From the Word
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal... 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:1, 7, RSV
Observe how small the word “love” and how easily uttered! Who would have thought to find so much precious virtue and power ascribed by Paul to this one excellence as counterpart of so much that is evil? This is, I imagine, magnifying love, painting love. It is a better discourse on virtue and vice than are the heathen writings. The model the apostle presents should justly shame the false teachers, who talk much of love but in whom not one of the virtues he mentions is found.
Every quality of love mentioned by him means false teachers buffeted and assaulted. Whenever he signifies love and characterizes her powers, he invariably makes a thrust at the same time at those who are deficient in any of them. We may well, then, as he describes the several features, add the comment, “But you do very differently.” It is passing strange that the teachers devoid of love should possess such love as Paul mentions here, namely, speaking with tongues, prophesying, understanding mysteries; that they should have faith, should bestow their goods and suffer themselves to be burned. For we have seen what abominations ensue where love is lacking; such individuals are proud, envious, impatient, false, suspicious, malicious, disinclined to service, selfish, ambitious. How can it consistently be claimed that people of this stamp can through faith remove mountains, give their bodies to be burned, prophesy and the like? It is precisely as I have stated. Paul presents an impossible proposition, implying that since they are devoid of love, they do not really possess those gifts, but merely assume the name and appearance. And in order to divest them of those he admits for the sake of argument that they are what in reality they are not.
Paul’s purpose is to silence and humble haughty Christians, especially teachers and preachers. The gospel gives much knowledge of God and of Christ, and conveys many wonderful gifts. Some have the gift of speaking, some of teaching, some of Scripture exposition, some of ruling, and so on. But there are to be found few indeed who make the right use of such gifts and knowledge, who humble themselves to serve others, according to the dictates of love.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 60–61.
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