At the close of the last chapter Paul exhorted the Corinthians to desire the best spiritual gifts for the glory of God, the preaching of the gospel and the good of the whole church. But there is something better than supernatural gifts! There is something to be desired more than knowledge, unusual spiritual talents and offices, and that is true, sincere, heart love to God and men.
(Vs. 1.) "If I could speak with the tongues or languages of every nation on earth and express myself as the angels do, yet have not that God-given (Rom. 5:5; 1 John 4:7, 8), heart-felt brotherly love (a true root of love for men which flows from a true love for God), I only make an irritating noise with my mouth, which will be of no use to me or to others."
(Vs. 2.) "If I had the gift of prophecy, whereby I could preach the mysteries of Scripture and even foretell the purpose of God in reference to the future, and though I have a vast knowledge of the most sublime and hidden things and a faith of miracles to accomplish most unusual things (Matt. 17:20), if I have not this brotherly love, I am nothing!" I may be great in the eyes of men, but in the account of God, l am nothing!
(Vs. 3.) "If I give away all my possessions to feed the poor." Why would a man do this if he did not love the poor? He might, like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-5), or the Pharisee (Luke 18:11, 12), do it for praise and self-righteous purposes. If I give my body to be burned," or die as a martyr for the cause of orthodoxy and religion, "it will all profit me nothing!" No actions, no human sacrifice and no human sufferings are sufficient to entitle any soul to heaven. If I have not love for Christ and for men, all of these gifts, offices and self-righteous efforts are vain and useless! Love is the commandment of Christ (John 15:12). Love is the evidence of salvation (John 13:35). Love is the fruit of the indwelling Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Love is so essential that, if a man has everything else and has not love, he is nothing. Love is not the prerogative of a few; it must be the possession of all.
(Vs. 4.) "Love suffers long," that is, it makes a man patient and longsuffering with the faults of others. He is not easily offended and given to wrath. Love is kind; tender and compassionate. Love wishes to bestow the best that it can on the object of its affection (Eph. 4:32). Love envieth not, or does not boil over with jealousy, but is made happy by the prosperity and happiness of others. Nothing is more adverse to love than envy. Love vaunteth not itself; it is never proud, conceited, or arrogant. What do we have to be conceited about? "Who maketh thee to differ?" (1 Cor. 4:7.) "Love is not puffed up!" (Rom. 12:3, 10.)
(Vs. 5.) "Love is not rude and unmannerly." Pride, conceit and self-righteousness beget rudeness, but love produces humility and courtesy. "Love seeketh not her own way," rights and will (Phil. 2:3-8). "Love is not easily provoked." Love is not touchy, resentful, easily offended. "Love thinketh no evil." It does not carry about a suspicious nature looking for faults, but rather it thinks the best of others.
(Vs. 6.) "Love rejoices not in the fall and failure of others, but rejoices in goodness and truth." Love is never glad when others go wrong. What a man is, he wishes others to be. If he is evil, he delights to point to evil in others.
(Vs. 7.) "Love beareth all things." The word is "Love covers with silence all things" (Prov. 10:12; 11:13; 17:9). "Love believeth all things" (James 3:14-18). It is better to believe the best of a brother and be disappointed than to believe the worst and destroy a friendship. "Love hopeth all things." What love cannot see, it hopes for; it never gives up! "Love endureth all things." It will endure trial, sorrow, sickness, disappointment, hurt feelings and offence.
(Vs. 8, 9.) "Love never fails." It will endure to the end. It never ceases in this life nor in the life to come. It is of God, the gift of God and the life of God in a man (Eccles. 3:14). Someday the gifts of prophecy, tongues, healings and even knowledge shall vanish away, for we only know in part and prophesy in part. So much of divine mysteries and knowledge is unknown to us, but love goes on in glory. The most knowledgeable and gifted man is but a babe. But love is love and will grow, but not be superseded.
(Vs. 10-12.) When perfect knowledge of God, of Christ, and of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven shall be ours in heaven, our imperfect, knowledge, our weak faith, our so-called excellent gifts and rare talents will appear to be but children's toys in the sight of what we shall know and be.
"When I reached manhood, I put away my childish toys, thoughts and behaviour"; even so, when believers shall see Christ and be like him (perfect, mature saints), tongues shall cease, prophecies shall fail, limited knowledge shall vanish away.
(Vs. 13.) There are three main graces faith, by which we look to Christ, receive Christ and live upon him; hope, by which we wait for the fulfilment of every promise in Christ and love to God and all men yet love exceeds the others as to its duration and use. Faith shall give way to sight, hope to reality; but love shall only expand.