March 21, 2013
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #8: Questions Concerning Christian Worship, 1 Corinthians 11.2-14.40



Lesson 8.4: Primacy of Love
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13.1-13

Part 1: Life Without Love, 1 Corinthians 13.1-3

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.


In 1 Corinthians 12:31, Paul said it was all right for the Corinthian believers to desire the most highly regarded gifts bestowed by the Spirit; but in spite of that he says here that there was “one” gift in particular that was more valuable than all the others, and that it can be obtained by all of them, and he planned to recommend it to them. That most desirable gift is “love;” and this exquisitely beautiful and tender chapter, illustrates its nature, excellence, and power. In doing this, the Holy Spirit dwells principally on three points or views of the superiority of love. The chapter may be divided into three portions.


Part 1: Life Without Love, 1 Corinthians 13.1-3

Love is superior to the power of speaking the languages of men and of angels; superior to the power of understanding all mysteries; superior to the highest kind of faith; and superior to the goodness of giving all one‘s possessions to feed the poor, or giving one‘s life for the cause of Christ. All these gifts would be worthless without love.

Part 2: Life Without Love, 1 Corinthians 13.4-7

Paul speaks about the characteristics of love; or its joyful impact on the mind and heart,

Part 3: Exercise of Gifts of the Spirit In the Church, 1 Corinthians 13.8-13

In this portion of the chapter Paul compares love with the gift of prophecy, and with the power of speaking foreign languages, and with knowledge. He shows that love is superior to all of them. Love will live in heaven; and will be the principal glory of that world of bliss.






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,
The word “I” is used by the apostle to illustrate his point, as he often does, by a reference to himself, though he wants the believers in Corinth to understand that he is actually referring to them. He wants to grab their attention, so he declares, “Though I should be able to speak all the languages which are spoken by people and by angels.” The ability to speak foreign languages was highly regarded then, as it is now. It is evident that among the Corinthians the power of speaking a foreign language was regarded as a conspicuously valuable gift; and there can be no doubt that some of the leaders in that church believed themselves especially talented in the use of it. “Tongues of men” were legitimate languages, although they were unknown by the person(s) who spoke them; they were not simply a series of sounds or a jumble of syllables that made no sense to anyone.  The gift was given to the early church for the purpose of informing people from other countries of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of the Corinthians were abusing this gift by promoting the idea that their ability to speak in tongues showed they was closer to God than anyone else.

It is certain that Paul had personal experience with the “Tongues of angels,” because we read in 2 Corinthians 12:4, “how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”  This was the higher, purer language of heaven spoken by the angels. For him, what that language might be, was not a matter of mere “conjecture;” it was language which he had been permitted to hear. Now he refers to that language, by saying that even that lofty language would be worthless to anyone if there were not love. There is also an assumption here that “angels are superior in all respects to men.” Thus, Paul made his argument more overwhelming with the contrast between the tongues of angels and the distressing tongues of Corinth.

The apostle will make a comparison between gifts and graces in order to show how much better and more desirable the saving graces of the Spirit are, than all those pompous and miraculous gifts, of which there is no real necessity, and no reason to desire them, except for their usefulness and service to the church. He begins with the gifts of tongues: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels;” that is, even if I had the gift of tongues in the highest degree, and I could preach and pray like an angel, and yet I did not have the grace of love, what good would I be to God, who is not distracted a noisy sound, like children are by “a tinkling cymbal.” “The tongues of men and angels” are like the miraculous gifts which cannot commend us to God, make us like God, or in any way give Him more genuine worth, or innate excellence. They only proclaim God's goodness towards us, but they in no way give evidence of any goodness in us or that He favors us. Gifts are like the gold which adorns the temple, but grace is like the altar which sanctifies the gold. Grace then, is better than the gifts of the Spirit and should be preferred to it. Therefore, even if you “speak with the tongues of men and of angels,” you have no reason to think that you are esteemed higher in the sight of God than mere “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal,” if you have not love.”

