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1 Corinthians 13:3

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor - This is a proof that charity, in our sense of the word, is not what the apostle means; for surely almsgiving can go no farther than to give up all that a man possesses in order to relieve the wants of others. The word ψωμιζω, which we translate to feed the poor, signifies to divide into morsels, and put into the mouth; which implies carefulness and tenderness in applying the bounty thus freely given.

And though I give my body to be burned - Ἱνα καυθησομαι· Mr. Wakefield renders this clause thus:

  1. And though I give up my body so as to have cause of boasting: in vindication of which he, first, refers to Daniel 3:28; Acts 15:26; Romans 8:32; Philemon 1:20.
  • He says that there is no such word as καυθησωμαι .
  • That καυχησωμαι, that I may boast, is the reading of the Ethiopic and Coptic, and he might have added of the Codex Alexandrinus; several Greek and Latin MSS. referred to by St. Jerome; of Ephraim; and of St. Jerome himself, who translates the passage thus: Si tradidero corpus meum ut glorier: i.e. "If I deliver up my body that I may glory, or have cause of boasting."
  • He adds that burning, though a common punishment in after times, was not prevalent when this epistle was written.
  • Some of the foreign critics, particularly Schulzius, translate it thus: Si traderem corpus, ut mihi stigma inureretur: "If I should deliver up my body to receive a stigma with a hot iron;" which may mean, If I should, in order to redeem another, willingly give up myself to slavery, and receive the mark of my owner, by having my flesh stamped with a hot iron, and have not love, as before specified, it profits me nothing. This gives a good sense; but will the passage bear it? In the MSS. there are several various readings, which plainly show the original copyists scarcely knew what to make of the word καυθησωμαι, which they found in the text generally. The various readings are, καυθησομαι, which Griesbach seems to prefer; καυθησεται ; and καυθῃ ; all of which give little variation of meaning. Which should be preferred I can scarcely venture to say. If we take the commonly received word, it states a possible case; a man may be so obstinately wedded to a particular opinion, demonstrably false in itself, as to give up his body to be burned in its defense, as was literally the case with Vanini, who, for his obstinate atheism, was burnt alive at Paris, February 19th, a.d. 1619. In such a cause, his giving his body to be burned certainly profited him nothing.

    "We may observe," says Dr. Lightfoot, "in those instances which are compared with charity, and are as good as nothing if charity be absent, that the apostle mentions those which were of the noblest esteem in the Jewish nation; and also that the most precious things that could be named by them were compared with this more precious, and were of no account in comparison of it.

      "
    1. To speak with the tongues of men, among the Jewish interpreters, means, to speak the languages of the seventy nations. To the praise of Mordecai, they say that he understood all those languages; and they require that the fathers of the Sanhedrin should be skilled in many languages that they may not be obliged to hear any thing by an interpreter. Maim. in Sanh., c. 2.

    "

  • To speak with the tongues of angels, they thought to be not only an excellent gift, but to be possible; and highly extol Jochanan ben Zaccai because he understood them: see the note on 1 Corinthians 13:1.
  • "

  • To know all mysteries and all knowledge was not only prized but affected by them. Of Hillel, the elder, they say he had eighty disciples: thirty who were worthy to have the Holy Spirit dwell upon them, as it did upon Moses; thirty who were worthy that the sun should stop his course for them, as it did for Joshua; and there were twenty between both. The greatest of all was Jonathan ben Uzziel; the least was Jochanan ben Zaccai. He omitted not (i.e. perfectly understood) the Scripture, the Mishna, the Gemara, the idiotisms of the law, and the scribes, traditions, illustrations, comparisons, equalities, gematries, parables, etc.
  • "

  • The moving or rooting up of mountains, which among them signified the removing of the greatest difficulties, especially from the sacred text, they considered also a high and glorious attainment: see the note on Matthew 21:21. And of his salvation, who had it, they could not have formed the slightest doubt. But the apostle says, a man might have and enjoy all those gifts, etc., and be nothing in himself, and be nothing profited by them."
  • The reader will consider that the charity or love, concerning which the apostle speaks, is that which is described from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, inclusive: it is not left to the conjectures of men to find it out. What the apostle means is generally allowed to be true religion; but if he had not described it, this true religion would have been as various as the parties are who suppose they have it. Let the reader also observe that, not only the things which are in the highest repute among the Jews, but the things which are in the highest repute among Christians and Gentiles are those which the apostle shows to be of no use, if the love hereafter described be wanting. And yet, who can suppose that the man already described can be destitute of true religion, as he must be under an especial influence of God; else, how,

      1st, could he speak all the languages of men? for this was allowed to be one of the extraordinary gifts of God's Spirit.

