1 Corinthians 13a
1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:3… And I will show you the most excellent way. 13:1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
The Corinthians spoke in tongues – languages they had not learned – by the power of the Holy Spirit. But at the same time they also allowed illicit sexual activity, greed, idolatry, and divisions in their midst. They also had the gift of wisdom but devalued the true wisdom of Christ crucified – a wisdom Paul says is above all worldly wisdom. They sought glory for themselves, an inferior glory, but Paul sets out to show them “the most excellent way” through love.
In 13:1 Paul speaks of someone speaking in the “tongues of men and of angels” but not having love. Tongues (Greek glossa) refers to legitimate translatable languages. I myself am currently writing in English, my “mother tongue.” The term “tongues” can easily be rendered “languages” throughout the Bible, and it would avoid much confusion. In speaking of the “tongues of men” Paul is simply referring to the many dialects of mankind. In the context Paul says that if someone could speak ten different languages, a very impressive ability, but didn’t have love, then his/her ability would be worthless. But he also mentions “the tongues of angels” – another phrase that has brought about great confusion. To be sure, there is nothing in the Bible about a special angelic language spoken by angels. On the contrary, each time an angel appears in scripture to speak to a human the angel speaks the dialect of the one he is speaking to. What Paul is saying in relation to angels is this: if one were to have the ability to speak with the fluency and proficiency of an angel, or even the greatest of orators among men, he would be nothing more than a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” if he/she did so without love. It is interesting to note that first-century pagans worshipped their gods (Dionysus & Cybele) with gongs and cymbals – something the Corinthians must have fully understood. In other words, without love in a worship gathering where the Spiritual gifts are being exercised, their worship gatherings amounted to no more than the pagan worship of Dionysus and Cybele.
In v. 2 Paul speaks of having the gift of prophecy, the most superior of the spiritual gifts in Paul’s mind. If one received revelation from God and spoke God’s words but did not have love for the people he spoke to… If he had the ability discern the “mysteries” of God (refers to God’s once hidden secrets revealed through the apostles and prophets)… if he had the deepest knowledge (representing the greatest of human wisdom)… if he had faith so strong that he could uproot a mountain – a figure of speech representing the ability to surmount great obstacles (Matt. 17:20)… but he did not have love he would be “nothing!” Yea, even if he were to give all he owned to the poor and sacrifice his body in fire, without love it would amount to a hill of beans.
Food for Thought
Imagine Deion Sanders all decked out in his football garb standing in the end-zone celebrating a touchdown without the football in his hands. That’s the image of a pathetic Christian without love as their motive for ministry. The bottom line for Christians is that if we don’t act in love our gifts are as worthless as a superior athlete celebrating a touchdown without the ball! Love is a verb. God’s love in the Bible has little to do with sentiment and everything to do with action. Without it your life is worthless and so are your efforts to gain God’s favor.
1 Corinthians 13:4… Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous...
There are a handful of Greek words used for the English “love.” The Greek “eros” is associated with sexual love. That particular Greek term is not found in the New Testament. The two Greek forms of “love” in the NT are philia (friendship/brotherly love) and agapē (referring to self-giving love that is more concerned with giving than receiving). Agapē love is one of the rarest words used in ancient Greek literature but one of the most common words in the NT – mainly because the NT teaches God’s love. It isn’t a word used to describe sentimentality or warm-fuzzy love that comes and goes, and it has nothing to do with romantic feelings and infatuation. Agapē gape love is a verb. Mankind “falls” in love; God chooses to love.
