The Most Beautiful chapter of Scripture, Part VIII

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May 23, 2016

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This is a continuation of 1 Corinthians 13: The Most Beautiful chapter of Scripture.

Many people view 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter of love, as the most beautiful and perhaps the most important chapter of Scripture. While some earnest Bible students would disagree – this passage – penned by the apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is arguably at least one of the most beautiful and more important chapters in God’s Word.

My favorite author, Ellen White, put it this way:

“The Lord desires me to call the attention of His people to the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Read this chapter every day, and from it obtain comfort and strength. Learn from it the value that God places on sanctified, heaven-born love, and let the lesson that it teaches come home to your hearts. Learn that Christlike love is of heavenly birth, and that without it all other qualifications are worthless.” (RH July 21, 1904).

Imagine how it would be if every professed Christian did this!

As I have been trying to do this the past year, I have learned that I have much to learn. I have been challenged, invigorated and blessed. And it has been a paradigm-shifting experience – in a positive sense. I definitely recommend it and I want to encourage you to follow this counsel – to join me on this journey.

You will be blessed!


A helpful tool

One thing that has helped me to understand and benefit from this passage is Albert Barnes good old classic commentary, which is said to have been issued in more than a million copies already by the time of his death in 1870. Here follows verse eight of the chapter together with most of his commentary on the verse.

Verse 12-13: Three Remains, Love is the Greatest

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

– 1 Corinthians 13:12-13  

Verse 12. For now we see through a glass. Paul here makes use of another illustration to show the imperfection of our knowledge here. Compared with what it will be in the future world, it is like the imperfect view of an object which we have in looking through an obscure and opaque medium, compared with the view which we have when we look at it “face to face.” The word glass here (εσοπτρον) means, properly, a mirror, a looking-glass. The mirrors of the ancients were usually made of polished metal, Ex 38:8 Job 37:18. Many have supposed, (see Doddridge, in loc., and Robinson’s Lexicon,) that the idea here is that of seeing objects by reflection from a mirror, which reflects only their imperfect forms. But this interpretation does not well accord with the apostle’s idea of seeing things obscurely. The most natural idea is that of seeing objects by an imperfect medium, by looking through something in contemplating them. It is therefore probable that he refers to those transparent substances which the ancients had, and which they used in their windows occasionally; such as thin plates of horn, transparent stone, etc. Windows were often made of the lapis specularis, described by Pliny, (xxxvi. 22,) which was pellucid, and which admitted of being split into thin laminae or scales, probably the same as mica. Humboldt mentions such kinds of stone as being used in South America in church windows.–Bloomfield. It is not improbable, I think, that even in the time of Paul the ancients had the knowledge of glass, though it was probably at first very imperfect and obscure. There is some reason to believe that glass was known to the Phenicians, the Tyrians, and the Egyptians. Pliny says that it was first discovered by accident. A merchant vessel, laden with nitre or fossil alkali, having been driven on shore on the coast of Palestine near the river Belus, the crew went in search of provisions, and accidentally supported the kettles on which they dressed their food upon pieces of fossil alkali. The river sand, above which this operation was performed, was vitrified by its union with the alkali, and thus produced glass.–See Edin. Ency., art. Glass. It is known that glass was in quite common use about the commencement of the Christian era. In the reign of Tiberius, an artist had his house demolished for making glass malleable. About this time, drinking vessels were made commonly of glass; and glass bottles for holding wine and flowers were in common use. That glass was in quite common use has been proved by the remains that have been discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. There is, therefore, no impropriety in supposing that Paul here may have alluded to the imperfect and discoloured glass which was then in extensive use; for we have no reason to suppose that it was then as transparent as that which is now made. It was, doubtless, an imperfect and obscure medium, and therefore well adapted to illustrate the nature of our knowledge here, compared with what it will be in heaven.

Darkly. Marg., in a riddle, εναινιγματι. The word means a fiddle, an enigma; then an obscure intimation. In a riddle, a statement is made with some resemblance to the truth; a puzzling question is proposed, and the solution is left to conjecture. Hence it means, as here, obscurely, darkly, imperfectly. Little is known; much is left to conjecture: a very accurate account of most of that which passes for knowledge. Compared with heaven, our knowledge here much resembles the obscure intimations in an enigma compared with clear statement and manifest truth.

But then. In the fuller revelations in heaven.

Face to face. As when one looks upon an object openly, and not through an obscure and dark medium. It here means, therefore, clearly, without obscurity.

I know in part. 1Cor 13:9.

But then shall I know. My knowledge shall be clear and distinct. I shall have a clear view of those objects which are now so indistinct and obscure. I shall be in the presence of those objects about which I now inquire; I shall see them; I shall have a clear acquaintance with the Divine perfections, plans, and character. This does not mean that he would know everything, or that he would be omniscient; but that in regard to those points of inquiry in which he was then interested, he would have a view that would be distinct and clear–a view that would be clear, arising from the fact that he would be present with them, and permitted to see them, instead of surveying them at a distance, and by imperfect mediums.

