1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
Love Fulfills the Law
Just before his arrest, Jesus told his disciples that their love for one another would be the defining mark by which all men would recognize them as his disciples. Knowing the great importance Jesus attached to love helps us understand why his apostles went into so much detail to explain the love of God in their writings. After faith, love is the second most wrote about topic in the new testament. So we have been blessed by scripture to have a full explanation of the qualities and characteristics of godly love. And the life of Jesus Christ is himself the most perfect example of the love of God. (2 Peter 2:21)
In a letter to the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul wrote one of the most well-known descriptions of love in all human history. The Corinthian church was beset by rivalries, jealousies, abuses, and mistreatments. So to bring their shortcomings to their attention, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul penned the famous scriptures on the subject of love which are looking at in this lesson.
Without Love We Are Nothing
At the start of his explanation, Paul noted the central importance of love to the life of Christ’s disciples. Without love, all else that we may do in Christ’s name is vain. Understanding mysteries, having great spiritual gifts, doing great works, and making personal sacrifices have no value to us when love is absent. By leaving love out we risk missing the purpose of the gospel.
The Apostle John went a step further than Paul in his writings. John said that if we do not have love than we do not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8) Jesus warned his disciples that on the day of judgement many people would report the great works they had done, the devils they had cast out, and the prophecies they uttered, yet Jesus would tell them “depart from me, I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23) This lets us know that that our works, and our gifts, and our prominence will count for nothing if we never know God or his love.
Love is Patient
Godly love is patient. It is patient with God, patients towards our fellow believers, and patient towards the lost.
And we demonstrate that towards God by our willingness to wait on him to bring his blessings and promises to fulfillment in his time and according to his will. (Isaiah 40:31) For his sake, we patiently bear sufferings, rejections, persecutions, and reproach in this world.
We show patience towards our fellow believers by forgiving their shortcomings, knowing that God is still working in their lives, just as he is still working on our own. When we discover that love is what has set us free, we will know that love will also set others free. (Matthew 7:3-5)
This patient aspect of love is especially important to maintaining peace and unity among the saints, (Ephesians 4:1-3) and should stir the witness of the gospel to the lost, that through our love they may be brought to Christ. (2 Tim 2:24-26)
Love is Kind
Kindness is another important quality of love. Jesus was a kind man. He let the children sit on his lap as he blessed them. He took the babies in arms and loved them. He showed compassion towards the downtrodden, the sinner, and the weak. He responded to the many questions of his disciples and even the questions of his enemies with kindness.
Like patience, kindness affects the way we will deal with other arounds us. It will impact the words we use, the tone we speak in, and the way we respond to others in need. Kindness in love will cause us to be considerate and compassionate of others.
Love Does Not Envy
As Paul described the attributes of love, he also described attributes which are incompatible with love. Envious jealousy is the first non-attribute of love he described. True love seeks the welfare and benefit of others. True love desires for others to prosper and be blessed. This makes envy incompatible with love. True love rejoices in the gifts, advancements, and blessings of others.
The story of Cain and Abel is one of the most well-known stories of envy in the bible. Cain became jealous of Abel when he saw that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, but his was rejected. God counseled Cain that if he would do well, that he too would be accepted. But rather than show love towards his brother and learn from his success, Cain was overcome by envy and murdered his brother. If unrestrained, jealousy leads to hate and murder. It has no place in love. Rather than become jealous, true love will celebrate the success of others.
Love Does Not Boast
Boasting is the next attribute Paul tells us is incompatible with love. Jesus said, “he who speaks of himself seeks his own glory.” (John 7:18) As Christ’s disciples we are not seeking our own glory, but we are rather seeking to glorify God. True love will draw attention to the greatness of God, rather than the greatness of ourselves.
John the Baptist provided an excellent example of this. After beginning his ministry, John was asked by the leaders in Jerusalem to tell them about himself. Some people, when presented with an opening to speak about themselves, will be very quick to inform their listeners of their own greatness. But not John the Baptist. John could have told those who asked that he was the greatest prophet who had ever born, because he was. But instead of using the opportunity to boast, John pointed his listeners to the coming Messiah. (John 1:19-23, Luke 7:28)
We can all be tempted to boast of our accomplishments or seek to magnify ourselves in the eyes of others. But these things to do not come from love. They come from a desire to receive the praises of men. Christ’s disciples desire to see God praised, rather than themselves. (John 12:43)
Love Is Not Proud
Pride is the next attribute that Paul tells us is opposed to love. Jesus was meek and lowly; he was not proud hearted or arrogant. He was easy to be around, and easy to get along with. Those who get near to Jesus find him refreshing. (Matthew 11:29)
Pride is a sinful desire for one’s own glory. (1 John 2:16, Mark 7:20-23) Pride causes us to focus inwardly on ourselves and our own wellbeing, whereas love is focused outwardly and concerned with the well being of others. Love will cause us to sacrifice of ourselves for the sake of others. Whereas pride does the opposite, pride desires for others sacrifice for our own benefit.