  • He must have Divine teaching to know the language of angels, and thus to get acquainted with the economy of the invisible world.
  • Without immediate influence from God he could not be a prophet, and predict future events.
  • Without this he could not understand all the mysteries of the Divine word, nor those of Providence.
  • All knowledge, suppose this to be confined to human arts and sciences, could not be acquired without especial assistance.
  • And without the most powerful and extraordinary assistance, he could not have a faith that could remove mountains, or miraculous faith of any kind: and the apostle supposes that a man might have all these six things, and not possess that religion which could save his soul! And may we not say that, if all these could not avail for salvation, a thousand times less surely cannot. How blindly, therefore, are multitudes of persons trusting in that which is almost infinitely less than that which the apostle says would profit them nothing!
  • The charity or love which God recommends, the apostle describes in sixteen particulars, which are the following: -

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    And though I bestow - The Greek word used here ψωμίσω psōmisōfrom ψάω psaōto break off) meant properly to break off, and distribute in small portions; to feed by morsels; and may be applicable here to distributing one‘s property in small portions. Charity or alms to the poor, was usually distributed at one‘s gate Luke 16:20, or in some public place. Of course, if property was distributed in this manner, many more would be benefitted than if all were given to one person. There would be many more to be thankful, and to celebrate one‘s praises. This was regarded as a great virtue; and was often performed in a most ostentatious manner. It was a gratification to wealthy men who desired the praise of being benevolent, that many of the poor flocked daily to their houses to be fed; and against this desire of distinction, the Saviour directed some of his severest reproofs; see Matthew 6:1-4. To make the case as strong as possible, Paul says that if all that a man had were dealt out in this way, in small portions, so as to benefit as many as possible, and yet were not attended “with true love toward God and toward man,” it would be all false, hollow, hypocritical, and really of no value in regard to his own salvation. It would profit nothing. It would not be such an act as God would approve; it would be no evidence that the soul would be saved. Though good might be done to others, yet where the “motive” was wrong, it could not meet with the divine approbation, or be connected with his favor.

    And though I give my body to be burned - Evidently as a martyr, or a witness to the truth of religion. Though I should be willing to lay down my life in the most painful manner, and have not charity, it would profit me nothing. Many of the ancient prophets were called to suffer martyrdom, though there is no evidence that any of them were burned to death as martyrs. Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego were indeed thrown into a fiery furnace, because they were worshippers of the true God; but they were not consumed in the flame, Daniel 3:19-26; compare Hebrews 11:34. Though Christians were early persecuted, yet there is no evidence that they were burned as martyrs as early as this Epistle was written. Nero is the first who is believed to have committed this horrible act; and under his reign, and during the persecution which he excited, Christians were covered with pitch, and set on fire to illuminate his gardens. It is possible that some Christians had been put to death in this manner when Paul wrote this Epistle; but it is more probable that he refers to this as “the most awful kind of death,” rather than as anything which had really happened. Subsequently, however, as all know, this was often done, and thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of Christians have been called to evince their attachment to religion in the flames.

    And have not charity - Have no love to God, or to people; have no true piety. If I do it from any selfish or sinister motive; if I do it from fanaticism, obstinacy, or vain-glory; if I am deceived in regard to my character, and have never been born again. It is not necessary to an explanation of this passage to suppose that this ever had been done, for the apostle only puts a supposable case. There is reason, however, to think that it has been done frequently; and that when the desire of martyrdom became the popular passion, and was believed to be connected infallibly with heaven, not a few have been willing to give themselves to the flames who never knew anything of love to God or true piety. Grotius mentions the instance of Calanus, and of Peregrinus the philosopher, who did it. Although this was not the common mode of martyrdom in the time of Paul, and although it was then perhaps unknown, it is remarkable that he should have referred to that which in subsequent times became the common mode of death on account of religion. In his time, and before, the common mode was by stoning, by the sword, or by crucifixion. Subsequently, however, all these were laid aside, and burning became the common way in which martyrs suffered. So it was, extensively, under Nero: and so it was, exclusively, under the Inquisition; and so it was in the persecutions in England in the time of Mary. Paul seems to have been directed to specify this rather than stoning, the sword, or crucifixion, in order that, in subsequent times, martyrs might be led to examine themselves, and to see whether they were actuated by true love to God in being willing to be consumed in the flames.

