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1 Corinthians 13.1-13 Notes


In chapters 12-14, Paul deals with the issue of spiritual gifts. Rather than celebrating one another's gifts, the Corinthian Christians have become prideful concerning their particular gifts and dismissive of the gifts of others. Therefore spiritual gifts have become a divisive influence among them (see especially 12:12-31).

Paul concludes chapter 12 by saying, "Moreover, I show a most excellent way to you" (12:31b)-words that introduce what he has to say in chapter 13 about love. Most scholars agree that the chapter break is unfortunate-"Moreover, I show a most excellent way to you" should really be the start of chapter 13 rather than the end of chapter 12.


1If I speak with the languages of men (Greek: anthropos-men, humans) and of angels, but don't have love (Greek: agape), I have become sounding brass (echon chalkos), or a clanging cymbal. 2If 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 don't have love (agape), I am nothing. 3If I dole out (psomisoall my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don't have love (agape), it profits me nothing.

"If I speak with the languages of men (anthropos-men, humans) and of angels" (v. 1a). In this letter to the Corinthian church, Paul repeatedly addresses issues related to the gift of tongues (12:10, 28, 30; 13:1; 14:2, 4-25), giving us reason to believe that those issues are especially serious in Corinth. Apparently, some Corinthian Christians count speaking in tongues as the most significant of gifts, and have become prideful about their ability to speak in tongues. In chapter 14, Paul goes to great lengths to put that gift in perspective. Prophecy, not speaking in tongues, is the superior gift (14:1-5). Speaking in unintelligible tongues does not benefit the church (14:6-12). The person who speaks in tongues should "pray that he may interpret" (14:13), because such speech without interpretation is not helpful (14:14).

In his lists of gifts (12:4-10, 28), he places the gift of tongues and their interpretation last. He devotes the first half of chapter 14 to counsel concerning the gift of tongues-much more space than he devotes to problems with other spiritual gifts. In that chapter, he makes it clear that the gift of prophecy is superior to the gift of tongues (14:2-5, 20-25). Elsewhere, he lists gifts without mentioning the gift of tongues (Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-12).

"but don't have love" (agape) (v. 1b). In the English language, the word "love" has a variety of meanings:

  • Romantic or sexual love.
  • Friendship-affection.
  • A concern for the well-being of the other person.
  • Or simple enthusiasm ("I just love chocolate").

These differences can lead to confusion. For instance, someone who says, "I love you" might mean that he/she simply wants you to satisfy his/her sexual needs (or other needs, such as the need for security). That is quite different from someone whose love has to do primarily with a concern for your personal well-being.

The Greek language solves these ambiguities by having three words for love-erosphilos, and agape(pronounced uh-GAH-pay).

  • Erosis romantic or sexual love.
  • Philos is brotherly love-friendship love-companionship love.
  • Agape has to do with a concern for the well-being of the other person.

Eros is not used in the New Testament.

Philos and its verb form, phileo are used 55 times in the New Testament (Turner, 175). They are used to express the affection that one person feels for another (Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:12; John 11:3, 11) and the love that God has for people (John 16:27)-although agape and agapao are more frequently used for God's love.

Agape and its verb form agapao are used 253 times in the New Testament (Turner, 175). They are used for the love that God has for people (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:8) and for the love that one person has for another (1 Corinthians 13). When Jesus says that the two most important commandments are "love the Lord your God"and "love your neighbor as yourself," (Matthew 22:37-39) he uses the verb agapao rather than phileo. In his great love chapter (1 Corinthians 13), Paul uses agape exclusively.

Agape love is as much a "doing" as a "feeling" word. It requires action. It requires us to demonstrate our love in some practical fashion. An agape person will do what is possible to feed the hungry-and to give drink to the thirsty-and to welcome the stranger-and to clothe the naked-and to visit the sick and the person in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). Those are the kinds of actions we will pursue if we truly love others with agape love.

"I have become sounding brass (echon chalkos), or a clanging cymbal" (v. 1c). Echon is a loud sound, and chalkos is metal, such as copper or brass. "Sounding brass" is a good translation. Paul is saying that speaking in tongues, in the absence of love, simply makes loud noises. While a loud noise can serve a purpose, constant loud noises merely irritate and distract.

"If I have the gift of prophecy" (v. 2a). As noted above, Paul singles out prophecy as a superior gift (14:1-5), second only to being an apostle (12:28)-but prophecy without love has no value and imputes no value to the prophet.

"and know all mysteries and all knowledge" (v. 2b). Keep in mind that Corinth is a Greek city, and the Greeks prize philosophy, wisdom, knowledge, and mysteries. Mysteries, as used here, has to do with Godly secrets that God has chosen to reveal to us.