and have not charity,
That is, “And has not love.” This is the appropriate and common meaning of the Greek word. The English word charity is used in a great variety of senses; and some of them cannot be included in the meaning of the word as it is used here. It has all of the following meanings:
1. In a general sense, love, benevolence, good-will.
2. In theology, it includes supreme love for God and universal good-will to mankind.
3. In a more specific sense, it denotes the love and kindness which springs from the natural family relationships; the love of father, son, brother.
4. Liberality in giving to the poor, to the needy, charitable societies, and to other objects of benevolence, which we commonly speak of as “charity;” called almsgiving in the Bible.
5.  “Candor”—bigheartedness in judging people’s actions and indulgence to their opinions; attributing to them good motives and intentions; a disposition to judge them favorably, and to assign to their words and actions the best interpretation. This is a very common meaning of the word in our language now, and this is one variation of the word “love,” since all types of charity is supposed to proceed from “love” for our neighbor, and a desire that he should have a right to his opinions as well as we to ours. The Greek word agapē means “love,” affection, regard, good-will, benevolence. It is applied:
a. To love in general.
b. To the love of God and of Christ.
c. To the love which God or Christ exercises toward Christians. There are three Greek words for 'love'; [eros] (erotic love), [phileo] (affection), and [agape], which is the word used here. The word was not classical Greek. No heathen writer had used it, but it was in the Greek language and was used in the Septuagint (LXX). So, the Spirit chose a word for Christian love which was free of the sensual overtones of more common Greek words. [Agape] is considered to be one of the grandest words in the New Testament.

• Romans 5:5; “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
• Ephesians 2:4; “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us.”
• 2 Thessalonians 3:5; “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.”
d. The effect, or proof of beneficence, favor conferred.
• Ephesians 1:15; “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.”
• 2 Thessalonians 2:10; “and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”
• 1 John 3:1; “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”

The word “charity,” has some meanings and ideas which are not found in the Greek word, and especially the idea of “almsgiving;” also the word has evolved so that today it has the sense of “candor” or “liberality in judging.” Neither of these ideas is found in the use of the word in the chapter before us where the proper translation would have the usual New Testament meaning, “love.” The “love” which is referred to in this chapter is mainly “love for man” (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7); though there is no reason to doubt that the apostle meant also to include in the general term love for God, or love in general. His illustrations, however, are chiefly drawn from the effects of love toward people, which encompasses love to the whole church, love to the whole world; which arises from true piety, and which centers ultimately in God. It is this love that Paul says is so important and more valuable than the highest possible gifts, which are without it. On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine that anyone had these gifts of the Spirit, or had the power of speaking with the tongues of human beings and angels; or had the gift of prophecy, or had the highest degree of faith, and yet they had no love. The apostle, however, supposes that it could happen; and says that if it were so, if all these were gifts possessed without love, they would be comparatively worthless.

 1 Corinthians 13.4-7 (NKJV) “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

I am become

I am. I shall be.

as sounding brass,
Paul probably has a “trumpet” in mind; a trumpet or wind instrument of any kind made of brass or copper. The impression is of a reverberating instrument, making a loud noise, apparently signaling an event of great importance, and yet without liveliness; a metal instrument that merely makes a sound. Therefore, it is noisy, worthless, empty, and lifeless—it would be like the power of speaking all languages without love.

The inharmonious outward show of heathen worship included the clashing and banging of gongs and cymbals and the braying of brass trumpets. Paul teaches two things by this:
1. That the exhibitions of the Corinthian tongue speakers were of the same significance as heathen worship.
2. That both were noisy, empty and worthless.

or a tinkling cymbal.
A “cymbal” produces a clanging, clattering sound. The word rendered “tinkling” comes from a Greek word meaning “war-cry,” which signifies a loud cry, or shout, such as is used in battle; and also a loud cry or mourning, and cries expressing grief; the loud “shriek” of sorrow, like that described as “wailing” in Mark 5:38, “Then He [Jesus] came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly.”  Then “tinkling cymbal” means a clanging or clattering sound, such as was made on a cymbal. The cymbal is a well-known instrument, made of two pieces of brass or other metal, which, on being struck together, gives a tinkling or clattering sound. Cymbals are commonly used in conjunction with other musical instruments. They make a tinkling, or clanging, with very little variety of sound. The music is not likely to produce emotion, or to excite feeling. There is no melody and no harmony. They were, therefore, well adapted to express the idea which the apostle wished to convey. The sense is, “If I could speak all languages, though I did not love, the usefulness of it would be like the clattering, clanging sound of the cymbal, which contributes nothing to the welfare of others. It would all be hollow, vain, and useless. It could neither save me or others, any more than the notes of the trumpet, or the jingling of the cymbal, would promote salvation. “Love” is the vital principle; it is that without which all ether gifts are useless and vain.”

