By referring to the traits of infancy (in 13:11), Paul may also have been implying that the Corinthians needed to give up their infantile ways. Their wrong view of humans and the miraculous gifts were characteristic of babes and not persons who had attained the desirable maturity of members of Christ’s body. (3:1-3)

In 1 Corinthians 13:12, the Greek verb that can be rendered “fully known” is epiginósko and basically denotes knowledge that is obtained by fixing attention upon someone or something. Other meanings for the Greek word are “recognize,” “acknowledge acquaintance with,” and “perceive.”