Knowledge, as used here, has to do with special God-given knowledge-spiritual understanding. That kind of knowledge is a great gift, but has a tendency to "puff up" (physioi-inflate with pride) the person who possesses it (8:1)-and that has happened to these Corinthian Christians. While knowledge in the service of others can be good, people who use their knowledge to establish their superiority or dominance over other people are not in accord with God's will. They will only get an inflated opinion of themselves that will do nothing to help anyone.

Note that Paul uses the word "all" three times-"all mysteries and all knowledge and...all faith." He is talking about complete mastery of mysteries and knowledge and faith-like having Ph.D. degrees in these subjects. No matter how complete the mastery, these virtues, in the absence of love, conveys no value to the one who has mastered them.

"and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains" (v. 2c). This language came from Jesus, who said, "Have faith in God. For most certainly I tell you, whoever may tell this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and doesn't doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is happening; he shall have whatever he says"(Mark 11:22-23). What wonderful faith-based power? However, in the absence of love, faith does no good for the one who has it.

"but don't have love (agape), I am nothing" (v. 2d). Paul says that, without love, none of these things-the understanding of mysteries, the possession of knowledge, or even powerful faith-imputes any value to the one who possesses them.

Keep in mind that Paul isn't talking about just any kind of love. He is talking about agape, which is concerned for the well-being of the other person and which acts to help the beloved. Unless we have that kind of active, unselfish love, we are nothing.

"If I dole out (psomisoall my goods" (v. 3a). The Greek word psomiso is related to the word psomos, which means "a morsel or piece of food, particularly of bread" (Zodhiates, 1496). Paul uses it to speak of feeding a hungry enemy (Romans 12:20). When Paul speaks here of giving away all his possessions, the implication is that this charity is done in behalf of the poor-to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, etc. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 25:31-46 that he values such actions, and the person who does them can expect to be rewarded (see also the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-22). However, Paul says that even sacrificial giving in behalf of the needy confers nothing on the donor if the giving is done in the absence of love.

"and if I hand over my body so that I may boast" (v. 3b). There is a textual problem here. Some manuscripts read, "if I hand over my body so that I may boast," which could suggest selling oneself into slavery and using the proceeds in behalf of the needy. Other manuscripts read, "if I hand over my body to be burnt," which suggests martyrdom by fire.

The arguments in favor of each option are complex, but it isn't necessary for us to resolve them here. Whichever option we choose, the idea is of supreme sacrifice-giving oneself wholly and without reservation.

"but don't have love (agape), it profits me nothing" (v. 3c). But Paul says that even great sacrifice, in the absence of love, gains the person nothing. In other words, God will not reward a person for sacrificial giving done in the absence of love. This should serve as a warning to people who might expect to buy their way into heaven by over-the-top charitable giving. That kind of charity, done for selfish reasons rather than out of love, won't succeed in gaining them any benefit.


4Love is patient (Greek: makrothymei) and is kind (Greek: chresteuetai); love doesn't envy (zeloo). Love doesn't brag (perpereuetai), is not proud (physioutai)5doesn't behave itself inappropriately (aschemonei), doesn't seek its own way (paroxynetai), is not provoked, takes no account of evil; 6doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears (stegei) all things, believes (pisteueiall things, hopes (elpizeiall things, endures (hypomenei) all things.

"Love is patient" (makrothymei) (v. 4a). The Greek word makrothymei is derived from two words-macros (long) and thumos (anger). To be makrothymei is to be long-suffering-to endure irritants without allowing one's anger to lash out in retaliation.

This kind of patience is characteristic of God, who is "merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving (Hebrew: hesed) kindness and truth" (Exodus 34:6). This hesed love grows out of Yahweh's commitment to the covenant relationship with Israel. In many cases, Yahweh punished Israel for its sins-but always as discipline designed to foster repentance rather than as punishment designed to destroy. Yahweh kept coming back-kept finding ways to restore Israel-kept loving.

Now God calls us to that same kind of long-suffering love for each other.

"and is kind" (chresteuetai) (v. 4b). The word chresteuetai, like agape, is an action-word. It suggests being helpful-doing good works. The patience of verse 4a involves restraint-holding back negative action. The kindness of verse 4b involves action-stepping forward to solve a problem or to share a burden or to meet a need.

"love doesn't envy" (zeloo) (v. 4c). The word zeloo is related to our word zeal, which can be either positive or negative. In the context of this verse, it suggests an intense desire for something that belongs to someone else-jealousy or covetousness or envy. A person who succumbs to zeloo cannot love the other person, because zeloo generates such negative feelings.  Zeloo and agape are like oil and water. They cannot abide together.

