September 3

1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13:1-Here is the explanation of the “more excellent way” (the best way possible) that Paul spoke of in 12:31.  Remember that in chapters 8-11, Paul has been dealing with issues that cause disunity in the church.  He has shown that the source of the unity is Christ…and, the key for the practice of unity is placing the welfare and benefit of other members of the church above our own.  Not trying to take advantage of our Christian “liberty”, or rights…but, being proactive to place the welfare of others ahead of ourself.  Now, Paul clearly identifies the motive that drives such a practice.  It is love.  Love is to be the motivating and guiding principle in the use of spiritual gifts.  It is the medium through which the gifts are to be practiced.

  • Verses 1-3: Paul gives some specific examples of what happens when a gift is exercised without the medium of love. Love should determine the way that we exercise the gifts of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, and faith.
  • Verses 4-8a: Then, he uses a variety of terms to describe the self-less nature of love.
  • Verses 8b-13: Finally, Paul shows that love completes the partial nature of the gifts by being the medium through which they are exercised.


In verse 8a, the word “fails” means “to stop, to cease, to be inactive”.



"to fall," is used of the Law of God in its smallest detail, in the sense of losing its authority or ceasing to have force, Luk 16:17. In 1Cr 13:8 it is used of love (some mss. have ekpipto, "to fall off").



(1) In 1Cr 13:8, katargeo, "to reduce to inactivity" (see ABOLISH), in the Passive Voice, "to be reduced to this condition, to be done away," is translated "shall fail," AV. This, however, misses the distinction between what has been previously said of love and what is here said of prophecies (see No. 3); the RV has "shall be done away;" so also as regards knowledge (same verse).

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,


Love will always be consistent with the terms used to describe it in verses 4-7.  Love always acts this way.  It never changes.  There is never a time when love is not active (:8a)...but there are times when the gifts will not be active.  The gifts of knowledge, prophecy, and tongues are intermittent, and inconsistent.


1 Corinthians 13:8-Notice the limitation and demise of each gift when practiced without the principle of love…


Prophecy…done away with



lit., "to reduce to inactivity" (kata, "down," argos, "inactive"), is translated "abolish" in Eph 2:15; 2Ti 1:10, in the RV only in 1Cr 15:24,26. It is rendered "is abolished" in the AV of 2Cr 3:13; the RV corrects to "was passing away" (marg., "was being done away"). In this and similar words not loss of being is implied, but loss of well being.

…God has chosen things that are not "to bring to nought things that are," i.e., to render them useless for practical purposes, 1Cr 1:28; the princes of this world are "brought to nought," i.e., their wisdom becomes ineffective, 1Cr 2:6; the use for which the human stomach exists ceases with man's death, 1Cr 6:13; knowledge, prophesyings, and that which was in part were to be "done away," 1Cr 13:8, 10, i.e., they were to be rendered of no effect after their temporary use was fulfilled; when the Apostle became a man he did away with the ways of a child, 1Cr 13:11;…

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,


            to render idle, unemployed, inactivate, inoperative

  1. to cause a person or thing to have no further efficiency
  2. to deprive of force, influence, power
  3. to cause to cease, put and end to, do away with, annul, abolish
  4. to cease, to pass away, be done away





"to stop, to make an end," is used chiefly in the Middle Voice in the NT, signifying "to come to an end, to take one's rest, a willing cessation" (in contrast to the Passive Voice which denotes a forced cessation), Luk 5:4, of a discourse; Luk 8:24, of a storm; Luk 11:1, of Christ's prayer; Act 5:42, of teaching and preaching; Act 6:13, of speaking against; Act 13:10, of evil doing; Act 20:1, of an uproar; Act 20:31, of admonition; Act 21:32, of a scourging; 1Cr 13:8, of tongues; Eph 1:16, of giving thanks; Col 1:9, of prayer; Hbr 10:2, of sacrifices; 1Pe 4:1, of "ceasing" from sin. It is used in the Active Voice in 1Pe 3:10, "let him cause his tongue to cease from evil."


Knowledge…done away


Abolish: (same word as used concerning Prophecy)


1 Corinthians 13:9-10-This passage is dealing with the guiding principle for the use of spiritual gifts…and in the bigger picture, how we are to relate to each other in their use.  Verses 9-10 is an explanation by way of restatement of verse 8.  How do we know this?  Context, context, context.

