Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:4-10, Love is a verb

1 Corinthians 13:4-10

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.

The main issue with 1 Cor. 13:4-7 is that we tend to put it on a pedestal as exalted poetry or use it in a wedding ceremony rather than let its actual meaning pierce our hearts every day.

David Garland explains something important about Paul’s words: “Many observe that [Paul] does not use adjectives to describe love but verbs, fifteen of them in three verses. Love is dynamic and active, not something static.”[1] How does this make a difference in interpretation and application? Using adjectives in English versions tends to make us think that Paul is listing desired character traits for an individual believer: “Love is patient. love is kind. . . . [Love] is not proud” (1 Cor. 13:4, NIV). But that idea does not fit Paul’s argument to the Corinthians.

Using verbs, as Paul does, brings out more of the relational aspect of what he is saying: “Love waits patiently; love shows kindness. Love does not burn with envy; does not brag — is not inflated with its own importance” (Anthony Thiselton[2]). There is a wide gulf between thinking a person can be kind in their heart (is kind) and understanding that kindness — such as that shown by Christ on the cross —involves actions toward others (shows kindness).

At one critical point, NIV has the excellent “[love] keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 1:5) rather than the abstract idea “[love] is not . . . resentful” (ESV, NET and NRSV) or the impossible “[love] thinketh no evil” (KJV). Not many of us could figure out how to stop being resentful, and none of us could manage thinking no evil. But we all know what it means to keep a list of grievances against someone else. (HCSB and NLT join NIV in making this improvement.)

Many of us go numb at the mere mention of philosophy, and that makes us easy prey to the attacks on Christianity by postmodern philosophers. When Paul says that love rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), these philosophers claim that our Christian truth is designed to bring us power over others either for our selfish advantage or that of our peer group. They further claim that when Paul says, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7, ESV, NET, HCSB, NRSV), his teaching promotes conformist docility. They charge Paul, and by extension Christian faith, with teaching people to silently accept whatever the overlords dish out.

But, Jesus Christ could not be said to be a conformist; his death on the cross on behalf of others occurred precisely because he did not conform to the expectations of this world. Further, he did not die to gain power over others but to offer them an opportunity to escape judgment for their sins. Far from promoting unthinking acceptance of the status quo, the love Paul advocates cares deeply about pleasing God and caring for others. In service of that idea, Paul says that such love “never tires of support, never loses faith, never exhausts hope, never gives up” (1 Cor. 13:7, Thiselton[3]). Bible translation must always be mindful of how Christian thought is being undermined and frontally attacked.

Verse 8 begins the final section, which extends through verse 13. Garland says, “In the concluding paragraph, Paul attests to the permanence of love in comparison with spiritual gifts so prominent in Corinth — prophecy, knowledge, and tongues.”[4]

NIV says, “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8), but Thiselton prefers “Love never falls apart.” He does so because he disdains using an abstraction (fails) when Paul “has consciously used images and metaphors of burning or boiling, inflating, bad manners, having a sharp point stuck into one, and reckoning up accounts.”[5] The verb means “to fall down, to fall to the ground, to collapse, or to fall apart.” Love will endure beyond the day when God judges this world!

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)616.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000)1026.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1026 and 1057.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 620.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1060.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, If you dont have love; [+ The nature of “tongues”]

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

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.

If you dont have love Part 1

We have said that chapter 12 introduces the grace-gifts (manifestations) the Holy Spirit has given to every Christian according to the Spirits own choice of their distribution. In chapter 13, Paul takes on the daunting challenge of putting the grace-gifts into perspective for a church that is exaggerating their use in worship. Then, in chapter 14, Paul explains how the grace-gifts may be used in worship in such a way that the church is built up rather than falling into the trap of self-exaltation and division.

Even the least informed observer will conclude that chapter 13 is about love, but this obvious fact leads only to more questions: “What is love?” and “What is Paul saying about love?” The Greek noun agapeoccurs ten times in the chapter. This word is rare in Greek literature and finds its dominant use in the New Testament. For that reason, we look to the New Testament to determine its meaning in this context.

Anthony Thiselton explains: Love (agape) denotes above all a stance or attitude which shows itself in acts of will as regard, respect, and concern for the welfare of the other. It is therefore profoundly Christological, for the cross is the paradigm case of the act of will and stance which places welfare of others above the interests of the self.[1] (emphasis original). David Garland adds that this love for others is the check on the exercise of the gifts for personal gratification.[2]

When we explained chapter 12, we deferred a discussion of different kinds of tongues (1 Cor. 12:10) until this point. Note carefully that kinds of tongues — often called glossolalia because that term combines the Greek words for tongue and speak — is not just one thing but a set of behaviors that bear a family resemblance.

In discussing the grace-gift of tongues, we should begin by saying that this use of the word tongue is metaphorical. Obviously, everyone has a physical tongue, so the word refers to some type of spiritual activity involving the tongue. But what? Thiselton cautions that, in answering this question, It is almost universally agreed that reference to modern Pentecostal and charismatic phenomena cannot be used as a means of interpreting Paul and Corinth.[3] In other words, we cannot interpret the past by studying the present. That is backwards!

A few proposals about the nature of tongues

Some have thought tongues to be angelic speech, but not only does Paul distinguish tongues of men and of angels (1 Cor. 13:1), but he also says tongues will pass away (1 Cor. 13:8), which seems an unlikely thing to say for the tongues of angels. If tongues were heavenly speech, there would be no reason for them to pass away.