"Love doesn't brag" (perpereuetai) (v. 4c). The person who is focused on the welfare of the other person cannot at the same time be self-centered and egotistical. Once again, love and boastfulness are like oil and water. They cannot abide together.

So the person who loves another with agape love will try to lift up the other person rather than boasting of his/her own accomplishments.

"is not proud" (physioutai) (v. 4d). This is the word that is sometimes translated "puffed up" (4:6). The person who loves another with agape love will try to build up the other person rather than trying to puff up his/her own reputation.

"doesn't behave itself inappropriately" (aschemonei) (v. 5a). It seems odd that this word is part of verse 5 rather than verse 4. It fits better with "boastful or arrogant" than with the words that follow.

The word aschemonei has to do with behaving "in an ugly, indecent, unseemly or unbecoming manner." Having an a at the beginning of the word is like saying "not." Therefore, aschemonei is the opposite ofeuschemon, which is proper behavior (Zodhiates283).

The actions of the Corinthian Christians at the Lord's Table are examples of aschemonei behavior (11:17-22). Those who have food eat it while those who do not go hungry. Some of them become drunk on the communion wine. In doing these things, they show their contempt for the church and they humiliate the have-nots in their midst.

"It does not insist on its own way" (v. 5b). The person who loves another with agape love cannot at the same time be selfish and demanding of his/her own prerogatives. Agape love and selfishness are mutually exclusive.

"doesn't seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil" (paroxynetai) (v. 5c). The word paroxynetaihas to do with being highly irritated or provoked to anger. Not being irritable or resentful is related to patience. The person who is not irritable or resentful doesn't have a quick temper-and doesn't harbor resentments.

Once again, this is a characteristic of God, who is long suffering and who calls us to emulate this Godly behavior.

"doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness" (v. 6a). There is something in us that enjoys seeing someone slip on a banana peel. There is something in us that loves to watch a powerful business person take a "perp walk" after being arrested. There is something in us that is happy to see a proud person humbled or a powerful person defanged. There is something in us that loves to gossip.

But none of those attitudes have been implanted in us by God. They are evidence of our sinful natures. The person who loves with agape love will rejoice with those who are rejoicing and grieve with those who are grieving.

"but rejoices with the truth" (aletheia) (v. 6b). The word aletheia usually means something that is true instead of false. However, in this context, it refers to behavior that is true to Godly standards-upright behavior. The one who loves with agape love will not rejoice in another person's downfall, but will rejoice when the other person does what is right.

"bears (stegei) all things" (v. 7a). Paul has been telling us what agape love does not do. Now he tells us what it does do. First, agape love bears all things. The verb stego has two meanings in the New Testament. The first is to cover or conceal something. The second is to forbear or to endure. The second meaning is probably what is intended here.

"believes (pisteuei) all things" (v. 7b). The verb pisteuo comes from the word pistis (faith) and means to believe in something or someone-to trust. The person who "believes all things" is the opposite of a skeptic, whose basic approach to life is to doubt or disbelieve. The one who loves with agape love is optimistic, and is disposed to believe the best rather than the worst about people.

"hopes (elpizei) all things" (v. 7c). The person who loves with agape love doesn't give up easily on the other person. He/she can recognize that there is a problem, but hopes to resolve the problem. He/she maintains an optimistic, positive attitude rather than a pessimistic, negative attitude.

"endures (hypomenei) all things" (v. 7d). The verb hypomenei comes from two Greek words-hypo(under) and meno (remain). It suggests a "hunkered down," defensive posture that endures and perseveres in the face of hardship.

These verses raise a pastoral question. Is there a point beyond which a loving person is not required to bear, believe, hope, and endure? What about a person who is married to an alcoholic or a drug addict or an adulterer or a chronic gambler or a violent, abusive person?Is there a point beyond which God does not expect such people to bear, believe, hope, and endure?

First, let me note that MacArthur sees the four qualities mentioned in these verses as "hyperbole, exaggerations to make a point. Paul has made it clear that love rejects jealousy, bragging, arrogance, unseemliness, selfishness, anger, resentment, and unrighteousness. It does not bear, believe, hope, or endure lies, false teaching, or anything else that is not of God. By all things Paul is speaking of all things acceptable in God's righteousness and will, of everything within the Lord's divine tolerance" (MacArthur).

Second, we need to be careful not to confuse bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring with passivity. Passivity in the face of evil solves nothing. It took military might, not forbearance, to stop Hitler. It takes well-trained police to stop violent criminals. So also, on a more personal level, it can take well-planned confrontation to deal lovingly with a dysfunctional family member.