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.

“Prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and … all faith are to be added to “tongues” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13.1, because all of them belong to the category of miraculous gifts which had caused so much trouble at Corinth.

And though I have the gift of prophecy,
“Prophesy” means, “To predict future events;” but it also means, “To declare the Divine will; to interpret the purposes of God; or to make known in any way the truth of God, which He has designed to influence men.” Its first meaning is to predict or foretell future events; and those who did this were messengers of God (prophets), and as such, they generally related predictions, instructions, and counsel having to do with men and the sins they are guilty of, and dangers they must face if they do not repent, and the duties they owe to Christ and other Christians. But, eventually the word came to indicate anyone who in any way communicated the will of God; and ultimately it came to represent those who openly expressed devotion or praise for God. In the New Testament the word is usually associated with teachers (see Acts 13:1). Sometimes prophets are mentioned as a class of teachers immediately after apostles; they are believed to be under the influence of revelation: “Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues” (1 Cor 14:39; NKJV). Speaking under the teaching of the Holy Spirit was a desirable gift if it was used to edify the church. It is enlightening to note that Paul places the gifts of wisdom and knowledge, which these preachers require, above those gifts which we are liable to think of as miraculous. It is even more revealing to note that Paul puts “prophesy” first to show that it is the most desirable gift of all, and in 1 Corinthians 14.1, he removes all doubt with a clear statement of its superiority: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” The apostle does not mean to say that prophecy should be preferred to love or charity; but that, of all the spiritual gifts which it was proper for them to desire and ask for, prophecy was the most valuable. That means, they were not to sincerely desire to be able to speak in tongues, or to work miracles; but rather, they were to desire for God to qualify them to speak in a manner that would be edifying to the church. Some of the leaders in the Corinthian Church were abusing the gift of tongues by promoting it as a sign that God’s love for them was greater than for the others. The object of this chapter is to show them that the ability to speak in a plain: clear, instructive manner, for the purpose of edifying the church and converting sinners, was a more valuable gift than the power to work miracles, or the power of speaking foreign languages.

There is one more component that should be attached to the meaning of the word prophesy; we read in Romans 12:6, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” To what has been said about the nature of this office, it seems necessary to add that the prophets were distinguished from the teachers, in that, while the latter spoke in a calm, instructive dialogue, tailored to teach and enlighten their audience, the first spoke more from the stimulus of sudden inspiration, communicating a sudden revelation at the moment it is discovered (see 1 Corinthians 14:30) and his words was probably more apt to awaken the feelings and conscience of his audience, for the reason that  it was delivered by means of powerful preaching. The idea of speaking from revelation seems to be the correct idea of the nature of the prophecy referred to in this verse. Nevertheless, the prophets always communicated in the language of their audience, and in this respect they were different from those who spoke in a foreign language. The same truth might be spoken by both; the influence of the Spirit was equally necessary in both cases; both were inspired; and both were important to the establishment and edification of the church. The gift of tongues, however, because it was the most conspicuous and shocking, and probably the rarest, was the most highly prized and coveted of the gifts of the Spirit. The object of Paul here is to show that it was really an endowment of less value, and should be less desired by Christians, than the gift of prophetic instruction, or the ability to edify the church in a language that is intelligible and understood by everyone

The apostles point of view, which was formed by the dictates and illumination of the Spirit of God, was simply this: If a man had a clear understanding of the prophecies found in the Old Testament and an accurate knowledge of the doctrines of Christianity, and yet he did not love his fellow Christians, he would be nothing; and nothing about his life would commend him to the Lord, since it is little more than what Balaam had? The miraculous gift of prophecy belonged to Balaam, but he did not love either God or Israel, and that caused his ruin. Caiaphas uttered prophecy as God's high priest; but his loveless heart made him an enemy of God. Note: God does not place a high value on great knowledge, but rather on true and lively devotion and love. The main thing is to cultivate a spirit of love; but it is not improper to desire to be endowed with the gifts which are the most usefulness in the church.

