What does 1 Corinthians 13:1 mean?
ESV: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
NIV: 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.
NASB: If I speak with the tongues of mankind and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
CSB: If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
NLT: 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.
KJV: 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.
Chapter 12 revealed another problem in the Corinthian church. They misunderstood the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts. The fact that some spoke in tongues and exercised more obvious gifts, while others did not, seems to have been yet another source of division among them. At the least, it led to the wrong idea that some were more spiritual than others. Paul carefully corrected their thinking, showing that every gift is needed in the church, especially those gifts that were exercised out of the view of others.
Paul ended those thoughts by encouraging his readers to desire that the higher gifts of apostles, prophets, and teachers be given by God to their church, lowering the importance placed on the perhaps more impressive-seeming gift of tongues. Then he promised to show them "a still more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31).
Now Paul launches into one of the most loved and meaningful chapters in the Bible. It is brief, but it powerfully describes the very heart of what it means to live together as believers in Jesus. He begins by showing just how pointless even the most impressive spiritual gifts are without love. Even the God-given, supernatural ability to speak in a language one doesn't know, even the language of angels, becomes as the sound of a noisy gong and clanging cymbal if it is not exercised with love. The specific word used here is agape, meaning a self-sacrificing and godly love.
The "tongues of men" are understood to be proper human languages. This is a gift given so that those who do not know the speaker's language can understand the message given by God. The language of angels may very well refer to the actual language spoken among heavenly beings, who apparently participated in some way in the worship gatherings of the early church (1 Corinthians 11:10). Or, this might simply be a figure of speech Paul uses to make his larger point about the primacy of love.
No matter how impressive such a display would be, it becomes nothing but repulsive noise when practiced without love for other believers.
First Corinthians 13:1–13 is one of the most loved and well-known passages in the Bible, but Paul places it after his teaching on the spiritual gifts for a specific reason. Some of the gifts may seem impressive, but if attempted without self-sacrificing love for others, they become meaningless, even destructive. Paul uses 14 verbs to describe what love does and does not do. Love is the foundation for Paul's teaching in the following chapter on prophecy, tongues, and even orderly worship. While this section is often quoted in romantic settings, such as a wedding, the concept in mind is that of agape: a self-sacrificing, godly love.
Paul responds to the Corinthians' over-emphasis on certain spiritual gifts by showing them that all gifts are worthless if not practiced through godly love. Paul provides 14 descriptors of love, all action verbs, all choices made out of a commitment to set self aside and serve others. Choosing to love each other in this way would solve many of the problems Paul has confronted in this letter. The spiritual gifts provide a glimpse of what is knowable, but when the perfect comes, we will know all. Love is the greatest of all the virtues.
Paul's teaching on love fits firmly into the context of 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14. These sentences have a somewhat different style than the surrounding words, suggesting Paul might have inserted something he'd written previously into this section. These are not meant to be a diversion, however. Lack of love was at the heart of most of the Corinthians' problems and divisions. As Paul describes it, God's kind of love sets self aside, over and over, endlessly, for the good of others. Spiritual gifts exist for the building up of the church now, but believers will live in love for eternity. Christ-like love is the greatest of all the virtues, and it should be the priority of every Christian.
First Corinthians is one of the more practical books of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church immersed in a city associated with trade, but also with corruption and immorality. These believers are struggling to properly apply spiritual gifts and to resist the ungodly practices of the surrounding culture. Paul's letter gives instructions for real-life concerns such as marriage and spirituality. He also deals with the importance of unity and gives one of the Bible's more well-known descriptions of love in chapter 13.
Accessed 11/30/2023 6:58:43 AM
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