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1 Corinthians 13

New International Version

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
English Standard Version

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
King James Version

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. 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. 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. 4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 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. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 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. 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 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
New American Standard Bible

1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
New Living Translation

1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God's secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn't love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn't love others, I would have gained nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. 11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 13 Three things will last forever--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love.
Christian Standard Bible

1 If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, 5 is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. 6 Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. 13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love--but the greatest of these is love.

What does 1 Corinthians 13 mean?

Much of 1 Corinthians 12 corrected misunderstandings about spiritual gifts among the Christians in Corinth. Apparently, some believed that those able to speak in tongues or prophesy were more spiritual than the others. This may have created yet another reason for division in the church, along with jealousy or a sense of inferiority. Paul insisted that every spiritual gift was given by God for a reason and was essential to the church, the body of Christ. He did urge them, though, to desire that the "higher" gifts of apostle, prophet, and teacher be given to the church. But he concluded by promising to show them a still more excellent way to serve each other.

The words of this chapter have a different tone and rhythm than Paul's other writing in this letter. Chapter 14 seems to start where chapter 12 left off, leading some to think Paul inserted these words into his letter. They might have been something he had composed at another time, or added before the message was sent.

Paul begins this chapter by describing just how useless, even destructive, spiritual gifts are when not applied from the standpoint of love. Displays of tongues, prophetic powers, and supernatural spiritual knowledge may be impressive, but they are worthless if not used as intended by God, out of a heart of love for Him and other believers. Even the most spiritual of activities, selling everything to give to the poor and sacrificing one's life to be burned for the sake of others, gains a person nothing if not given in love (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).

Paul describes the love he's talking about. It's not a love of swollen feelings that may come and go. It's not the love of flowery or eloquent words. This is God's love—from the Greek agape—often described as "unconditional love" by Christians. It is unconditional in the sense that it does not depend on the one being loved, but on the commitment of the one acting.

Paul uses 14 verbs, actions, to describe this love. Seven are positive statements about what love does, and the other seven are negative statements about what love does not do. In all cases, true Christian love is about setting one's self aside for the good of other believers. Lack of love was at the heart of nearly all the problems Paul had confronted in this letter.

Love is patient and kind. It actively waits and actively moves for the good of others. On the other hand, love doesn't envy or boast, not even regarding the spiritual gifts of one's self or others. Love is not arrogant, convinced of one's superiority over others. Love is not rude, meaning that it does not act indecently, sinning and breaking cultural norms to bring attention to one's self.

Those who love like this have given up on seeking their own status and satisfaction first and foremost. Instead, they genuinely commit themselves to seeking good for other believers. Because of that, they don't get irritable or provoked when other people get in their way. The other people are the point, not the obstacle. Love also means truly letting go of past hurts instead of storing them up and keeping a record or wrongs.

Love refuses to take any joy or pleasure from wrongdoing. Instead, it declares that was is true is worth celebrating above all. Love loves the truth. Love doesn't set limits on love. Love does not declare, "This far and no further." Love bears, or puts up with, all things for the good of other believers. That is true even if that means loving from a greater distance to avoid the active abuse of others.

Similarly, love believes all things, pushing the burden of truthfulness onto others instead of carrying the burden of uncovering falsehood. Love doesn't stop hoping for other believers to do good, no matter the evidence of the past. Love doesn't quit when the trials of life pile up. Love keeps going.

Paul sums it up: Love never fails. Christians may fail to love, as the Corinthians have clearly demonstrated, but God's kind of love will always be effective. And unlike spiritual gifts, which will no longer be needed when Christ comes, love will last forever (1 Corinthians 13:4–8).

On that day, Christians will know even as God knows us now. Until then, spiritual gifts provide a partial knowledge of what is to come. Both now and then, love will remain the greatest of all the virtues (1 Corinthians 13:9–13).