Paul, in these verses, is commending, not passivity, but love. Note that most of this letter to the Corinthians is confrontive. The Corinthian Christians are engaged in a number of practices that are not in keeping with God's will, and Paul is doing everything he can to persuade them to change. That kind of active, confrontational love should serve as a model for us when dealing with dysfunctional people.

Most professionals working in the addiction treatment field don't advise family members to sit back and take it. Instead, they advise intervention-and can often help family members plan an intervention. They advise confronting the alcoholic with choices-quit drinking or lose his/her job-quit drink or lose his/her family. They don't do this in anger, but in love. The confrontation is intended to be redemptive-is designed to help the addicted person to move away from self-destructive behavior into a more positive lifestyle-and to provide the addict's family with a safe, wholesome environment.

Bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring need not be passive. In many situations, the loving thing is to confront the person who needs to change his/her lifestyle.


8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. 9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. 11When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror (Greek: esoptron), dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known. 13But now faith, hope, and love remain (menei-from meno) -these three. The greatest of these is love.

"Love never fails" (v. 8a). Paul now contrasts love with three of the spiritual gifts-prophecy, speaking in tongues, and knowledge. Love will never come to an end, but the need for spiritual gifts is temporary. Paul is thinking eschatologically (end of time-Jesus' Second Coming). In this verse, he contrasts what we experience in this world with what we can expect to experience once the kingdom of God is fully realized.

Yahweh models the unending nature of agape love in his covenant relationship with the Israelite people. Time and again those people failed to be faithful and time and again Yahweh punished them. Those punishments, however, were redemptive rather than destructive. Yahweh allowed the Israelites to suffer for their sins, but Yahweh always provided a way back from their suffering. He redeemed them time after time. That should serve as a model for us. We need to maintain a loving spirit that acts to redeem those who fail us.

Also, love is unending in the sense that it will continue into eternity. When the kingdom of God is fully realized, love will be the chief characteristic of all relationships.

"But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with" (v. 8b). Unlike love, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and knowledge will come to an end when the kingdom of God is fully realized. It isn't that they aren't good gifts, but that they are useful only in this world. They won't be necessary once the kingdom of God is fully realized.

In the next chapter, Paul will make it clear that prophecy is a greater gift than tongues (14:1-5). However, when the kingdom of God comes fully, prophecy will no longer be required. In this world, prophets reveal the will of God to humans. However, in the kingdom of God, we will know God's will without the help of prophets.

The same will be true of speaking in tongues and specially revealed knowledge. These are gifts related to revealing and establishing God's will. They are important in this world but will be irrelevant in the next, where we will know God's will completely.

"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part" (v. 9). Even though the gifts of knowledge and prophecy are God-given, they are nevertheless incomplete. God reveals what the person needs to know to carry out God's purposes, but that is limited.

"but when that which is complete (teleioshas come, then that which is partial will be done away with" (v. 10). The word teleios can be translated "complete," "whole," "unblemished," or "undivided." Once again, Paul is thinking eschatologically here. He is contrasting the teleios (which we will experience in the age to come) with the "partial" (which we experience now). When Christ comes again to usher in the kingdom of God in all its fullness, we will have no need for such things as prophecy, which constitute partial revelation for the time being. Such partial revelations will therefore come to an end.

"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things" (v. 11). It would be possible to read this verse as a rebuke to the Corinthian Christians, who have failed to "put away childish things." That, however, is not Paul's intent. He is instead contrasting the world as we know it now (which we experience as if we were spiritual children) with the world that is to come (which we will experience as spiritually mature people). Once that New Age comes to pass, the things that seem important to us now (such as prophecy and knowledge) will become totally unimportant.

"For now we see in a mirror (esoptron), dimly, but then face to face" (v. 12a). Once again, Paul contrasts what we experience in this age with what we will experience in the age to come. The word esoptron can mean "looking glass" or "mirror." We need to keep in mind that people in Paul's day didn't have the kind of high-quality mirrors that we take for granted today. We are accustomed to looking into a mirror and seeing an exact reflection that tells us how we look.

In Paul's day, however, the mirrors were usually made of metal, and the reflections that people would see in such mirrors would be much less helpful. You might encounter a mirror of that sort in a public restroom at a rest stop along an Interstate highway. State agencies install those mirrors, not because they provide a quality reflection, but because they are more resistant to vandalism than glass mirrors. At best, they will give you an idea whether your hair is mussed. They certainly won't provide the kind of exact reflection that you are accustomed to seeing at home. The next time you see such a mirror, reflect on this verse.