  • Verse 9 speaks of knowledge and prophecy just as verse 8 did.
  • The word “perfect” in verse 10 speaks of the unfailing, continuous nature of love in verse 8.
  • The Greek word translated “done away” in verse 10 is the same word translated that way in verse 8.


Surprisingly, this one, single verse has been the topic of many booksAnd most of the debate centers around the identification of the word “perfect”.  What does it refer to?  What is the “perfect”?


Chuck Smith helps us to understand the reason why there are differing opinions…


Now what is it referring to "that which is perfect"? It is interesting to me that every Bible commentator prior to the twentieth century always understood it to mean the coming again of Jesus Christ. This is the historic traditional view of the church of every Bible commentator up until this twentieth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, 1906, there began a modern charismatic movement called, in those days, a Pentecostal movement, with a renewing of interest in the gifts of the Spirit. And with this modern Pentecostal movement beginning in 1906, those fundamentalist preachers who wanted to discount this movement of the Holy Spirit in these last days, they turned to I Corinthians 13, and they brought out a new interpretation. And suddenly, "that which is perfect is come" was no longer the coming again of Jesus Christ. But now, according to their interpretation, it was the full revelation of the Word of God. When we receive the whole cannon of scriptures, then they did not need the supernatural gifts of prophecy, tongues, and word of knowledge to teach the people any longer. We now have the Word of God, that which is perfect has come, and therefore, all of the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the apostles, and the end of the apostolic age. That brought an end to the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit. And in order to, of course, prove from a scriptural basis their premise, they had to change the meaning of "that which is perfect" and twist it around to mean the Word of God, rather than the coming again of Jesus Christ.

In the more later commentaries you will find "that which is perfect" often being referred to as the Word of God, but that is not so prior to this century, before all of the Bible teachers understood it to mean the coming again of Jesus Christ. I agree with G. Campbell Morgan, who I believe to be a very honest commentator. I agree with him when he declared that it is obvious from the context that he has to be referring to the coming again of Jesus Christ. For he goes on to say that we are going to see Him face to face, "Now we see Him through the glass darkly, but then face to face." "Now we know in part, we prophesy in part, but then we are going to know even as we are known." When? When we see Him or meet Him face to face. Rather than this thirteenth chapter here being a proof against the exercise the gifts of prophecy or tongues or word of knowledge today, in reality, it is a support, because these are given to us until the coming again of Jesus Christ, until that which is perfect is come.

Chuck Smith :: C2000 Series on 1 Corinthians 13,


Chuck Smith’s position is a commonly held interpretation.  But there is one very significant fact that seems to have been overlooked.  He said that the context of the word reveals its meaning…


I agree with him when he declared that it is obvious from the context that he has to be referring to the coming again of Jesus Christ. For he goes on to say that we are going to see Him face to face, "Now we see Him through the glass darkly, but then face to face." "Now we know in part, we prophesy in part, but then we are going to know even as we are known." When? When we see Him or meet Him face to face.


The problem is…that is not what the verse says.  It does not say, “Now we see Him…”  The word “Him” is not in the verse.  In fact, not one of the more popular translations (KJV, ASV, NASV, NIV, Holman, NLT, RSV) uses the word “Him”.  The reason…it’s not there in the Greek…so the verse cannot be correctly translated into English and use the word “Him”.  This verse is not a reference to Jesus.


John MacArthur shows us how difficult it has been for Bible scholars to decide exactly what “perfect” is in reference to…


The word translated “perfect” is from téleios, and is used to describe something that is morally perfect, full grown and mature, or complete. The different nuances of téleios have given rise to various interpretations of what “the perfect” refers to: F.F. Bruce said “the perfect” is love itself; B.B. Warfield, the completed canon of Scripture; Robert Thomas, the mature church; Richard Gaffin, the return of Christ; and Thomas Edgar, the individual believer’s entrance into heavenly glory.[3]

Prophecy, “the Perfect.” And the End of What?, Code B140320, John MacArthur


So, why do I suggest that the word “perfect” refers to love?  First, because the wider context is Paul’s admonition that unity in the church is developed when we express our love for Christ by expressing our love to others.  And second, because the immediate context of this verse is Paul’s demonstration that love is the guiding principle for the implementation of spiritual gifts.  Paul says…


For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes the partial will be done away.


Notice that the first part of the verse makes a statement about the partial nature of knowledge and prophecy…they are not adequate in and of themselves.  Then Paul says, “but when”.


