Troublesome Topic: Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 13:2, 8-13

1 Corinthians 13:2


and if I have prophecy and understand

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all mysteries and all experiential knowledge,

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and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have sacrificial love, I am nothing.


and if God gives me the important gift of communicating spiritual truth in a way that relates to everyday life, and the gift of comprehending all the as-of-yet-undisclosed truths of God as well as perceiving all the experiential knowledge possible, and if God gives me the gift of abnormally strong faith sufficient to command mountain-sized problems to move and they move, but if I do not accompany those gifts with sacrificial love I have wasted my efforts by working to make myself into something that has no value.


We think of a mystery as something hard to figure out, but the Biblical term is different. In the Bible, the idea of a mystery was a truth that God would reveal to mankind at some point, but He has not done so yet. It is not something that we can figure out; it must be revealed by God. And it will be revealed, we just don’t know when.

God wants to reveal Himself to us so that we can understand His character and what He requires of us. However, He does not dump all of that revelation on us all at once. He has given it to mankind piece by piece.

This topic of mysteries in the Biblical sense is related to the burning question and the unutterable burden, both of which are later clarified by God’s light, and then He follows that with His guidance for what to do about it, completion. This process is closely related to the topic of tongues.

1 Corinthians 13:8


Sacrificial love will never, ever fall down or be cast down;

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however, if prophecies, they will be brought down to motionless condition;

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if tongues, they will cease;

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if personal, experiential knowledge, it will be brought down to a motionless condition.

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Sacrificial love will never, ever fail; however, if there is the uttering of spiritual admonishment, it will be rendered ineffective; if there is speaking in unknown languages, it will come to an end; if there is the expression of personal, experiential knowledge that provides spiritual insight, it will also be rendered ineffective.


The Corinthians were arguing over unimportant things that will not last for eternity (tongues and prophecy); those things are tools that God uses in this phase to get us to the next phase (heaven). Paul’s point is that they pale in comparison to love because love is eternal.

1 Corinthians 13:9


For we know out of

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a portion of the whole,

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and we prophecy out of a portion of the whole,


for right now we can only have experiential knowledge of few things, not everything, and we can only exhort with Godly instruction in a limited fashion.

1 Corinthians 13:10


However, whenever completeness has fully come, that which is out of a portion of the whole will be brought down to a motionless condition.


But, whenever the big picture is revealed and things as we know them are replaced by a greater reality, these individual pieces of the big picture will be rendered useless.


Here the word “completeness, fullness” is used which is also the meaning of the Hebrew word Thummim. This is a relatively common Greek word in the New Testament and not every use of it points to the Urim and Thummim. However, since the Urim and Thummim figure prominently in the study of speaking in tongues, I don’t think it is coincidence that the word “completeness” is used in this context.

Paul’s hint at the Urim and Thummim can be expressed something like this, “In a moment I will go into more detail about tongues and prophecy which are closely related to the burning question, God’s illumination, and full completion through our obedient action. But true completeness is far beyond the issue of tongues and prophecy because these will not remain operable forever. In the end, true completion of any matter will have nothing to do with tongues and prophecy, but rather it will be fulfilled by love, our love for God and for those around us.”

1 Corinthians 13:11


When I was a child, I always spoke

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as a child, I always used my diaphragm to regulate my opinions about things

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the way a child does, I always came to a conclusion about things

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as a child does; when I became a man and reaped the consequences of becoming one,

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I brought the childish things to a motionless state.


When I was immature, it showed in the way I spoke, in the way I formed opinions about things (which included far too much emotion), in the conclusions I came to about things (I didn’t take enough factors into account even though I thought I had), but, when I matured in many ways and the new level of maturity became evident to others around me, I no longer relied on the useless way of doing things from my earlier days.


All of us need to choose to act like adults or like children. Paul’s point here is that here is no room for childishness in the life of an adult. Those things should have been set aside long ago. One way to tell if someone is spiritually mature is to evaluate their focus; is it on exhibiting spiritual gifts, or on loving others?  Paul will return to the example of childishness in 14:20, and you can already guess where Paul places the Corinthians on the scale of maturity when it comes to spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 13:12


For at this time we see [things] in a riddle

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looking into a mirror of polished metal, but then face to face. At this time I know [only] a portion of the whole, but then I will know fully, as also I have been fully known.

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For right now we are trying to see our life with God clearly, but we can’t, everything is obscure because we are trying to look into a mirror of polished metal which is blurry at best, but later we will see Him in person, up close and personal. Right now, I know only a small part of what can be known about God, but then I will know everything I will need to know as fully as He knows me.