 Acts 13:1 (NKJV) “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers…”
 1 Cor 14:30 (NKJV) “But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.”

and understand all mysteries,
The meaning of the word “mystery” is found in 1 Corinthians 2:7: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.” A mystery is a secret which has not yet been made known. The wisdom of God in the gospel was a mystery hidden until Christ came, and since then it is fully comprehended only by “the born again,” mature Christian. The apostolic sense of “mystery” is that which was hidden, but is now disclosed to those who accept the gospel. Those who will not receive the gospel cannot comprehend this wisdom. 

Our passage proves that “the ability to understand and explain the ‘mysteries of religion’” was one part of the prophetic office, as referred to here. The “mysteries of religion”; is the things that were previously unknown, or unrevealed. It does not refer to the prediction of future events, but to the great and deep truths connected with religion; the things that were unexplained in the Old Testament, such as the meaning of types and symbols; and the obscure portions of the plan of redemption. All these might be plain enough if they were revealed; but there were many things connected with religion which God had not chosen to reveal to people.

To understand  all mysteries, might seem to be added to the term prophecy, by way of explanation, but since the term knowledge is immediately added, and since Paul had previously mentioned knowledge and wisdom  as separate gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12:8), we should recognize that to understand all mysteries is not used here to mean wisdom. Knowledge refers to truths long known.

 1 Cor 2:7 (NKJV) “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.” A mystery is a secret which has not yet been made known. The wisdom of God in the gospel was a mystery hidden until Christ came, and since then it is fully comprehended only by “the born again,” mature Christian. The apostolic sense of “mystery” is that which was hidden, but is now disclosed to those who accept the gospel. Those who will not receive the gospel cannot comprehend this wisdom.
 1 Cor 12:8 (NKJV) “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit.” That is, the Spirit assigns gifts according to his will, or as he sees fit. The Spirit is not only the author, but the distributor of these gifts. And therefore sometimes they are said to be given “by,” and sometimes “through,” the Spirit.

and all knowledge;
We learned in Chapter 12 that knowledge consists of the intelligent apprehension of facts and principles. Paul is saying, “Though I have the gift of all knowledge, and though I have the gift of intelligent apprehension of all facts concerning the things of God, and all sciences and arts, even with this extraordinary knowledge, if I am devoid of love, I am nothing!” Knowledge alone is not sufficient. Love must be added to that knowledge. Understanding alone is not enough. Love must be added to that understanding. I feel this is the sad plight of Bible–believing churches in our day. There is knowledge of the Bible and an understanding of the truths of the Bible but a lack of love. How terrible to find churches filled with gossip, bitterness, and hatred! Along with knowledge there must be love.

and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains,
There are two opinions regarding the meaning of “faith” as it appears here that I am aware of. I will, to the best of my ability, explain both opinions, though I am an advocate of the second one.

THERE IS ONLY ONE TYPE OF FAITH. Although this clause refers to a miraculous gift (faith that can move a mountain), faith is never to be perceived as appearing in various varieties; there is only one kind. In all the word of God, there is no mention of several kinds, or even two kinds of faith. It is always the AMOUNT OF FAITH which is important. As a matter of fact, Paul is not speaking here of some special kind of faith, but of “all faith,” meaning the greatest possible AMOUNT, not some special “kind.” No greater misunderstanding exists among religious people today than the notion that there exists something called “saving faith,” which would be a special quality, or variety, or type of faith that inevitably acquires salvation.

This statement by Paul is enough to refute the popular heresy regarding “faith alone” or “saving faith.” “All faith” cannot mean anything less than faith in its highest degree (degrees of faith being often mentioned ... “little faith ... great faith ... etc.”); and if certain “kinds of faith” contrary to all Scripture, is supposed to exist, there would be no way to exclude them from being included in Paul's all-encompassing words “all faith.” It is important to understand that not even “all faith” can gain salvation for any man unless his heart is filled with love, for man and for God. This obvious truth has resulted in some of the interpreters of scripture placing a false construction upon “love” as Paul used it here, making it to mean “God's love of men,” not their love of God. Throughout this chapter it will be observed that it is love of humanity as a reflection of the love which Christians have for God which is being discussed. “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13; NKJV). Throughout this chapter the reason one gift is preferred to others is its superior usefulness. This is Paul's standard; and judged by this rule, love is greater than either faith or hope. Faith saves us, but love benefits others.

