Pastor David B. Curtis

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Love's Priority and Practice

1 Corinthians 13:1-7

Delivered 10/19/1997

1 Corinthians 13 is a well know chapter in the Bible; it is the love chapter. Love is a very familiar word to us. We use it freely. Someone might say, "I love hot dogs, or I love my dog or my truck, or I love my wife, or I love God." Do we love our dog in the same way as we love our wife? Is there a difference in the way we love hot dogs and the way we love God?

Our culture uses the word love to mean just about everything except what the Bible means by it. So Christians are easily misled into thinking love is primarily a feeling, or an emotion, something we fall in or out of. We equate it with lust or sex; we talk about "making" love. The word "love" used here is not the Greek word eros. That word is used to describe erotic love, sensual love; what you feel when you "fall in love," a passionate attraction to another person. That kind of love is not even mentioned in the Word of God, though it is a common form of love today. And the word here is not phileo, which means affection, friendship, a feeling of warmth toward someone else. This too is a universally distributed love, but this is not what is mentioned here. In this chapter, as in all of Scripture, love is first of all an action.

The word Paul uses here is agape. This Greek word was rarely used in Greek literature prior to the NT. In the NT, the word agape took on a special meaning; it was used by the NT writers to designate a volitional love (as opposed to a purely emotional love), a self-sacrificial love, a love naturally expressed by divinity but not so easily by humanity. It seems as though the early Christian church took this word out of its obsoleteness and made it a characteristic word for love. In this chapter, Paul displays the divine characteristics of this most excellent virtue, agape.

Agape love is a response to someone who is unworthy of love. This concept of love was derived from the cross. God loved the world and gave his son for it. That was a response to unworthy people, to sinners, to those who were his enemies. That is agape. It is a love that proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best of the object loved. Agape, is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe God's love. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness; and to work for his or her best interests. That is what love is, and this is what Paul is talking about.

Now remember, this chapter comes after Paul has said that all believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit, made a part of the Body of Christ; all of them, without exception. As Jesus put it, we are "in him" by that process. Because of that, we all have the capacity to act in love. We all have the capacity to love, but do we all love? No! Why? Because love is a product of a life lived in communion with God.

Agape love is divine love God is its source and God loves through us as we walk in fellowship with him. Our obligation is to stay in fellowship with him.

It is tragic when the world takes a chapter like 1 Corinthians 13 (as it does) and divorces it from its true Christian meaning. The unsaved man can no more experience this kind of love than can a marble statue! It takes the indwelling and empowering of the Living Lord for anyone to display this kind of character in daily life.

This chapter can be divided into three major divisions. In verses 1-3 Paul deals with the preeminence of love: it is the greatest thing in the world. In verses 4-7 he deals with the practice of love. Then in verses 8-13 he deals with the permanence of love: it shall never fail. This morning we want to look at the first two divisions, the preeminence of love, and the practice of love.

What Paul is doing in the first section is painting a portrait of an extraordinarily gifted man who has lived a remarkable life, with one deficiency, he lives without loving. Here he is emphasizing the fact that gifts without love are nothing. Verses 1-3 drive home this truth by repeatedly using five of the spiritual gifts as illustrations of the principle: without love, the most exemplary use of a particular gift profits a believer nothing.

Obviously this is a hypothetical man. He exists only in Paul's mind. In order to get his point across, Paul wants us to imagine that such a man existed. In spite of all this man has, he doesn't have love, and without it he produces nothing of value for God.

1 Corinthians 13:1 (NKJV) Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

This is not a reference so much to natural eloquence as to a supernatural endowment with glossolalia. The Corinthians were very impressed with the miraculous ability to speak in languages which had been given among them by the power of the Spirit. It enabled the person to communicate the wonderful works of God in a language he had never learned. They were making much of this gift, exalting it above all. Paul here shows that tongues-speaking is nothing without love.

The phrase "the tongues of men and angels" may be the equivalent of saying he is able to speak in all languages, both human and divine. This man can speak to anyone anywhere about the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no language barrier to him. Yet with that ability that is unequaled by man, this man is able to produce nothing of value for God without love. All his language abilities are just noise apart from love.

He is just a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. In NT times, rites honoring the pagan deities Bacchus and Dionysus included speaking in ecstatic noises that were accompanied by smashing gongs, clanging cymbals, and blaring trumpets. Paul's hearers clearly got his point: unless it is done in love, ministering the gift of languages, or speaking in any other human or angelic way, amounts to no more than those pagan rituals. It is only meaningless gibberish in a Christian guise.

Paul goes on to say in the second verse, that without agape, the most gifted prophet is himself nothing of value before God.

1 Corinthians 13:2 (NKJV) And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Paul speaks of prophecy in the next chapter, as of the greatest spiritual gift because the prophet proclaims God's truth to people so they can know and understand it. The hypothetical man of this chapter has the gift of prophecy and is able to understand all of the mysteries of God. He has the great ability to detect and understand the mysteries of the Scriptures, to unscrew the inscrutable, and to answer all Biblical questions, riddles and parables. This is the greatest of prophets!

This man also has the gift of knowledge. This was a gift by which the Holy Spirit enabled a first-century believer to know and to instruct the assembly in truth now recorded in the NT. It was a flash of omniscience from God himself, revealing what the person normally would not know. The Word of Knowledge is not knowledge that is acquired by diligent perseverance and hard work; it is a direct revelation from God.

The fourth gift that he has is faith, and he has it to its fullest extent. He is not talking here about saving faith, he is talking about the supernatural ability to trust God to do great things. He has the gift to the extent that he can accomplish mighty miracles.

Here is the epitome of a gifted man: endowed beyond measure with spiritual gifts. Paul says that though that man has the gift of languages and prophecy, and all knowledge, and the gift of all faith, and yet he does not have agape, he himself is nothing before God. The Greek text at the end of verse 2 does not say that he is nobody, that would be strong. But the Greek text says he is nothing, a zero before God. Are you beginning to see the value of agape? We would be very impressed by this man, but before God he is zero.

1 Corinthians 13:3 (NKJV) And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

This verse hammers home the point one more time with the most extreme example yet: seemingly total self-abandonment in exercising the gift of giving. He mentions two acts of giving. Both of these we would consider the supreme act of love.

If this guy visited a church today, they would think he was a spiritual giant, a super Christian. But God says, "If that man does not have agape, he will gain zero". Why is this? It is because God examines the heart. Man looks on the outward, but God looks at the heart. God is very concerned about your motives, and your motive is the acid test of the value of what you are and what you do in the service of God.

This is what life is all about. We are set here to learn to love, and to live without learning to love is to have wasted our time, no matter how impressive our achievements in other ways may be.

Write down five zero's and then add them up. What do you get? Zero! