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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.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

New Defender's Study Bible Notes

13:1 speak with the tongues. Paul has just noted that there was “a more excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31) to manifest Christ than by manifesting one’s spiritual gifts. Then he first deprecates the gifts of tongues, probably because this gift was being particularly misused in the Corinthian church.

13:1 charity. It is well known that this word “charity” (Greek agape) is often translated “love” in the King James Version (more than three times as much as “charity,” in fact). In view of the almost universal misuse of the English word “love” today—generally denoting either romantic love or erotic love or possibly just a happy feeling (e.g., “I love a parade!”), it would probably be better to retain the Old English concept of “charity,” meaning a generous and unselfish concern for others. This meaning is very close to the true meaning of agape and its correlative verb forms. That is certainly the message of this famous so-called “love chapter.”

13:3 feed the poor. Thus, giving to the poor, in itself, is not “charity” as defined in this chapter. Without true Christian charity, I both “am nothing” (I Corinthians 13:2), and “have nothing.”

13:4 Charity suffereth long. Note that “charity” (or agape “love,” if preferred) is defined by verbs rather than adjectives—by what it does, instead of what it is.

13:8 they shall fail. “Fail” is the same as “vanish away” (Greek katargeo, meaning “become useless”). “Cease” (Greek pauo, from which we derive “pause”) means simply “come to an end.” Thus all three of these supernatural gifts (and perhaps other supernatural gifts as well) would eventually become useless and would therefore be withdrawn by the Spirit.

13:9 know in part. The gifts of knowledge and prophecy at that time had conveyed only a part of God’s intended revelation to His people. In fact, the only earlier epistles by Paul were Galatians, I and II Thessalonians. Eventually, however, more would be forthcoming through the various apostles and prophets.

13:10 that which is perfect. “That which is perfect” cannot refer to Christ at His second coming, for “that” is a neuter pronoun. Since the previous verse refers to the incompleteness of the divine revelation at that time, “that which is perfect [that is, “complete”] almost certainly refers to the completion of Biblical revelation, as finally announced by John, the last of the apostles (Revelation 22:18-19). We now have all the prophetic truth needed in the Scriptures for the guidance of the church until Christ comes again. With few, if any, exceptions, we also have all the attestation we need to its veracity and power, so there is little need any more for miraculous signs, even though many still desire them.

13:11 a child. This word actually means “babe,” the same as in I Corinthians 3:1, where the identifying characteristic of “babes in Christ” was carnality in the form of congregational divisions. The implication follows here that the misuse of the spiritual gifts, instead of glorifying God and building up the church, may lead instead to dissension, division, and even flagrant sin.

13:12 through a glass, darkly. Compare James 1:23-25. The completed Scriptures are like a mirror which shows us as we are, and encourages us to make needed changes. In the ultimate sense, we shall know in full only when God’s plan, as revealed in Scripture, is complete.

13:13 these three. The ordinary gifts of the Spirit will no doubt continue until Christ comes. At that time, even faith and hope will no longer be needed. Charity, however, will continue forever.

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