THERE IS MORE THAN ONE KIND OF FAITH. “Miraculous faith” is the faith by which persons were enabled to work miracles.  Once again, the apostle uses the word “I” to illustrate his point, as he often does, by a reference to himself, though he wants the believers in Corinth to understand that he is actually referring to them. He declares, Had I all faith (the utmost degree of this kind of faith), that I could remove mountains (or say to them, “Go hence into the midst of the sea,” and have my command obeyed.) He may have had Jesus’ conversation with Peter mind: Jesus said, “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says” (Mark 11:23; NKJV). The faith to remove mountains, or to do that which is impossible, except by a miracle, must refer to the miraculous faith spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12:9, where it says, “to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit.” Since all Christians have faith, otherwise they would not be Christians at all; the faith given by the Spirit here must be a special type of faith. Paul went on to say, “and had no charity, I am nothing.” The most wonder-working faith, to which nothing in this world is impossible, is itself nothing without charity. Moving mountains is a great achievement, so great that it was never done by any man; but one ounce of charity is, in God’s eyes, worth more than all the faith of this kind in the world. On the Great Day of the Lord there will be those who may have done many wondrous works in Christ’s name whom he will disown, and say to them “depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”—“Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”Matt 7:22-23 (NKJV) Augustine says that for Christ to say, “I never knew you,” is only another way of saying, “You never knew me.” This teaching by the Savior is proof enough that men will be able to do some very miraculous and even wonderful things, even though they are not saved. It shows that one may possess “miraculous faith,” though he lacks “saving faith.” “Saving faith” is another type of faith; it cannot exist apart from love, but miraculous faith may live without it.

The disciples were men of great faith, since they lived with the Savior and saw his miracles with their own eyes, but Jesus told them they had little faith when it came to healing a man’s epileptic son. The man told Jesus that his disciples could not heal his son; Jesus had to do it himself. Then we read, “So Jesus said to them (disciples), “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17.20; NKJV). They did not have enough of that kind of faith; miraculous faith. The term faith is used in a variety of senses, therefore it is left up to the sensible reader to determine the type of faith under consideration. Paul, however, is his own interpreter, and he follows that method here by restricting faith, to miracles. It is what Chrysostom calls the “faith of miracles,” and what we sometimes dub a “special faith,” because it does not comprehend the entire Christ, but simply his power in working miracles; and that's why a man may sometimes have the faith to do the miraculous, though he has not been born-again, which was Judas’ situation. “And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease” (Matt 10:1; NKJV). Judas received the power to perform miracles along with the rest of His disciples, but he did not love Jesus, and he would betray Him.

and have not charity,
The first verse was speaking of love as it comes from the heart. This is from the mind, love as an act of the intellect. Knowledge alone is not sufficient. Love must be added to that knowledge. Understanding alone is not enough. Love must be added to that understanding. I feel this is the sad plight of Bible-believing churches in our day. There is knowledge of the Bible and an understanding of the truths of the Bible but a lack of love. How terrible to find churches filled with gossip, bitterness, and hatred! Along with knowledge there must be love.

We are told in Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” This kind of love reveals whether a man is a child of God or not.

Love is a debt which can, never be discharged. We should feel that we owe this to all men; and we may be constantly discharging our debt through acts of kindness, but we should never feel that we have fully met our obligation while the opportunity exists to do good for someone. It is reassuring to know that our love for others fulfills the law. If I love you I will not do any of the things to you that are forbidden by the law. If I love you I will not steal from you; if I love you I will not kill you; if I love you I will not commit adultery with you; if I love you I will not tell lies about you; if I love you I will not covet what you have; etc. I fulfill the Mosaic Law and the commands of Jesus by loving you.

Love is not only the best thing; it is everything.