Even as also I am known. In the same manner, (καθως,) not to the same extent. It does not mean that he would know God as clearly and as fully as God would know him; for his remark does not relate to the extent, but to the manner and the comparative clearness of his knowledge. He would see things as he was now seen and would be seen there. It would be face to face. He would be in their presence. It would not be where he would be seen clearly and distinctly, and himself compelled to look upon all objects confusedly and obscurely, and through an imperfect medium. But he would be with them; would see them face to face; would see them without any medium; would see them in the same manner as they would see him. Disembodied spirits, and the inhabitants of the heavenly world, have this knowledge; and when we are there, we shall see the truths, not at a distance and obscurely, but plainly and openly.

  • “through a glass” 2Cor 3:18 (*) “darkly” “a dim glass”

Verse 13. And now abideth. Remains, (μενει). The word means, properly, to remain, continue, abide; and is applied to persons remaining in a place, in a state or condition, in contradistinction from removing or changing their place, or passing away. Here it must be understood to be used to denote permanency, when the other things of which he had spoken had passed away; and the sense is, that faith, hope, and love would remain when the gift of tongues should cease, and the need of prophecy, etc.; that is, these should survive them all. And the connexion certainly requires us to understand him as saying that faith, hope, and love would survive all those things of which he had been speaking, and must therefore include knowledge, (1Cor 13:8,9,) as well as miracles, and the other endowments of the Holy Spirit. They would survive them all; would be valuable when they should cease; and should, therefore, be mainly sought; and of these the greatest and most important is love. Most commentators have supposed that Paul is speaking here only of this life, and that he means to say that in this life these three exist; that “faith, hope, and charity exist in this scene only, but that in the future world faith and hope will be done away, and therefore the greatest of these is charity.”–Bloomfield. See also Doddridge, Macknight, Rosenmuller, Clarke, etc. But to me it seems evident that Paul means to say that faith, hope, and love, will survive all those other things of which he had been speaking; that they would vanish away, or be lost in superior attainments and endowments; that the time would come when they would be useless; but that faith, hope, and love would then remain; but of these, for important reasons, love was the most valuable. Not because it would endure the longest, for the apostle does not intimate that; but because it is more important to the welfare of others, and is a more eminent virtue than they are. As the strain of the argument requires us to look to another state, to a world where prophecy shall cease and knowledge shall vanish away, so the same strain of argumentation requires us to understand him as saying, that faith, and hope, and love will subsist there; and that there, as here, LOVE will be of more importance than faith and hope. It cannot be objected to this view that there will be no occasion for faith and hope in heaven. That is assumed without evidence, and is not affirmed by Paul. He gives no such intimation. Faith is confidence in God and in Christ; and there will be as much necessity of confidence in heaven as on earth. Indeed, the great design of the plan of salvation is to restore confidence in God among alienated creatures; and heaven could not subsist a moment without confidence; and faith, therefore, must be eternal. No society–be it a family, a neighbourhood, a church, or a nation; be it mercantile, professional, or a mere association of friendship–can subsist a moment without mutual confidence or faith; and in heaven such confidence in God MUST subsist for ever. And so of hope. It is true that many of the objects of hope will then be realized, and will be succeeded by possession. But will the Christian have nothing to hope for in heaven? Will it be nothing to expect and desire greatly augmented knowledge, eternal enjoyment, perfect peace in all coming ages, and the happy society of the blessed for ever? All heaven cannot be enjoyed at once; and if there is anything future that is an object of desire, there will be hope. Hope is a compound emotion, made up of a desire for an object and an expectation of obtaining it. But both these will exist in heaven. It is folly to say that a redeemed saint will not desire there eternal happiness; it is equal folly to say that there will be no strong expectation of obtaining it. All that is said, therefore, about faith as about to cease, and hope as not having an existence in heaven, is said without the authority of the Bible, and in violation of what must be the truth, and is contrary to the whole scope of the reasoning of Paul here.

But the greatest of these is charity. Not because it is to endure the longest, but because it is the more important virtue; it exerts a wider influence; it is more necessary to the happiness of society; it overcomes more evils. It is the great principle which is to bind the universe in harmony; which unites God to his creatures, and his creatures to himself; and which binds and confederates all holy beings with each other. It is therefore more important, because it pertains to society, to the great kingdom of which God is the head, and because it enters into the very conception of a holy and happy organization. Faith and hope rather pertain to individuals; love pertains to society, and is that without which the kingdom of God cannot stand. Individuals may be saved by faith and hope; but the whole immense kingdom of God depends on Love. It is, therefore, of more importance than all other graces and endowments; more important than prophecy and miracles, and the gift of tongues and knowledge, because it will SURVIVE them all; more important than faith and hope, because, although it may co- exist with them, and though they all shall live for ever, yet LOVE enters into the very nature of the kingdom of God; binds society together; unites the Creator and the creature; and blends the interests of all the redeemed, and of the angels, and of God, INTO ONE.

(+) “abideth” “remaineth” (b) “faith” He 10:35,39, 1Pet 1:21

That is the end of this famous chapter, but may it not be the end of our study of it. May we keep reading and studying it – daily. And most importantly, may these great and grand truths and principles step by step become a part of our very beings, through His wonderful grace!

Joakim Hjortland

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