When Paul says that we see in a mirror dimly, he means that the spiritual awareness and insights that we enjoy now are but a dim reflection of the awareness and insights that we will experience in the age to come. In that new age, we will not see dimly, as in the reflection from a bad mirror, but face to face.

This could make us sad that we are so limited in our spiritual vision now, but I would encourage a different view. In those moments when the light suddenly dawns on us spiritually, we experience great wonder and joy. We remember such moments, and often try to share them with other people. We want others to enjoy the vision that we have seen. Just imagine, then, what it will be like in the age to come when God allows us to see everything clearly. We will be like people whose vision is suddenly restored by cataract surgery. Our spiritual vision will suddenly go from cloudy to clear.

"Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known" (v. 12b). Once again, Paul contrasts what we experience now with what we will experience in the new age. We know imperfectly now, but in the age to come God will reveal the spiritual mysteries completely. Just as God knows us fully now, in the age to come, we will also know God fully.

"But now faith, hope, and love remain (menei-from meno-abide or remain)-these three. The greatest of these is love" (v. 13). The Corinthian Christians, with their Greek heritage, prize philosophy, wisdom, knowledge, and mysteries. Paul, however, draws their attention to higher values-faith, hope, and love.

It seems surprising that Paul would introduce faith and hope at the end of this love-chapter. His only mention of faith so far has been to note that "if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don't have love, I am nothing" (v. 2). He hasn't mentioned hope at all.

Faith and hope are important for the present, but won't be needed in the age to come. For the time being, we know God by faith and have hope for the future. When God's kingdom has fully come, we will know God face to face and will embrace the future.

Love is in a different category. It will be as applicable in the New Age as it is in this one. The primary difference is that we love imperfectly now, but will love perfectly then-even as God has loved us. It is the sine qua non (that without which nothing) of the Christian faith.



Krell-BIBLE.ORG-Acts 13:1-13 "Love Knows No Limits"-Application Notes

Loving the world in general isn't that difficult; loving the people around us can be a major challenge. In 1 Corinthians 13, we find one of the most beautiful and familiar chapters in the Bible. This chapter is typically read at weddings and anniversary celebrations. It has even been set to music. Yet, this was never the original intent. Instead, Paul was writing a rebuke to a dysfunctional church for their abuse of the spiritual gifts. Typically though, this understanding is often ignored. Consequently, I wonder if most Christians have truly pondered the deeper meaning of this passage. Have we heard this Scripture so often that we no longer think about what the words mean? I would suggest that if we ignore the context of this chapter we are in danger of missing its major impact.2

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul will argue that love is an action, not an emotion. The kind of love Paul will talk about is seen, experienced, and demonstrated. This is contrary to our culture that honors personal feelings above almost everything. We do what we want when we want because we "feel" like it. And if we don't "feel" like it, we don't do it. But as I study this passage, I am struck by the complete absence of any stress on personal feelings. Hence, if love is an action, not an emotion, we need to study what God has to say about love. We need to know what love is and what it looks like when it is lived out in the church.3 In these thirteen verses, Paul provides three distinctions of love.

1. Love is greater than any spiritual gift (13:1-3). In these three verses, Paul mentions six spiritual gifts: tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, giving, and martyrdom. The first four gifts are listed in 12:8-10. The gift of giving is among those mentioned in Rom 12:8. Martyrdom does not occur anywhere else as a spiritual gift, but by its association with the other five gifts here, we can add it to the spiritual gifts God gives to His church.4 Paul kicks off 13:1 with the gift of tongues when he writes, "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." Some Bible students seem to have missed Paul's point here and have interpreted him as speaking merely of eloquence in human speech, but clearly he is referring to the gift of tongues. After all, the last gifts mentioned in chapter 12 are tongues and the interpretation of tongues. And those same gifts are the main topic of chapter 14. It is quite logical, then, that Paul begins the intervening chapter by discussing tongues. The use of tongues that Paul is speaking of here is the gift of speaking a private prayer language.5 Paul says you can speak in tongues all you want, but if you don't have love you are merely making a lot of noise.

In 13:2-3, Paul mentions five more spiritual gifts when he writes, "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. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing." Prophecy refers to the ability to declare God's truth in a powerful, life-changing way. Knowledge involves the deep understanding of the Word of God. Faith is the unique ability to trust God for great things. These three gifts are all from the Holy Spirit, and yet without love the person who has them is "nothing." Verse 3 poses a problem because it asks us to ponder activities that we automatically consider noble. Giving to the poor is a good thing to do. And dying for your faith in Christ is the ultimate sacrifice. But as good as these things are, without love they do you no good. Paul declares that the greatest expression of spirituality is love. We could summarize these three verses like this: Without love...I say nothing, I am nothing, and I gain nothing.