In vv. 4-7 agapē love is described in 15 different ways. Though English translations bring this out in the form of adjectives that describe love, the Greek text uses verbs to describe love, and why not? After all, love is a verb. In v. 4 the first two descriptions of agapē love are positive attributes: “patience” and “kindness.” Patient love, literally “long-tempered” love, is a term in the NT used almost exclusively in relation to being patient with people as opposed to situations. It’s about remaining calm and non-retaliatory when wronged. The Greeks believed just the opposite. Only the weak endured insults. Aristotle taught that retaliation, as opposed to patience when wronged, was the true virtue. Consider Abraham Lincoln. When reviled by Edwin Stanton as a clown and a gorilla Lincoln never retaliated. However, when Lincoln needed a secretary of war he chose Stanton “because he was the best man.” When Lincoln died Stanton announced through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” Stanton’s hatred for Lincoln dissolved through Lincoln’s long-suffering patience and refusal to retaliate.
Love is also described positively as “kind.” Whereas patience endures ridicule from others, kindness gives to others. Patience takes while kindness gives. Kindness is about doing good to others even when they do us wrong. This is the essence of what Christ commanded his disciples. Since true love isn’t a feeling (for who can feel love toward one’s enemies?), it is an act of compassion despite harsh feelings. Kindness gives to the one who steals (Matt. 5:40-41). It goes to extreme lengths to serve and look after the welfare of friends, family – even our enemies.
Next Paul lists eight characteristics that are NOT descriptive of true love. First, “love is not jealous” for they are mutually exclusive. Akin to envy, jealousy has two facets. First, it wants what someone else has because it’s not satisfied with what it has. Second, it desires for others to not have what they have, and it evolves into desiring evil for another. Jealousy was the first sin (Eve’s jealousy of God), and it permeates all sin. Cain was jealous of Abel, Joseph’s brothers jealous of him, Saul jealous of David, etc. True love for another is never jealous of him/her.
Food for Thought
Saul’s son Jonathon is a great example of love. Though heir to the throne in Israel he knew that David was God’s anointed. He sacrificed not only his throne for David but his life too (1 Sam. 20). His patience was manifested in his refusal to retaliate against David. His kindness was exhibited in his willingness to give his life for him. And his lack of jealousy was manifested in his refusal to seek his own justice. On the contrary, he was proud, happy, and filled with admiration for David. He had every reason to disdain him, but Jonathon’s love for David was real. Is there someone you’re jealous of today? Is there someone you would love to “give a piece of your mind” to because they wronged you? That’s not love. Your thoughts are reprehensible. True love acts kindly toward those we dislike, and it never retaliates after being unfairly treated.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5... Love does not boast and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked...
The characteristics of love continue in v. 4. Love “does not boast.” Boasting is about calling attention to oneself. It’s about parading one’s achievements and possessions so as to exalt oneself. Boasting is about talking with conceit. Whereas jealousy is about desiring what someone else has, boasting attempts to engage jealousy through conceit. It’s no wonder Paul listed this feature to the Corinthians who were proud of their many gifts. They were showy, striving for attention, and continually seeking their own gain. C.S. Lewis called boasting “the utmost evil.” There is only one topic truly worth talking about: Jesus Christ. When mankind continually desires to speak of himself, he shows that love does not dwell within him.
Love is not “arrogant.” This word has to do with being filled with air – puffy. It is very much akin to boasting, but whereas boasting is about one or more persons telling or showing others how great they are, arrogance is more of an attitude. A truly loving person must never be filled with arrogance because arrogance is the opposite of love. Arrogance puffs up, but love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1). They are mutually exclusive terms. God hates arrogance (Prov. 8:13).
In v. 5 love does not act “unbecomingly.” This term has to do with poor manners and rude behavior, and it is not descriptive of love. Can you imagine Jesus being rude to another person or having bad manners? Those that are without love don’t care who they offend. When Paul rebuked the Corinthians in chapter 11 for their bad table manners and complete lack of respect for the poor at the Lord’s Supper he was rebuking their bad manners and rude behavior. When Paul rebuked them for speaking out of turn in their worship services in 14:40 he was rebuking their “unbecoming” behavior. Once again, we are reminded of how short of the mark the Christians in Corinth fell in their ungodly, non-glorifying, and unloving behavior.