…a particle of time…at the time that, whenever…used of things which one assumes will really occur, but the time of whose occurrence he does not definitely fix…

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon


ὅταν hótan, hot'-an; from G3753 and G302; whenever (implying hypothesis or more or less uncertainty); also causatively (conjunctionally) inasmuch as:—as long (soon) as, that, + till, when(-soever), while.

Strong’s Definitions


He is saying that as long as the gifts operate independently of love they will not accomplish their purpose.  “But when the perfect comes”…when they operate through the medium of love…their inadequacy is gone.  When the gift is expressed through the medium of love…it is perfected, completed.  And, it is not the gift that is “done away with”…but the partial nature of the gift.


1 Corinthians 13:11-12-Paul gives us two illustrations right out of daily life that help us to understand how something can perform in a partial manner at one point and then perform in a complete manner later.  First, he uses human development.  When we are children we live based on the limited understanding that we have.  But when we grow up our understanding matures and we live based on what we have come to know.  We don’t continue to act in a childish manner.  Paul writes, “I did away with childish things.”  The partial knowledge of the child did not go away…but, it has been completed by the addition of something more.  His point is that while we may have once tried to express our spiritual gift without love, when we mature and discover that love is the medium through which we express our spiritual gift…we don’t continue to express our spiritual gift without it.  Second, he uses a mirror, an object that everyone is familiar with.  While he is speaking about seeing something in a mirror, he is figuratively speaking of seeing something mentally…understanding and comprehending it.



metaph. to see with the mind's eye

  1. to have (the power of) understanding
  2. to discern mentally, observe, perceive, discover, understand
  3. to turn the thoughts or direct the mind to a thing, to consider, contemplate, to look at, to weigh carefully, examine


Mirrors in Paul’s day were not of the quality as those we have today.  They would often be made of a polished metal and would not provide a sharp, distinct reflection.  Because of its limitations, you would never be able to get a clear picture of how someone looked if you only looked at them in a mirror.  But, when you look someone straight in their face…what was previously partial is now complete.  In fact, you know their face as well as you know your own.  You don’t forget what they looked like in the mirror…but now, with the clearer image that you saw when you looked them straight in the face, your picture of them is complete.  So, you wouldn’t keep thinking of them based on the image in the mirror.  That is the way the gift of knowledge is.  It’s only part of the picture.  As long as you try to use the gift of knowledge without reference to love…it will always be inadequate.  But once love becomes the medium for the expression of knowledge…you see its use from an entirely different perspective.  And you will never go back to the old way of thinking, again.


We could paraphrase verses 8-13 in this manner…


  1. Love never changes or stops being active. However, prophecy will be useless. Tongues won’t have an answer.  Knowledge will be ineffective.  9. The reason: knowledge can only give us part of what we need, and the same is true of prophecy. 10. But when these gifts are expressed through the medium of love, they complete their purpose and their partial nature disappears. 11. Let me give you an illustration. When I was a child, I acted in a childish manner.  My immaturity controlled what I said, thought, and how I made decisions. But, as I became an adult, I learned principles of proper behavior.  Those things completed my education and I stopped behaving like a child. 12. Here’s another way to see it.  Right now it is like looking at the reflection of someone’s face in a poor mirror…it is incomplete, unrecognizable.  But later it will be like looking directly at their face…perfectly recognizable. Right now, our understanding of matters is like that reflection…incomplete, not understandable.  But when love is the medium, we will understand everything as clearly as we understand ourself.  13. Right now, faith, hope, and love are guiding principles for our lives. But the most significant of these is love.


In 1 Corinthians 12-13, the Apostle Paul is telling us that when spiritual gifts are practiced alone, without love as the medium, they do not accomplish their purpose.  As we practice these gifts they should be done so in cooperation with love…with love as the medium.  There are three guiding principles for Christian living…faith, hope, and love.  They should always “abide” (remain, continue to be present).  They should always be guiding principles in the expression of spiritual gifts.  Faith guides what we believe…we trust in God’s Word.  Hope guides how we live…in light of the return of Jesus.  Love guides how we treat other people…we always seek their welfare.  And, in terms of relationships, the most significant is love.  Then, in 1 Corinthians 14, he actually shows how love should even lead us to seek those gifts that have a greater potential to express love to others, to be most loving.

Prayer: Lord, love is so practical (:4-8).  Please keep me from over-romanticizing love into a feel good, mushy sentimentality.  Help me to see the practical ways that love is expressed.


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