Clearly, we must have love when we are exercising our spiritual gifts. So stop for just a moment and reflect on your spiritual gifts and your ministry in the local church. Do you do what you do out of genuine love for people? Or do you serve out of a sense of obligation? Do you serve because of the satisfaction you derive from ministry? Do you minister because you like honing your skills? Although no one has perfectly pure motives, we ought to be seeking to grow in our love quotient. Paul says that love is an action, not an emotion; therefore, we need to put feet to our love.

[After talking about the importance of love, Paul now will discuss how love behaves.]

2. Love is expressed by supernatural responses (13:4-7). Love is a word that can only be properly defined in terms of action, attitude, and behavior. Paul has no room for abstract, theoretical definitions; instead, he wants us to know what love looks like when we see it. Thus, he paints fifteen separate portraits of love. Yes, that's right: in the space of four short verses Paul uses fifteen verbs, all of which have "love" as their subject. Our contemporary definition of love is that it is an emotion or a feeling-we love our jobs, we love football, we love pizza. In the biblical definition of agape, love acts, for love is an action, not an emotion.6 Verse 4 begins by summarizing the unselfish nature of love.

1) Love is patient. The Greek language has several words for "patience." One signifies patience with circumstances while another is used only in reference to patience with people.7 The Lord knows we need both kinds of patience, but it is this second word that is found here. The KJV renders this word "long-suffering." I like this! Paul seems to be saying that love doesn't have a short fuse. It doesn't lose its temper easily. A person who exercises agape love does not lose patience with people. Love never says, "I'll give you just one more chance." Love is patient.

The longer that I am in pastoral ministry, the easier it is for me to be patient with others. With every passing year, I recognize more fully that I sin against God and others. As God humbles me with my own sinful shortcomings, I find it easier to exercise greater patience with others. Loving people are willing to tolerate the shortcomings of others because they know they have faults too. As you mature do you feel more and more patient or do you feel you are growing more and more crotchety? God wants you and me to grow in patient love for those whom we minister to and with.  

2) Love is kind.8 Patience must be accompanied by a positive reaction of goodness toward the other person. Kindness, however, is not to be equated with giving everyone what he or she wants. Sometimes love must be tough. In the context of the church, kindness may mean forcing an addict to go through the hell of withdrawal. Kindness may mean saying no to a spoiled child. Kindness may mean reporting a crime committed by a friend. Kindness means to withhold what harms, as well as give what heals. Love is kind, but often tough.9 Paul followed the two positive expressions of love with eight verbs that indicate how it does not behave.10

3) Love is not jealous.11 Jealousy implies being displeased with the success of others. Yet, true love desires the success of others. The best way to cure envy is to pray sincerely for the one of whom you are jealous. To pray for him or her is to demonstrate love, and jealousy and love cannot exist in the same heart.

4) Love does not brag. The root word for "brag" in Greek is very picturesque and is closest to our English word, "wind-bag."12 Love is not an egotistical blowhard. Love is not big-headed but big-hearted. This means the more loving you become, the less boasting you need to do. The greater your spiritual gifts, the less prone you should be to brag. After all, the gifts you have been graciously given are from God. When you and I brag, we are demonstrating our insecurity and spiritual immaturity. Paul states that bragging is the converse of biblical love. Hence, we should pursue Christ so that we will be humble before Him and others.

5) Love is not arrogant.13 The term "arrogant" refers to a grasping for power. It is more serious than bragging, which is only grasping for praise. Arrogant people push themselves into leadership, using people as stepping-stones, and always consider themselves exempt from the requirements on mere mortals. Arrogance disrespects others and carries a distain for others. God calls us to serve others and be gracious toward them.

6) Love does not act unbecomingly.14 This word is best translated "rude." There are some Christians who seem to take delight in being blunt, justifying it on the grounds of honesty. They will say, "I'm just telling it like it is." But love doesn't always tell it like it is; it doesn't always verbalize all its thoughts, particularly if those thoughts don't build others up. There is a graciousness in love which never forgets that courtesy, tact, and politeness are lovely things.

7) Love does not seek its own. Love is the very antithesis of insisting upon one's own rights. Needless to say, this is a rare quality today. Ours is a society in which self-seeking is not only tolerated, it is even advocated. You can go to any bookstore and pick up titles like, Winning Through Intimidation, Looking Out for Number One, or Creative Aggression. But a self-absorbed narcissistic person cannot act in love. Love is not possessive, demanding, stubborn, or dominating. Love does not talk too much but listens as well. Love does not insist on its own way.15 It is always willing to defer to others.

