Charity vs. Love
1 Corinthians 13 is the charity chapter not the love chapter. Charity has a more nuanced meaning in the Bible than does love. Paul is describing this unique attribute called charity.
“Love” is commonly used to describe that inner affection for something with pleasing qualities, beauty, or worth. We love things that are valuable, beautiful to us or that we prefer.
Charity may need to suffer or face things it does not prefer, but it does rejoice in the truth to the benefit of others.
In John 3:19 Jesus describes how “men loved darkness rather than light”. Surely that is not the chief of virtues in 1 Cor 13:13. Contrarily 1 Cor 13:6 says that charity cannot love darkness. Charity rejoices not in iniquity.
The Love of Skill
Some people love to improve themselves and show off their talents and abilities. While this may bring them success, fame, or a sense of achievement it is not charity.
“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.” – 1 Cor 13:1
Without charity that type of pursuit becomes a show or entertainment just as were the Corinthians who had the supernatural ability to speak in tongues. This was quite a show!
Yet, without charity they were no better than a performer. It makes for a good show, but it only puffs up the performer and does not glorify God.
The Love of Wisdom
Perhaps some would think entertainment is temporary and see merit investing their time in gaining knowledge. Some love to study books and earn credentials as experts in their fields.
It is a great thing to be informed and intelligent about things. Yet, without charity these scholars are no better than the simple and ignorant.
The church of Corinth had members who were gifted by the Holy Ghost with prophecy, teaching, and knowledge. They could understand the great mystery of Christ and could understand the word of God (faith).
“ 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.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2
Yet without charity their love of wisdom and achievement was brought to nothing.
The Love of Noble Cause
The love of noble causes is often confused for charity and yet Paul plainly says that no matter how much good you do for others, without charity you have made no profit. Some say charity is love in action. If that is the case, then Paul describes a situation of love in action.
“ 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.” – 1 Corinthians 13:3
This is where the translators were wise to use the word charity and not love. Surely no one can deny the love that a person has for the poor if they give them all their possessions. What if they gave their life also?
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13
What love! Yet, without charity it does not profit us. How could Paul declare such a thing?
Where Charity Excels
Charity is a word reserved in the Bible for those who know the truth. You can not have charity if you do not have the truth (1 Cor 13:6).
The world loves and shows many loving deeds in action. Yet, only someone who has the word of truth working effectually in them can rejoice in it to the benefit of others.
Charity suffers long… while others come to an understanding (2 Tim 2:24-26).
Charity is kind … when others ridicule them for their beliefs (Titus 3:2-4).
Charity does not behave unseemly … but behaves as a servant of righteousness (Eph 5:8-9).
Charity does not seek her own … but the things of Christ (Phil 2:21).
All of these characteristics of charity come from the Spirit bearing its fruit in you (Gal 5:22-23).
Charity rejoices not in iniquity… because it knows that God does not (Rom 1:18, Eph 5:6).
Charity rejoices in the truth … because it is the will and the word of God (1 Tim 2:4).
Whereas the world can love things and show love for others (as their conscious bears them witness), they cannot have charity without the truth.
Put on Charity
This is why Paul says that charity is greater than faith and hope. Faith believes the truth, hope is the truth working in you, charity is seeing the truth benefit others.
Charity is necessary for evangelism of the gospel and growth of the church.
“And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” – Col 3:14
* Listen to our lesson about charity in our Colossians series lesson 19.