Love “does not seek its own.” There is nothing more pathetic than one who lives his life solely for himself. One tombstone in England reads like this: “Here lies a miser who lived for himself, and cared for nothing but gathering wealth. Now where he is or how he fares, nobody knows and nobody cares.” True love, on the other hand, seeks only the welfare of others. It longs to be wealthy so that it can give more, not have more. General Charles George Gordon is said to have “at all times everywhere given his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.” This is the epitaph of the sheep in Matthew 25.
Love is “not provoked.” This term means “to arouse to anger.” It refers to a convulsion or a sudden outburst of emotional anger towards another. This type of anger is in contrast to “righteous indignation” – anger brought about by one who would blaspheme God and His Word. True love doesn’t fly off the handle, as it were, when things don’t go one’s way. Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles were never angered or sought revenge when they themselves were slandered, but demonstrated righteous indignation when God’s name was slandered. Love is not easily angered because it isn’t self-centered, and those who aren’t self-centered are rarely provoked.
Food for Thought
True love is seldom found in humans. But it is modeled throughout the Bible. The Bible reveals God to His children. From Genesis to Revelation the love of God permeates the pages. His love isn’t a sentimental warm-fuzzy; it is slow to anger and selfless. God’s love culminated at the cross when He demonstrated the ultimate act of love – He died for us. We are the ones deserving death, but He took it for us. That’s true love because we humans are most unlovable.
1 Corinthians 13:5-7... Love does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.
When v. 5 says that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” it uses one Greek word (logizomai) which is an accounting term. It means “to calculate or reckon” as when doing basic math on a ledger. This word is used often in the NT. In Romans 4:8 the man is blessed “whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” In 2 Cor. 5:19 God is said to have “not counted their trespasses against them.” One who models true biblical love might be offended and wronged by someone, but he/she does will not hold that against another. They do not “take into account” the wrong done to them. This is exactly what Christ did for his elect children at the cross. He forgave their sinful depravity and does not hold them in contempt for sins against God. There is no ledger full of sins for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. When God pulls out that proverbial ledger all He sees is “Paid in full” written in the blood of Jesus, as it were. This kind of love is God’s love, and it must also be the quest of mankind to model it.
Love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness” in v. 6. A truly loving person never jumps for joy when an injustice is done to someone or when unrighteousness rears its ugly head. Foul jokes, filthy movies, the standard decadence of our world today – none of these atrocities are seen as funny or to be taken lightly by those who love God. When God’s name is taken in vain, or when His Word is slandered as it so often is in the media (and in many churches too), God’s children never rejoice or take it lightly. Instead, true love “rejoices with the truth.” Truth is found in God’s Word, and when it prevails in society, at church, in homes, or in schools, God’s children rejoice. There is nothing to rejoice about when others attempt to silence the Word of God, but there is everything to rejoice in when it is upheld, honored, and taught clearly and authoritatively. Love rejoices always in the truth while at the same time hating slander.
In v. 7 love “bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things.” Love “bears” all things in that it “covers closely.” Hence, it protects others from emotional and physical harm. It doesn’t gossip or listen to gossip, and it takes no pleasure in the shortcomings of other people. It “believes all things” in that it isn’t skeptical of people or critical. It believes the best in people through acceptance. Some are skeptical of others till given a reason to love. But true love accepts until given a reason not to – then it loves anyway. Love also “hopes all things.” When people and/or life disappoint, love continues to hope for the best without losing sight of the potential good in all things. Biblical hope is far more than a wish because it is based on God’s reputation for always remaining faithful. Finally, love “endures all things.” Endure means “to stay behind; to await.” Nothing can kill it – no matter how overwhelming a situation might be. True love endures the deepest emotional cuts, the strongest of criticisms, the darkest of nights, and the most unfair times in life. It “stands behind” that which it loves because it chooses to.
Food for Thought
Human love “falls.” We fall in “love” like love-sick teen-agers. The problem with falling in love is that we can just as easily fall out of love – because it’s not really love at all. Biblical godly love, however, chooses to love, and this ensures that the one choosing to love does so with a clear mind, a devoted heart, and an inability to fall out of love. This is God’s love. It’s NOT emotional; it is the essence of God. The only way God could love mankind is through His choosing because we are not loveable. Only a loving God would die for such wretched sinners.