    It profiteth me nothing - If there is no true piety, there can be no benefit in this to my soul. It will not save me. If I have no true love to God, I must perish, after all. “Love,” therefore, is more valuable and precious than all these endowments. Nothing can supply its place; nothing can be connected with salvation without it.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    The excellent way had in view in the close of the former chapter, is not what is meant by charity in our common use of the word, almsgiving, but love in its fullest meaning; true love to God and man. Without this, the most glorious gifts are of no account to us, of no esteem in the sight of God. A clear head and a deep understanding, are of no value without a benevolent and charitable heart. There may be an open and lavish hand, where there is not a liberal and charitable heart. Doing good to others will do none to us, if it be not done from love to God, and good-will to men. If we give away all we have, while we withhold the heart from God, it will not profit. Nor even the most painful sufferings. How are those deluded who look for acceptance and reward for their good works, which are as scanty and defective as they are corrupt and selfish!
    Ellen G. White
    Selected Messages Book 1, 337

    We are to grow daily in spiritual loveliness. We shall fail often in our efforts to copy the divine pattern. We shall often have to bow down to weep at the feet of Jesus, because of our shortcomings and mistakes; but we are not to be discouraged; we are to pray more fervently, believe more fully, and try again with more steadfastness to grow into the likeness of our Lord. As we distrust our own power, we shall trust the power of our Redeemer, and render praise to God, who is the health of our countenance, and our God. 1SM 337.1

    Wherever there is union with Christ there is love. Whatever other fruits we may bear, if love be missing, they profit nothing. Love to God and our neighbor is the very essence of our religion. No one can love Christ and not love His children. When we are united to Christ, we have the mind of Christ. Purity and love shine forth in the character, meekness and truth control the life. The very expression of the countenance is changed. Christ abiding in the soul exerts a transforming power, and the outward aspect bears witness to the peace and joy that reign within. We drink in the love of Christ, as the branch draws nourishment from the vine. If we are grafted in Christ, if fiber by fiber we have been united with the Living Vine, we shall give evidence of the fact by bearing rich clusters of living fruit. If we are connected with the Light, we shall be channels of light, and in our words and works we shall reflect light to the world. Those who are truly Christians are bound with the chain of love which links earth to heaven, which binds finite man to the infinite God. The light that shines in the face of Jesus Christ shines in the hearts of His followers, to the glory of God. 1SM 337.2

    By beholding we are to become changed; and as we meditate upon the perfections of the divine Model, we shall desire to become wholly transformed, and renewed in the image of His purity. It is by faith in the Son of God that transformation takes place in the character, and the child of wrath becomes the child of God. He passes from death unto life; he becomes spiritual and discerns spiritual things. The wisdom of God enlightens his mind, and he beholds wondrous things out of His law. As a man is converted by the truth, the work of transformation of character goes on. He has an increased measure of understanding. In becoming a man of obedience to God, he has the mind of Christ, and the will of God becomes his will. 1SM 338.1

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    Ellen G. White
    Christ's Object Lessons, 403

    This is the spirit of all true service for God. Through a lack of this spirit, many who appear to be first will become last, while those who possess it, though accounted last, will become first. COL 403.1

    There are many who have given themselves to Christ, yet who see no opportunity of doing a large work or making great sacrifices in His service. These may find comfort in the thought that it is not necessarily the martyr's self-surrender which is most acceptable to God; it may not be the missionary who has daily faced danger and death that stands highest in heaven's records. The Christian who is such in his private life, in the daily surrender of self, in sincerity of purpose and purity of thought, in meekness under provocation, in faith and piety, in fidelity in that which is least, the one who in the home life represents the character of Christ—such a one may in the sight of God be more precious than even the world-renowned missionary or martyr. COL 403.2

    Oh, how different are the standards by which God and men measure character. God sees many temptations resisted of which the world and even near friends never know—temptations in the home, in the heart. He sees the soul's humility in view of its own weakness; the sincere repentance over even a thought that is evil. He sees the wholehearted devotion to His service. He has noted the hours of hard battle with self—battle that won the victory. All this God and angels know. A book of remembrance is written before Him for them that fear the Lord and that think upon His name. COL 403.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Reflecting Christ, 268

    And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all. Luke 21:3. RC 268.1

    The poor widow who cast two mites into the treasury of the Lord showed love, faith, and benevolence. She gave all that she had, trusting to God's care for the uncertain future. Her little gift was pronounced by our Saviour the greatest that day cast into the treasury. Its value was measured, not by the worth of the coin, but by the purity of the motive which prompted her. RC 268.2

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