Paul and Barnabus at Lystra
This is the last section on Luther’s sermon on 1 Corinthians, and as we said it was preached just before people would start to do all sorts of penance and works during the Lenten season in order to receive forgiveness etc. Luther of course is blasting “false teachers’ but there are wonderful insights into the nature of faith ‘activated by love”.
“We know in part, and we prophesy in part.”
31. “We know in part”; that is, in this life we know imperfectly, for it is of faith and not of sight. And we “prophesy in part”; that is, imperfectly, for the substance of our prophecy is the Word and preaching. Both knowledge and prophecy, however, reveal nothing short of what the angels see–the one God. “But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.”
He proves this by way of illustration and contrasts the child with the man. To children, who are yet weak, play
is a necessity; it is a substitute for office and work. Similarly, we in the present life are far too frail to behold God. Until we are able, it is necessary that we should use the medium of Word and faith, which are adapted to our limitations.
“For now we see in a mirror [through a glass] darkly; but then face to face.”
32. Faith, Paul tells us, is like a mirror, like a riddle. The actual face is not in the glass; there is but the image of it. Likewise, faith gives us, not the radiant countenance of eternal Deity, but a mere image of him, an image derived through the Word. As a dark riddle points to something more than it expresses, so faith suggests something clearer than that which it perceives. But in the life to come, mirror and riddle, faith and its demonstration, shall all have ceased to be. God’s face and our own shall be mutually and clearly revealed. Paul says, “Now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known [know even also as I am known].” That is, God now knows me perfectly, clearly and plainly; no dark veil is upon myself. But as to him, a dark veil hides him from me. With the same perfect clearness wherewith he now knows me, I shall then know him–without a veil. The veil shall be taken away, not from him, but from me; for upon him is no veil.
THE GREATEST CHRISTIAN VIRTUE IS LOVE.
“But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
33. The sophists have transgressed in a masterly manner as regards this verse. They have made faith vastly inferior to love because of Paul’s assertion that love is greater than faith and greater than hope. As usual, their mad reason blindly seizes upon the literal expression. They hack a piece out of it and the remainder they ignore. Thus they fail to understand Paul’s meaning; they do not perceive that the sense of Paul concerning the greatness of love is expressed both in the text and the context. For surely it cannot be disputed that the apostle is here referring to the permanent or temporary character respectively of love and other gifts, and not to their rank or power. As to rank, faith only, but the Word, surpasses love; for the Word is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe. Rom 1,16. Yet the Word must pass. But though love is the fruit of the Word and its effect, it shall never be abolished. Faith possesses God himself. It possesses and can accomplish things; yet it must cease. Love gives and blesses the neighbor, as a result of faith, and it shall never be done away.
34. Now, Paul’s statement that love is greater than faith and hope is intended as an expression of the permanence, or eternal duration, of love. Faith, being limited as to time comparison with love, ranks beneath it for the reason this temporary duration. With the same right I might say that the kingdom of Christ is greater upon earth than Christ. Thereby I do not mean that the Church in itself better and of higher rank than Christ, but merely that covers a greater part of the earth than he compassed; he was here but three years and those he spent in a limited sphere, whereas his kingdom has been from the beginning and is coextensive with the earth. In this sense, love is longer and broader than either faith or hope. Faith deals with God merely in the heart and in this life, whereas relations of love both to God and the whole world are eternal. Nevertheless, as Christ is immeasurably better and higher and more precious than the Christian Church, though we behold him moving in smaller limits and as a mere individual, so is faith better, higher and more precious than love, though its duration is limited and it has God alone for its object.
35. Paul’s purpose in thus extolling love is to deal a blow to false teachers and to bring to naught their boasts about faith and other gifts when love is lacking. His thought is: “If ye possess not love, which abides fore, all else whereof ye boast being perishable, ye will perish with it. While the Word of God, and spiritual gifts, are eternal, yet the external office and proclamation of Word, and likewise the employment of gifts in their variety shall have an end, and thus your glory and pride shall
become as ashes.” So, then, faith justifies through the Word and produces love. But while both Word and faith shall pass, righteousness and love, which they effect, abide forever; just as a building erected by the aid of scaffolding remains after the scaffolding has been removed.
36. 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 named by him means false teachers buffeted and assaulted. Whenever he magnifies love and characterizes her powers, he invariably makes at the same time a thrust at those who are deficient in any of them. Well may we, then, as he describes the several features, add the comment “But you do very differently.”
37. It is passing strange that teachers devoid of love should possess such gifts as Paul has mentioned here, viz., 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, puffed up, impatient, unstable, false, venomous, suspicious, malicious, disdainful, bitter, disinclined to service, distrustful, selfish, ambitious and haughty. How can it consistently be claimed that people of this stamp can, through faith, remove mountains, give their bodies to be burned, prophesy, and so on? 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.