8) Love is not provoked. Love is not given to emotional outbursts, is not exasperated by petty annoyances, and refuses to let someone else get under one's skin. But, you say, when someone else provokes me, it's not my fault. Yes it is. We don't have to get irritated, and if we were exercising love, we wouldn't. One English version translates this virtue, "Love is not touchy." Do you know people who are so quick to take offense that you have to handle them with kid gloves? You try to avoid talking to them and when you can avoid it no longer, you carefully measure every word you say to make sure that you say exactly what you mean. But still the person seizes upon something and twists it to make you look bad. That kind of person knows nothing of agape love, for love is not touchy.

9) Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. Paul uses the normal word here for bookkeeping. Love does not keep a ledger of evil deeds. It doesn't write down each injury done and keep the account open to be settled someday. I know some people who are accomplished bookkeepers in regard to injuries sustained. Love doesn't hang on to reminders of wrongs. Who are you keeping a book on? Are there some ledgers you need to go home and toss in the fireplace?

10) Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness. One of the reasons I detest watching the news is that the bulk of stories concern people's misfortunes and misdeeds. There is something in our human nature which causes our attention to be drawn to murder trials, FBI probes, natural disasters, and human tragedies. Love is not like that. Love takes no joy in evil of any kind. It takes no malicious pleasure when it hears about the inadequacies, mistakes, and sins of someone else. Love is righteous. Now, after eight sobering negatives come five glorious positives:

11) Love rejoices with the truth. When I was in seminary, I studied an ethical system Joseph Fletcher labeled Situation Ethics. Fletcher taught that any action-whether lying, adultery, or even murder-can be moral if it is done in love. However, I would argue that if an action does not conform to the truth of God's Word, it can't be done in love. Truth and love go together like hand in glove. Truth must make our love discriminating, and love must make our truth compassionate and forgiving. If our actions are in accord with agape love, we will always welcome biblical truth, never resist it.

12) Love bears all things. The phrase "bears all things" comes from a Greek word meaning to cover something. It is related to the word for roof-a covering that offers protection from the hostile elements. 1 Peter 4:8 says that love covers a multitude of sins. That is precisely the meaning here. Love protects other people. It doesn't broadcast bad news. It goes the second mile to protect another person's reputation.16

There are two very relevant applications: First, love doesn't nitpick. It doesn't point out every flaw of the ones you love. Second, love doesn't criticize in public. This is perhaps Paul's primary meaning. Love doesn't do its dirty laundry for the entire world to see. That's why I cringe whenever I hear a husband humiliating his wife in public or a wife making snide remarks about her husband. I always think, if they do that in public, what do they do in private? As a friend of mine once told me, "There are many times in my life when I've been sorry I opened my mouth. But there has never been a time I've been sorry I kept silent." When it comes to needless criticism of other people, that's excellent advice.

13) Love believes all things. Love is always ready to allow for extenuating circumstances, to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, to believe the best about people. Many of us have developed a certain distrust of people because of negative experiences. We have heard stories about how the person who stopped to help a motorist in distress was robbed or even murdered. We have been warned never to loan money to someone without a legal document guaranteeing repayment, even if the other guy is a Christian. But there are worse things than gullibility-namely suspicion and mistrust. Love always trusts. It is also useful to remember that even in a court of law the accused person is always "innocent until proven guilty." Love says, "I am willing to wait for the evidence to come in before making my decision. I choose to give you the benefit of the doubt as long as there is reason to do so." Some of us treat our loved ones in nearly the opposite way: "You are guilty until you prove you are innocent."

I do not tire of repeating that people tend to become what we believe them to be. They either live up to or down to your expectations. If you treat a man as trustworthy, he will strive to prove himself worthy of your trust. If you tell a child, "Take a big swing. You can hit that ball," he'll go to the plate and swing like Babe Ruth. If you treat your wife as if she is the most beautiful woman in the world, she will be transformed before your very eyes. That's what Jesus did. To vacillating Simon, He said, "You are a rock." To a prostitute, He said, "Your sins are forgiven." To a woman caught in adultery, He said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." It is the simple power of believing the best and not the worst about people.