I am nothing.
Allow me to make this personal; if I did not love I would be worthless in the sight of God. I would still be an unredeemed, unpardoned sinner. I could not do anything good for anyone. I would never attain any of the great purposes which God has designed for my life; I could do nothing to secure my salvation. I would have lived my life in vain as far as the great purpose of my existence is concerned. Nothing I have done could be placed before God to serve as justification for my acceptance on the Day of Judgment. Unless I have love, I would still be lost. A somewhat similar idea is expressed by the Savior, in regard to the Day of Judgment, in Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

Notice here, that “miraculous faith” may be detached from love, but saving faith cannot, because it always comes attached to love; and wherever love is found, it gives value and acceptance to all other graces. The greatest wonder-working faith, to which nothing is impossible, is itself nothing without love. Moving mountains would be a great achievement for any man; but one ounce of love is worth much more in God’s eyes than all the miraculous faith there is. Love is ultimately that which acts in conformity to the character and nature of God. It is not kindness or generosity, but it produces it. It is not motivated by external circumstances, but it always acts appropriately in response to them. It is no wonder that the apostle considered that though a man possessed any or all of the gifts, he was nothing, if he did not love.

“God hates the great things in which love is not the motive power; but He delights in the little things that are prompted by a feeling of love.”
D. L. Moody

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 Greek word used here for “bestow” meant “break off.” The meaning of the apostles teaching in this phrase is “to distribute in small portions; to feed by morsels;” and here the application is to “distributing one‘s property in small portions.” Charity or alms given to the poor, was usually dispersed at one‘s gate, which is the reason Lazarus’ family laid him at the rich man’s gate every day—“But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate” (Luke 16:20; NKJV)—or in some public place. Obviously, if property was distributed in this manner, many more would be benefitted than if all were given to only one person. There would be many more who be thankful, and many more to celebrate one‘s generosity with praises. This was looked upon as a great virtue; and was often acted out in a most extravagant manner. It was something which gratified the ego of wealthy men who desired praise for being kind and generous, when many of the poor flocked daily to their houses to be fed. It was against this desire for praise and distinction, that the Savior directed some of his severest criticism and reprimands—“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matt 6:1-4; NKJV). Our Lord is saying this with biting irony. Believe me; He knew how to use the rapier of sarcasm! When the Pharisees wanted to give something to the poor, it was their custom to go down to a busy street corner in Jerusalem and blow a trumpet. Although the purpose was to call the poor and needy together to receive the gifts, it afforded a fine opportunity to let others see their good works. Do you see parallels today in the way some Christians give? Our Lord said that when the Pharisees do it that way, they have their reward. What was their reward? Well, what was it that they were after? Jesus said they did it to have glory of men; their motive was wrong, because they did not love the poor. They blew the trumpet, and everybody came running out to see how generously they gave, and that was their reward. Their giving was not between themselves and God.

Paul knew that love, or rather the lack of it, was the problem in Corinth, and so, to make the case as strong as possible, he says that if all that a man had were given out in this way, in small portions, in order to benefit as many as possible, and yet the giving was not motivated “by true love toward God and toward man,” it would be bogus, hollow, hypocritical, and really of no value in the sight of God. It would not do him any good at all. Although good might be done to others, yet where the “motive” was wrong, it could not meet with God’s approval.

and though I give my body to be burned,
The apostle speaks, without a doubt, of martyrdom, which is an act that is the most beautiful and outstanding of all; because what is more marvelous than that unshakable courage which makes a man not hesitate to pour out his life for a testimony of his love for Christ, His gospel and his friends? Yet even this, too, God considers as nothing, if the mind is without love. But Jesus did something even greater than this. The apostle John tells us that Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13; KJV). Christ’s death on the cross was the highest human exhibition of love that this earth has ever seen. But Christ did even more than die for His friends, as Paul shows us in Rom 5:6—“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly”—he died for his enemies, something that man had never done.