Warren Wiersbe says, “Spiritual gifts, no matter how exciting and wonderful, are useless and even destructive if they are not ministered in love. In all three of the ‘body’ passages in Paul’s letters, the emphasis is love. The main evidence of maturity in the Christian life is a growing love for God and for God’s people, as well as a love for lost souls. Love is the ‘circulatory system’ of the body of Christ… 1 Corinthians 13 has suffered great misinterpretation and misapplication through the years. Divorced from its context, it becomes ‘a hymn to love’ or a sentimental sermon on Christian brotherhood. But Paul was still dealing with the Corinthians’ problems when he wrote these words.”
1. Patience: (μακροθυμεῖ) “long-tempered” with people as opposed to situations; Remains calm; opposite of Greeks who taught otherwise (i.e. Aristotle). Abe Lincoln/Edwin Stanton.
2. Kindness: (χρηστεύεται) “Gentle in behavior; mildness” (hapax legomena); patience receives; kindness gives. Kindness gives to the one who steals (Matt. 5:40-41). It isn’t about feeling kindness toward those who wrong us but showing them kindness – a verb.
3. Not jealous: (οὐ ζηλοῖ) “set one’s heart on; envious” – wants what others have; wants others to not have by desiring evil for them (i.e., Eve, Cain, Joseph’s brothers, Saul, etc.).
4. Not boast: (οὐ περπερεύεται) “to vaunt oneself” (hapax legomena) – bring glory to self. Jealousy wants what others have; boasting attempts to incite jealousy.
5. Not arrogant: (οὐ φυσιοῦται) “to puff up; inflate” – whereas boasting is outward verbal talk, arrogance is an inward pompousness and feelings of superiority.
6. Not act unbecomingly: (οὐκ ἀσχημονεῖ) “to behave indecent” – Not caring who we offend (i.e., the Corinthians at the Lord’s Supper; speaking out of turn in 14:40).
7. Does not seek its own: (οὐ ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς) “to seek oneself” –seeks only the welfare of others while at the same time minimizing oneself. It longs for more so as to give more.
8. Is not provoked: (οὐ παροξύνεται) “to irritate; arouse to anger” – refers to a convulsion or a sudden outburst of anger towards another upon being offended (different from righteous indignation where anger is aroused on account of God’s name and Word being slandered).
9. Does not take into account wrong suffered: (οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν) “to keep a record; charge to an account” – Cf. Rom. 4:8; 2 Cor. 5:19. Christ paid for sin “in full” and has no ledger of sins for His children. They were forgiven through His shedding of blood. Notice also that it’s only “wrongs suffered” that aren’t recorded. Good deeds are (cf. 2 Cor. 5).
10. Does not rejoice in unrighteousness: (οὐ χαίρει ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδικίᾳ) “not happy about evil” – One who gives no approval to filth and corruption as see in all of society today.
11. Rejoices with the truth: (συγχαίρει δὲ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ) “is happy in the truth” – Describes one who is excited over the things of God, His Word, His revelation, His victory at the cross.
12. Bears all things: (πάντα στέγει) “covers closely” – Protects everything in its power from emotional/physical harm. Avoids all gossip and takes no pleasure in shortcomings of others.
13. Believes all things: (πάντα πιστεύει) – accepts all people until given reason not to as opposed to rejected all until given reason to accept them. Does NOT imply gullibility.
14. Hopes all things: (πάντα ἐλπίζει) – With people/life disappoints there is no losing sight of the potential good in all things but a continual quest to believe God is in complete control.
15. Endures all things: (πάντα ὑπομένει) “stands behind” – nothing can thwart, not the darkest of days, the deepest cuts, the strongest criticisms, the most unfair treatments from others – it always endures because it chooses to.