Others have suggested tongues to be the miraculous power to speak unlearned foreign languages. Presumably that would be useful in evangelizing other peoples. But Thiselton points out, If there were any hint of this use, Paul could not have said the person who speaks in a tongue speaks not to people but to God (14:2), let alone, the person who speaks in a tongue builds up only himself/herself [1 Cor. 14:4].[4] Further, Paul never says anything about such an evangelistic use and, instead, deals with the presence of tongues in the context of Christian worship. Paul makes a point of saying that tongues are an intrinsically noncommunicative form of utterance (1 Cor. 13:1; 14:2, 4, 79, 1617, 23).[5]

Still others propose ecstatic speech as the nature of tongues. However, this idea has drawn heavy criticism, not least because the term ecstasy has not been defined in terms that can be verified in the New Testament. Parallels in the wider Greco-Roman world are unconvincing.

So, where does that leave us? Thiselton suggests a connection with Romans 8:26, which says: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. He explains that what Paul refers to as tongues in First Corinthians 1214 is the specific work of the Holy Spirit in actualizing inarticulate yearnings directed toward God from the depths of the heart of the believer.[6] These unintelligible yearnings can be understood by God but not by others.

Thiselton adds that these yearnings can express a longing for the [final] completion of redemption to take place, prompted by the Spirit through Christ to God, like all authentic Christian prayer.[7] Expressing another description, Thiselton explains, Tongues may then be viewed as the language of the unconscious because it is unintelligible (unless it is interpreted) not only to others but also to the speaker.[8] Garland suggests this might indeed be one kind of tongue and observes: Tongues, from this perspective, are a sign of weakness, not spiritual superiority. . . . As a token of our weakness, it explains why tongues will end (1 Cor. 13:8).[9]

If you don’t have love – part 2

Look back at verses 1-3 and the way Paul has structured his argument. These verses have several elements that need clarification. First, Paul uses the language of probability, suggesting actions that may or may not occur. Greek grammar expert Daniel Wallace says that verses 1-3 all follow the same pattern; Paul argues from an actual case to a hypothetical case.[10] In verse 1, we know that Paul spoke in tongues, but he did not speak in the tongues of angels. In verse 2, the actual-to-hypothetical pattern is more obvious. Paul did have the gift of prophecy, but, Wallace argues, to understand all mysteries and have all knowledge would have made Paul omniscient, like God. Obviously, that result is out of the question!

Another crucial element of Pauls argument is that even if he could do both the actual actions and the hypothetical ones as well, unless they were done with love for others, they would count for nothing before God!

The phrase resounding gong (1 Cor. 13:1) is likely a reference to resonating acoustic bronze jars used to project the voices of actors.[11] These were placed around the edges of stone theaters and amphitheaters to catch the sound of the actors voices and echo the sounds again. But hearing these echoes was not the same as hearing the original voices. Paul says that even the tongues of angels would just be an echo without love.

Garland provides a fine summary of these three verses when he says, Spiritual gifts minus love equal zero.[12]

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1035.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 606.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 979.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 97677.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 978, quoting L.T. Johnson.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 985

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 985.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 988.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 586.

[10] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 471.

[11] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1036.

[12] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 614.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:21-26 What God wants in the church

1 Corinthians 12:21-26

21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

One theme that permeates the book of First Corinthians is reversal of status. In status-conscious Roman Corinth that was a big deal! They did not seem to remember that Jesus said, Many who are first will be last, and the last first (Mark 10:31).

This theme of status-reversal was strongly expressed in 1 Cor. 1:27: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. In our text for today this theme surfaces again. Garland explains 1 Cor. 11:21 by saying: Eye and head are transparent metaphors for those in leadership roles, who are likely more affluent and better educated. The hands and feet represent the laboring class or slaves. Eyes and heads in the church always get special treatment and then begin to think that they are special.[1] It is a short step to the delusional idea that the special people really dont need the other, lesser people.

With the words on the contrary (1 Cor. 12:22), Paul turns the reasoning of the special ones upside-down. Those parts of the body they consider to be less endowed with power and status than others (Thiselton) are in fact necessary.[2] In 1 Cor. 12:23, Paul points out that the Corinthians already give special honor to parts that they think are less honorable and unpresentable by covering them up; this is regarded as a reference to sexual organs.[3] Other parts of the body, such as the face, are presentable and need no special treatment (1 Cor. 12:24a).

But quite aside from human evaluation of the various parts of the body, God has leveled the playing field by giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it (1 Cor. 12:24b). That God had two purposes in mind is made clear by verse 25: (1) that there should be no division in the body and (2) that its parts should have equal concern for each other. Gods stated purposes ran counter to the culture of Roman Corinth and were in direct conflict with the presence of divisions in the church and the self-absorbed, high-handed practices of the strong.

Jesus was the countercultural model of honoring those who society thought unworthy. He loved the poor, the oppressed and the weak and had harsh words for the elite. It should not surprise us that it honors him when we hold the most humble member of the body in high regard.

When there is mutual concern and reciprocity, the church suffers together or rejoices together according to the welfare of any person belonging to it (1 Cor. 12:26). With this in mind, Garland summarizes: The church is not to be like its surrounding society, which always honors those who are already honored. It is to be countercultural and bestow the greatest honor on those who seem to be negligible.[4]

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 595.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1006.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 613.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 596.