Many of the ancient prophets were called to suffer martyrdom, though there is no evidence that any of them were burned to death as martyrs. Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego were actually thrown into a fiery furnace, because they were worshippers of the true God; but they were not consumed in the flame (Daniel 3:19-26). In Hebrews we read this about the martyrdom of the early Christians, “QUENCHED THE VIOLENCE OF FIRE, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Heb 11:34; NKJV). Though Christians were persecuted, there is no evidence that they were burned as martyrs as early as this Epistle was written. Nero is the first who is believed to have committed this horrible act; and under his reign, and during the persecution which he excited, Christians were covered with pitch, and set on fire to illuminate his gardens. It is possible that some Christians had been put to death in this manner when Paul wrote this Epistle; but it is more probable that he refers to this as a prediction of the persecutions that are coming, and an example of “the most awful kind of death,” rather than anything which had really happened. Subsequently, however, as we all know, this was often done, and thousands and perhaps tens of thousands, of Christians have been called to show their faith in Jesus Christ by submitting themselves to the flames. Can you even imagine how much fortitude and courage a person must possess for him to lay down his life for Christ?  It is such a high expression of one’s obedience to Him, and something which angels are not capable of doing, yet, without love, burning is simply a self-centered glow; and instead of sealing the truth with our blood, we seal only our own shame and foolishness. Notice that the apostle does not say, “If I am burnt, persecuted, and put to death by others;” but instead he says, “If I voluntarily offer up myself to the most terrible kind of death, burning.” But, if one does not act according to the right principles and motivation, and if he does not truly love God, and His glory, church, and truth, it will all be for nothing. We may learn from this that no kind of sufferings, no matter how dreadful, even though it is done for Christ’s sake, is a reliable sign that a person is a child of God; because a man may have enough natural courage and strength to endure burning for the sake of his personal interests; and not from a spiritual fortitude wrought in him by the Spirit of God. Dear Lord! How miserable is it to be burnt with fire for Christ here; and to hear him say afterward, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire!” But this is a departure from the subject. The main emphasis in this passage is this — that since love is the only rule for governing our actions, and the only means of regulating the use of the gifts of God, nothing else, no matter how magnificent it may be in the estimation of men, is approved of by God, when love is nonexistent or in short supply. Where love is deficient, the loveliness of all the other virtues is mere glitter—is pointless sound—is not worth a straw—is offensive and disgusting.

and have not charity,
That is, if I have no love for God, or for people, and I have no true holiness. If I do it from any selfish or evil motive; if I do it from fanaticism, stubbornness, or arrogance; if I am deceived in regard to my character, and have never been born again. It is not necessary to the understanding of this passage to presume that this had actually happened, because the apostle only states it as a supposition. There is reason enough, however, to think that it has been done frequently; and that when the desire for martyrdom became the popular passion, and was believed to be connected with supremacy in heaven, many have been willing to give themselves to the flames who never knew anything about love for God or true religion. Today, all you have to do is watch the TV news to experience the horrendous acts of Muslim martyrs who blow themselves up in a crowd of innocent men, women and children in order to attain a higher place in heaven and seventy virgins for wives. Will these modern day martyrs be rewarded for the deaths and suffering they cause or will they be disappointed when they hear Jesus say, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire!”

In Paul’s time, and earlier, the common mode for putting people to death was by stoning, by the sword, or by crucifixion. Subsequently, however, all these were laid aside, and burning became the common way in which people were martyred. Burning was used extensively, under Nero; and later it was the method used exclusively, under the Inquisition and during the persecutions in England.

it profiteth me nothing.
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,” but my heart does not contain love for God; there can be no benefit to my soul. Nothing can save me. If I do not truly love God, I must perish, after all. “Love,” therefore, is more valuable and precious than all these gifts which I have thought were so wonderful. Nothing can take its place!

Whatever may have prompted Paul's words here, the lesson is clear, that no liberal giver or ascetic martyr can be assured of eternal life without the all-important, indispensable virtue of love. In the days of the persecutions, some were tempted to seek martyrdom as a sure means of attaining eternal life; but a proper regard for what Paul said here would have discouraged such a thing.

Paul, in these first three verses, did not mention all of the miraculous gifts, only the most respected; but what is said here of the examples should be applied with equal force to all the others.

Please give me your questions, comments, and prayer requests.

 A Japanese sculptor came to America with a unique twist on his art. At his exhibit, each statue had a small sign that read, “Please touch.” He wanted people to literally feel his work. In America, we are more accustomed to signs that read, “Don’t touch.” Whether it’s statues or people, we tend to keep our respectful distance. In reality, we are surrounded by people who want to be touched and noticed. They may not have a small sign that invites you to reach out, but you can be certain most people are hungry for the touch of a friend.