Pride causes us to place an inappropriate level trust in ourselves and our own ways rather than God and his ways and means. (Psalms 10:4) Pride leads to self-righteousness. Pride causes us to be lifted up and look down on others, and pride robs us of true compassion.
A prideful heart was what caused Satan to say he would ascend into the mountain of God and place his throne above all the other stars of heaven. (Isaiah 14:12-14) Most historic Christian writers view pride as the root of all sin, and it is certainly the very oldest sin recorded in the bible. Pride has no place in love, and when pride influences our actions, it will actually produce the opposite effect of love.
Love Does Not Dishonor Others
Dishonoring others is the next attribute Paul said was incompatible with love. Showing honor is the equivalent to showing respect. As Christians we are called upon to respect one another. When we dishonor others, we are violating them and robbing them of their God-given honor and rights. True love will seek to honor others, rather than dishonor them. (Romans 12:10)
The bible instructs us to show the same respect to all men, and honor them equally, whether friend or enemy, whether righteous or sinful. The bible does not excuse dishonoring our enemies or sinners. This includes honoring leaders who have authority to make laws and judgements. When we honor one another in a godly way, we will treat each other in a fair and a consistent manner. (1 Peter 2:17, Romans 2:11, Romans 13:1-2)
Showing dishonor can take many different forms. Talking slanderously about our neighbors and defaming others is one form of dishonoring them. (John 8:49) Refusing to treat others fairly and respectfully is another way we dishonor them. Refusing to submit to the rules and laws created by those in authority is another way we show dishonor. Likewise, for men in authority, refusing to judge a matter righteously dishonors those they have authority over. (Luke 18:2-4) Another way that we can dishonor others is by failing to respect their decisions, their freedoms in Christ, and their God given rights.
Love Is not Self Seeking
After pride, self-seeking is the next attribute Paul tells us is incompatible with godly love. Selfishness stems from pride. And a selfish inward focus is the opposite of an outwardly focused love. Selfishness produces a sense of entitlement, unhealthy competition, and leads people to take, rather than to give. Selfishness is a poisonous character trait that invariable causes harm to others. (James 3:16)
Love Is Not Easily Angered
Love is also not easily angered. When we look at the life of Jesus, we can see times when he was angered by evil, by the hypocrisy of religious leaders, and by the abuse of the innocent. As we see in the life of Jesus Christ, at times the love of God can lead to anger over evil and injustice.
Yet the love of God is slow to anger. It is never the first response to a situation. Though our anger may be righteous and justified, it should never give way to wrath. Christ’s disciples leave the pursuit of justice to God and the those in authority. (James 1:20, Romans 13:1-7) Love causes us to exercise self-control and allows us to walk away from situations and turn the other cheek.
Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs
Love keeps no record of wrongs. Can you love someone and refuse to forgive them at the same time? According to Paul, that is not possible. True love forgives the wrongs that have been done to us and holds no grudges. Jesus explained to us that we must forgive others so that we may be forgiven ourselves. When we truly love others, we desire to see them excel and not be distressed over our refusal to forgive them for something they have repented of. True love does not withhold forgiveness to those who seek it.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God does not delight in wickedness, but rather he is grieved by it. (Psalms 5:4) True love does not engage in evil practices or seek any benefit from the evil of others. True love will always seek to do that which is fair to all men and right in the eyes of God.
True love rejoices when the truth is shared, it rejoices when people find the truth, and it rejoices when the truth prevails. True love does not seek to cover up the truth or hide it. True love does not deny the truth. It does not prohibit people from seeking evidence of the truth. True love does not hide behind cloak of lies. A so called love that denies the truth is missing a key attribute of godly love.
Paul went one to describe that true godly love, is a love that protects others. It watches out for others, and will take up the cause to defend the oppressed, the weak, the vulnerable, and the innocent. It does not turn a blind eye to abuse, it does not tolerate injustice, and it does not sit idly by while others are mistreated. No greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life for his brother. (Matthew 23:37)
Trusts, Hopes, Perseveres
Godly love trusts, and it hopes, and it perseveres. Godly love holds on and keeps going. When adversities and situations bring resistance, godly love preserves and presses forward. Though the situation may look bleak, true love is full of hope and trust towards God.
