1 Corinthians 13
Agápe love is sacrificial and unconditional. It is selfless in that it gives and expects nothing in return. It is the love of a settled disposition. It is the highest of the four kinds of love. An example would be God’s love for us in sending His only-begotten Son to die for us (John 3:16). If He only thought of Himself, He would never have done it (Job 34:14-15). The word for “Agápe love" is sometimes translated "charity"; e.g. 1 Corinthians 13. The English word ‘charity’ actually helps us understand what love really is. We might ‘say’ we love somebody because they love us back, but that isn’t the idea. Charity is when you give to somebody in need knowing there is no way they can repay you. Only the divine nature, in which the believer participates, has the capacity to love this way.The natural man can only produce the things we read in Romans 1; without affection, full of envy and murder, unthankful, etc. If behavior like that which is described in 1 Cor. 13 is possible, there must be a source outside man. It requires new birth. Love is the essential character of God, and therefore it is part of the divine nature which we receive by new birth. Read more…
The Irreplaceability of Love (vv.1-3)
The Qualities of Love (vv.4-7)
- Patient. “Love… has long patience”. In the day-to-day function of the assembly, there is the need for patience, or long-suffering. On one side, the recipients might lose patience with those giving the ministry. The flesh might tire of hearing brother X’s story about his granddaughter for the umpteenth time. On the other hand, a teacher might lose patience with a distracted or incompetent audience. A shepherd might lose patience with a willful, wandering sheep, etc.
- Kind. “Love… is kind”. How easy it might be to say or do something unkind when we lose our temper. Kindness follows “long-suffering”… after love has suffered long, it is still kind! The high priest was never to rend his garment (Ex. 28:32). Likewise, the servants of Christ should never act so as to spoil the character of Christ that ought to be reflected in our conduct.
- Content. “Love… is not emulous of others”. This is the very opposite of the spirit of competition. Competition, or envy on the part of one member toward another, is absolutely destructive to the local assembly. The temptation, as explained in 1 Cor. 12:15-17, is to want the gift that someone else has. Love would never allow that spirit of envy to develop.
- Respectful. “Love… is not insolent and rash”. Love would give us to be slow to anger, and gentle with others. Aggression is destructive to the assembly. It is not necessary to get in our brother’s face, to make sure that he sees it our way. There is a danger of being forceful with our ministry, and as a result, we could render ourselves ineffective.
- Humble. “Love… is not puffed up”. Those who are motivated by love will not have a spirit of self-importance. If we have high thoughts about ourselves, we might try to take a place in ministry that the Lord has not given us. The Corinthians were puffed up (1 Cor. 5:2), and it had led to incalculable sorrow in their midst. Pride is so insidious… we are never out of the danger of pride.
- Proper. “Love… does not behave in an unseemly manner”. Love would give us to be courteous of others, in all walks of life, but especially in ministry. Do we butt in and talk over others? Do we step on others’ toes? Do our assembly meetings resemble a free-for-all? If the Corinthians had had love (ch.13), then the disorders of ch.14 would never have appeared. Love should regulate our behavior in public and in private.
- Selfless. “Love… does not seek what is its own”. Is my service “for the Lord” really for myself? Motives can easily be blurred when communion is broken. Our motives will be tested by the trials and difficulties of life. Christian ministry does not consist of “sharing” what I have enjoyed or what I have learned. Rather, it consists of serving one another in the spirit of self-sacrifice. “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister” (Matt. 20:26).
The last seven have more to do with when the flesh has been active, and difficulties have come in:
- Lowly. “Love… is not quickly provoked”. When trouble does arise, love does not immediately fly into self-defense mode. Lowliness is not taking offense. It is one thing to preach about love in a theoretical way, it is another thing to practice it when we are attacked unjustly.
- Unsuspicious. “Love… does not impute evil”. In times of difficulty in the assembly, one of the most dangerous behaviors is imputing evil without just cause. Love does not assume the worst. Love does not probe around looking for a reason to take another to task. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, “judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).
- Holy. “Love… does not rejoice at iniquity but rejoices with the truth”. At all times, but especially when difficulties arise (as they had in Corinth), we must choose what to focus on. The easy way out is to focus on the evil. This verse actually goes beyond focusing on evil, it speaks of rejoicing in evil. Love does not enjoy when evil is spoken or committed. Rather, love rejoices when the truth is spoken and upheld! This verse touches on the motive, which is why I think it is similar to holiness. Holiness is more than separation from evil; it is a hatred for evil, and a love of good. It is not hatred for the sake of hatred, but a hatred for evil because it spoils what is good. We know this because God was holy long before anything came in to spoil the good.
- Meek. “Love… bears all things”. Job and Moses are two great examples of saints in the Old Testament who bore tremendous burdens. Job was able to bear the pain and loss he suffered, but then broke down under the scrutiny of his three friends. Moses bore with the chiding of the Israelites for thirty-eight years, but finally broke down in Num. 20. The only One who never failed was the Incarnate Love, who bore not only the contradiction of sinners against Himself, but our sins in His own body on the cross.
- Open-minded. “Love… believes all things”. Never are we told to believe what is false or evil. We are not to be open minded where doctrine is concerned. But we ought to be open-minded to the thoughts and expressions of others; to realize that we might be wrong ourselves. Love would give us to be considerate of others, and willing to hear their side of the story; to believe what others say when there is no evidence to the contrary.
- Cheerful. “Love… hopes all things”. Love is always hoping for the best. We do not know why people do the things they do, but we should always put the very best construction on it. In everything that we pass through, we ought to see the good in it. Never should we “write off” another who is on a wrong path. The Christian who is “walking in love” (Eph. 5:2) will have joy even in times of sorrow.
- Persistent. “Love… endures all things”. One of Satan’s oldest tactics is to “wear out the saints of the most High” (Dan. 7:25). Love would give us to serve in the midst of trial, even though it might stretch on and on.
The Permanence of Love (vv.8-13)
The Permanence of Love vs. the Transient Character of Gift (vv.8-10)
Two Illustrations Contrasting the Present with the Future (vv.11-12)
Love is the Greatest of Christianity’s Main Moral Principles (v.13)
The three things mentioned - faith, love, and hope - are the three great moral principles of Christianity; without which there would be no Christianity. Many times in the New Testament faith, hope, and love are put together (1 Cor. 13:13; Galatians 5:5-6; Col. 1:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:3; 1 Thess. 5:8-10). Faith is implicit and complete trust in God: a total contrast to the unbelief and skepticism in the world around us. Hope for the believer is a deferred certainly; whether it be the hope of the Lord's coming, or of being conformed to the image of Christ, or of enjoying the glory of God. Love is a settled disposition of favor: something God has toward us, and what we ought to have toward our brethren. These three principles "now abide" (1 Cor. 13:13), and are necessary for the pathway.But not all three will abide forever. Faith and hope are good companions for the pathway, but we will part company with them at door of heaven. Faith and hope are only needed because of the limitations of the human nature. When we get to heaven, we will see that which faith is the evidence or conviction of presently (Heb. 11:1). Our hope, being seen, will no longer be hope (Rom. 8:24). In other words, faith and hope will give way to sight. But love is the essential character of God, and it will never fade nor be replaced! Therefore, “the greater of these is love”.