Lasting Truth: Love’s Practice

1 Cor. 13:4–7

Why did Paul describe rather than define agape? Which of the qualities of agape are stated negatively and which are stated positively? What does each quality mean, and how does it apply to life situations today? How did Paul use faith and hope to describe agape? Which of the qualities do you most need to do better?

Verses 4–7: Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Paul did not attempt to define agape; instead, he described it by listing many of its characteristics. These characteristics are not self-contained; there is much overlapping. Paul was looking at love from many perspectives. There is not a smooth transition, but there is symmetry. “We have fourteen descriptive statements in pairs. The first pair of characteristics has both members positive. Four pairs of negative characteristics follow, the last member being stated both negatively and positively (v. 6); and then we have two more pairs of positive characteristics (v. 7).”

Love suffereth long (“is patient,” ). Love is patient in the sense of being forbearing with people. It shows self-restraint with people who test a person’s patience. It is slow to show anger or take offense at the kind of people who try their patience. As James said, they are “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (1:19). The opposite kind of person is sensitive to even the slightest offense. Paul had many opportunities to have his patience tested in dealing with the Corinthians, and they had many opportunities in dealing with one another. Unfortunately, nearly everything made them lose their cool.

Christian love is kind. Preschoolers are taught to be kind to others, but our culture has much unkindness and rudeness in it. On a large scale of life, kindness leads to civility and courtesy as well as active good will toward others. Patience and kindness are basic Christian virtues that complement each other. “The German philosopher Nietzsche hated Christianity for encouraging kindness. He accused Christian love of draining strong people by making them kind.… Far from being weakness, kindness is enormous strength—more than most of us have, except now and then. Kindness is the power that moves us to support and heal someone who offers nothing in return. Kindness is the power to move a self-centered ego toward the weak, the ugly, the hurt, and to move that ego to invest itself in personal care with no expectation of reward.”

Love envieth not (“does not envy,” ; “is not jealous,” ). Envy is the desire to have something someone else has. It may be possessions; it may be a good reputation; it may be a promotion. The opposite to envy is contentment with what you have and gladness for the good fortune of others.

Love vaunted not itself (“is not boastful,” ; “does not brag,” ). This word is found only here in the New Testament. Some suggest that it means what we would call a “windbag.” This is closely related to the next characteristic—love is not puffed up (“is not conceited,” ; “not … arrogant,” ). Both are expressions of pride and the opposite of being humble. The proud person in this sense is puffed up with his own self-importance, and he expresses this with boasting. Pride also separates from God. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable was so puffed up that he even bragged on himself to God, while at the same time putting down the tax collector (Luke 18:9–14). “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6, ). No wonder the first Beatitude is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3).

Love doth not behave itself unseemly (“does not act improperly,” ; “is not rude,” ). The word is “anything disgraceful, dishonourable, indecent. It is a general term with a wide range of meaning. Love avoids the whole range of unseemliness.” The opposite of this is doing what is right and good.

Love seeketh not her own (“is not selfish,” ; “is not self-seeking,” ; “does not insist on its own way,” ). In a sense, this includes every bad characteristic in Verses 4–7. Sin is basically self-seeking, putting yourself above God and others. It is self-centered in every way. The opposite is the kind of self-giving love being described.

Love is not easily provoked (“not easily angered,” ; “not irritable or resentful,” ; “not quick to take offense,” ; not “quick tempered,” ). These are people who wear their feelings on their sleeves. In the church they are sensitive to anything that displeases them. They are quick to take offense at what others say and do. The opposite of this is forbearance, which is being willing to put up with what others say and do.

Love thinketh no evil (“does not keep a record of wrongs,” ). Thinketh is logizetai, which is connected with the keeping of accounts, noting something down and reckoning it to someone. Some people never forget any wrong done against them. When an argument comes up, this person brings up all these past wrongs. This is the opposite of forgiveness, which sets aside sins and wrongs done to people. God is our model for forgiveness. He cleanses us of sins and puts them far away from us.

Love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth (“finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth,” ). “It is all too characteristic of human nature to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. Much of the news columns of our daily papers is taken up with the recounting of iniquity, either in the sense of disaster, or in that of evil deeds.… There is a stern moral element throughout the New Testament, and nothing is ever said to obscure this. Love is not to be thought of as indifferent to moral considerations. It must see truth victorious if it is to rejoice.”[4] Love and truth go together. We are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

Love beareth all things. This word has the idea of carrying something. It may apply to bearing our own burdens or to bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2, 5). This is possible because God bears our burdens (Ps. 55:22). We can bear burdens only with God’s help. Put this with love endureth all things. The word here means “to bear up under” life’s troubles and trials. Love is the motivating power of both carrying burdens and bearing troubles. The opposite of these is to fail to bear burdens, to falter in hard times.

In verse 7 love is described in terms of the triad involving faith and hope. Love believeth all things and hopeth all things. verse 7 can be translated, Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” .

What are the lasting truths in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7?

  1. Christian love is unique.
    1. Christian love has many characteristics.
    2. Summarizing these characteristics is impressive.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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