One of my favourite chapters in the Bible is in the First Epistle of Paul, the Apostle, the Corinthians, which I quote below, giving my reasons for liking it.
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal.
"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.
"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.
"Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face, now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
I love this chapter very much, because it is not only poetic and beautiful, but seems to me to portray such a perfect picture of the qualities of our Lord Jesus Christ. And also, it contains a promise.
In the opening sentences, we are told of the utter uselessness of all other spiritual qualifications, unless we possess the one and the most redeeming quality of charity. Charity covers a wide range of virtuesselflessness, surrender of egoism, fellowship, amity, forgiveness, compassion and, above all, pure love.
We are told that a person of charity must be patient, humble, unselfish, honest, constant, kind, and absolutely pure.
And then, finally, we are given a promise, a promise that we shall eventually be brought "face to face" with our Lord.
The two salient virtues which stand out most clearly in my mind when I read this passage, are those of kindness and purity. And perhaps next to these I would put constancy; the constancy of love, the love that never fails. Love is kind. To be loving we must be kind. Surely kindness is of the very essence of love. To be kind is to be compassionate and forgiving; to be kind is to try not to hurt others' feelings; to be kind is to be gentle and sweet; to be kind is to be sympathetic and understanding, and ready to help a friend in need. It is not only the positive things we do and say and think that constitute kindness, but it is often the things we do not do or say or think. How often we can be kind by not passing on that unkind remark we hear about a friend, or by not saying that thoughtless and tactless world that is on the tip of our tongue.
And, then, we have purity. Charity "thinketh no evil." What absolute purity, to think no evil at all, not even a single evil thought; how divinely pure, and yet this was indeed the blessed state of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are told to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul, through all our days; and to do this, we should not only act in a pure way, but we must have pure thoughts, always. We must attribute nothing but the best motives to other people; our every thought must be holy and unselfish and in accordance with God's Will. What a glorious ideal!
And, then, we are told of the constancy"charity never faileth." Charity never lets you down; he who truly loves you, never lets you down, and if we love others, we should never let them down. Our Lord's love for us was constant and never failed us, and his love is still constant and with us today. It is the one thing we can completely rely upon. And so we see that true love is loyal, devoted, constant, and never fails.
Finally, we come to the promise. First we are told we must have faith; we must believe; next we must have hope, we must want fulfilment of the thing in which we believe; and, finally, we have a promise. Here is the assurance of complete fulfilment of that for which we hope. "For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face." All our doubts will be cleared, all the things we do not understand will be made plain to us, all the clouds of darkness will be swept away; there will be no more separation from God but all will be absolute unity and clarity, for then we shall be "face to face."
And so, to sum up, I love this 13th chapter of the Epistle to the Corinthians, not only because of its poetic beauty, and the glory of the promise in the closing verse, but I love it for the beautiful picture I see portrayed of our Lord Jesus Christ as epitomised in charity and love, the essential qualities of which, to me, are those of constancy, purity and kindness.