1 Corinthians 13:13


But now, there remains these three things – faith,

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and sacrificial love.

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However, the greatest of these [is] sacrificial love.


But, after all the lesser things are stripped away, there are three characteristics of our daily life with God that should remain because they are the most important; they are: the ability to act with complete trust in God, the ability to    act with joyful and confident expectation that God will do what He said He would do, and the ability to put others first and choose to act sacrificially in order to seek what is best for them. However, the most important of these important characteristics is self-sacrificing love.


Some of the Corinthians had become experts at doing things the wrong way.

They quarreled over spiritual gifts which should be used to help others.

They cared more about themselves and how they appeared in the eyes of other, than caring about how others were doing.

They prioritized the temporal.

They acted childishly.


Do we sometimes get things backwards too?

Do we quarrel about unimportant things?

Do we care more about ourselves than others?

Do we prioritize the temporal instead of the eternal?

Do we act childishly?

The next lesson in this Full Series on Tongues is Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:1



This word means “to see, know or perceive.”


This type of “knowledge” is the practical knowledge for life that is only acquired through experience in living. It would be impossible to gain “all” of this kind of knowledge because it is impossible to experience what everyone experiences. But the point here is that if I could be miraculously endowed with the gift of knowledge on such a high level but did not have love, I would still be nothing. There would be no value in having such a gift without love.


This is the word for “fall, fail, cast down.”


The key idea behind this verb is “to make inactive or motionless” in the sense of “to render inoperable, non-functioning.” The part about it being “brought down” is provided by the preposition “down” which is attached to the verb “to make inactive or motionless.”


Here the meaning is “to cease or come to an end.”


This is the singular form of the same verb used of prophecies earlier in this verse. It means “to make inactive or motionless” in the sense of “to render inoperable, non-functioning.”


This is the preposition “out or from.” Many English translations use the preposition “in” because it sounds better in English. The idea here is that our knowledge comes “out from” a small portion of a much larger whole.


This word means “a part, a portion, a share” and is always contrasted with the whole. There is a state of completeness which stands in contrast with this small portion of the whole.

9: "I always spoke (as a child)”:

This verb is in the imperfect tense which should properly be rendered “I was speaking (as a child),” “it was my habit to speak (as a child).” But in order to make it sound better in English without losing the intent of the verb form, I have rendered it in my translation as “I always spoke.” This same verb form is used in the next two verbs in this verse.

10: "I used my diaphragm to regulate my opinions about things":

This verb is often rendered “to think” but it also means “to feel.” It comes from the noun “diaphragm or midsection” (think torso) and was used of “the heart, or the mind.” It has much to do with one’s “inner perception or insight;” notice that “insight” includes the word “in.” While it does have to do with one’s perception of self, it also involves one’s understanding of the world around him based on the starting point of what is inside him. This is much more than thinking; it is thinking and feeling at the same time. Our opinions are based on a variety of things such as our emotions, experiences, knowledge and relationships. The connection to the diaphragm or the midsection is that the diaphragm is used to regulate our breathing.


This is the Greek word from which we get our English words “logic, and logical.” It means “to compute, count, calculate, take into account reckon, reason and then come to a conclusion, come to the bottom line, decide.”

12: “I became a man”:

This verb and the next one are in the perfect tense, which, in Greek writing means that the action being referred to happened in the past but its consequences have remained and are still active at the time the statement was made.

13: “in a riddle”:

This is the Greek word from which we get out English word “enigma” which means “a mystery or a riddle.” It refers to something obscure, unclear.


The preposition used here means “through or by means of.” This is a bit different than the preposition “in.”

15: “have been fully known”:

This verb is in the Aorist tense, which is one of the past tenses of Greek. It can serve as a simple past; it can give greater force to the past action; it can focus on the finished nature of that past action (the latter does not apply here). Most translators who render its usage here as some type of past tense rather than a present tense, choose to highlight the forcefulness of the verb by including an English adverb such as “fully, completely, etc.”


Faith primarily means “to be persuaded.” It also means “to be convinced, confident” and then to act on that persuasion with “trust and fidelity.”


Hope has the basic meaning of “expectation of what is sure.” It is “the joyful and confident expectation of God doing what He said He would do.” It can also be expressed with the words “anticipation, confidence, and trust.”


This is the kind of love that sees something in others worth investing in, even if no one else sees it. It is willing to act in a self-sacrificing manner in order to help the other person. It is the giving kind of love; it seeks the good of others without emotion and without wanting anything in return.