14) Love hopes all things. The third phrase in 13:7 tells us that love "hopes all things." This is simply a step beyond believing. The meaning is something like this: There are times in life when you face situations so difficult that faith is not possible. You would gladly give the benefit of the doubt but there is none to give. You search for the silver lining but the angry clouds overhead have no silver lining. Love has a positive forward look. Paul is not here advocating an unreasoning optimism, which fails to take account of reality. Nor is he just teaching the power of positive thinking. But he is suggesting that love refuses to take failure as final, either in oneself or in someone else. Love never gives up on people. And the reason the believer can take such an attitude is that God is in the business of taking human failures and producing spiritual giants out of them. And He can do it with you or your child or that impossible kid in your S.S. class. Of course, "always hoping" doesn't mean that we sit back and just watch God do His thing. Rather it means that we get actively involved in the process as He molds the future according to His perfect plan. Love hopes and expects the best. Love never loses faith in other people and gives up on them but remain faithful to them, in spite of their shortcomings.

15) Love endures all things. The word "endures" is a military term that means to hold a position at all costs, even unto death, whatever it takes. The battle may be lost but the soldier keeps on fighting to the very end. The word pictures an army surrounded by superior forces, being attacked and slowly overwhelmed on every side. One by one your comrades fall at your side. Through the noise of battle comes one final command: "Stand your ground, men. And if necessary, die well." So love holds fast to people it loves. It perseveres. It never gives up on anyone. Love won't stop loving, even in the face of rejection. Love takes action to shake up an intolerable situation. Love looks beyond the present to the hope of what might be in the future.

No one can have a totally happy conscience after reading through these fifteen expressions of love.17

We are the opposite of 13:4-7 on every point.18 However, this love list defines God's gift of Himself in Jesus Christ. If you go back through these verses and everywhere you find the word "love" substitute the word "Christ," all these statements will still be true. The kind of love being described is love that has its source in God, and as we look at each of the phrases it becomes obvious that we're defining a lifestyle that really is beyond our human reach. It is absolutely impossible unless we abide in Christ and ask Him to live His supernatural love in and through us. If you have never believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior, will you do so today? Not only will He give you the gift of His eternal love, but He will allow you to love the way God intended.

[Love is greater than any spiritual gift and love is expressed by supernatural responses. Now we will see that...]

3. Love is an eternal gift (13:8-13). In these final six verses, Paul will discuss the temporary nature of the spiritual gifts and the eternal nature of love. In 13:8, Paul talks about the temporary nature of gifts when he writes, "Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away."19 When Paul says, "Love never fails," he means love never ends. The synonym for this expression is "love abides" in 13:13. These phrases serve to bookend this final section where Paul argues that the spiritual gifts will be done away with one day.

The reason that spiritual gifts like prophecy and tongues will come to an end is revealed in 13:9-10. Paul writes, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away." Paul explains that we are limited in our understanding, but this will not always be the case. A time of perfection is coming! The "perfect" refers to the returning of Christ.20 When we recall that 1:7 pointed out the ongoing role of the gifts until the return of Christ, there can be only one possible interpretation of "perfection"-it is the life in the world to come, after Jesus reappears on earth.

Paul explains himself further in 13:11-12: "When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." Paul explains that our understanding of God is indirect in this life. He uses two analogies: childhood and a mirror.21 In using the analogy of childhood, Paul is not suggesting that those who speak in tongues are childish and immature. Rather, he is adopting an eternal perspective and simply saying that there will come a time when the gifts of the Spirit will no longer be necessary.22

The analogy of the mirror implies that our visibility of Christ is indirect. In other words, Paul is comparing the nature of looking in a mirror to the relationship we will enjoy with Jesus when we see Him "face to face."23 I enjoy looking at pictures of people, but if I had my choice I would prefer to spend time with the people that I am looking at in photo albums.

Paul concludes this chapter in 13:13 with these words: "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love."24 For all eternity, we will enjoy these three attributes. We will experience God's incredible love, we will experience a deep love for God, and we will love one another with a perfect love. We will also continue to have "faith" in the Lord for all eternity. But what about "hope?" What could possibly be the meaning of hope when we are in an eternity that has no pain or tears or sorrow? Will we hope for better days? Obviously not! There is one nuance behind "hope" that is applicable here, namely, a meaning of hope that is synonymous with "trust."25 In eternity, we will continue to trust in God's goodness in our lives and in His provisions for us. Hope in this sense "abides" or "remains," as do faith and love. But the greatest of these is love, for love covers not only what we experience in our relations to others and to God, but what we experience from God Himself.

Today, how will you grow in your love for others? First, I would suggest that you cannot become the loving person you desire to be apart from a loving and vibrant relationship with God. This love relationship must be cultivated first and foremost. Second, you must love those nearest to you. This means that if you are married, you focus on your spouse. If you have children, you prioritize your children. If you are serving in a ministry, you love those children, teens, or adults. You strive to love your neighbors and coworkers. Once you have accomplished this, you will be able to better love the world around you. God has called us to love people. Jesus said that all people will know we are His disciples by the love that we have for one another (John 13:34-35).