True love holds out hope for the lost. It holds out hope that situations can change. It trusts that God had it all in his hands, and that he is working through all circumstances, and true love perseveres through all.
Love Never Fails
Paul ended his description of love by explaining that it will never cease. Love is an eternal truth and gift. Prophesy, tongues, and certain knowledge of mysteries have a value in our present condition, but in the context of eternity, there will come a time when we cease to have a need for those things. While those things have a temporary purpose and a temporary value, love is permanent. Love will never cease. It is something that will be part of our existence for all eternity. This in part helps us understand why such emphasis is placed on love. Of the many things which we can have in our life, love is one thing which is eternal.
Jesus encouraged us to lay up treasure that will not decay, or rust, or fade with time. And love is one of the very treasures he was speaking of. It is a treasure that will last for eternity.
Love and Discipline
The LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.Proverbs 3:12 NIV
Love does not mean there is an absence of discipline. (Hebrews 12:6, Revelation 3:19, John 15:2) But love does guide how discipline should be conducted. Because love seeks the benefit of others, true godly discipline is restorative, not punitive. (Galatians 6:1, 2 Corinthians 2:6-8)
Godly discipline is compared to parental discipline in scripture. “The Lord disciplines those he loves like a father disciplines the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:12 NIV) The scripture also tells us that godly discipline should be designed to avoiding provoking the subject of the discipline to wrath. (Ephesians6:4) Those in sin should be “gently instructed” to encourage them to come to repentance. (2 Timothy 2:25 NIV) Discipline that is not gentle, and is not done in the spirit of love, and is not carried out in a way that is intended to be restorative, is not godly disciple. And it would be fair to actually call that abuse.
If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.Galatians 6:1 NIV
There is a danger of adopting a form of discipline that is not guided by love, and using select scriptures to justify abuse in the name of love. The scripture does not justify abuse in any form. Godly discipline is patient, kind, not done in anger, quick to forgive, not disrespectful, seeks the truth, and always extends hope and love.
Above All Have Love
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.1 Peter 4:8 NIV
In the closing words of his first epistle, the Apostle Peter said, “above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” The phrase “above all” was also used by the Paul when writing to the Colossians about their need for love. (Colossians 3:14)
The command to seek love “Above all” indicates that love is of the highest priority and an overriding factor. When in doubt, chose love. When in conflict, chose love. If you allow godly love to guide your decisions, your actions, and every aspect of your life, you will be a shining example of godliness to everyone around you.
Love: A Prayer of the Puritans
Give me to love thee, to embrace thee,
though I once took sin in my arms,
thou didst love me before I loved thee,
an enemy, a sinner, a worm,
Thou didst own me when I disclaimed myself;
Thou doest love me as a son,
and weep over me as over Jerusalem.
Love brought thee to earth,
from earth to the cross,
from the cross to the grave.
Love caused thee to be
weary, hungry, tempted,
buffeted, spat upon,
crucified, and pierced.
Love led thee to bow they head in death.
My salvation is the point where
perfect love was manifested,
for thou dost welcome me,
not like Joseph and his brothers,
loving and sorrowing, but loving and rejoicing.
This love is not intermittent cold, changeable;
it does not cease or abata for all my enmity.
Holiness is a spark from thy love
kindled to a flame in my heart by thy spirit,
and so it ever turns to the place
from where it comes
Let me see thy love everywhere,
but not only in the cross,
but in the fellowship of believers,
and in the world around me.
When I feel the warmth of the sun
may I praise thee who as the Sun of righteousness
with healing power.
When I feel the tender rain,
may I think of the gospel showers
that water my soul.
When I walk by the river side,
may I praise thee for that stream that make
the eternal city glad and washes white my robes
that I may have the right in the tree of life.
Thy infinite love is a mystery of mysteries,
and my eternal rest lies
in the eternal enjoyment of it.
The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers Edited by Arthur Bennet, 1975
- Paul explained that “love never ceases”. In Romans 8:35, Paul explains that nothing can separate the believer from the love of God. Can you think of any ways in which Romans 8:35 and Paul’s passage in 1st Corinthians 13 complement each other?
- In Matthew 5:44 Jesus commanded his disciples to love their enemies. Jesus demonstrated this in his own life by his love for Judas. Can you name any other ways in which Jesus showed love for his enemies?
- What are some of the ways man’s love may come up short of true godly love?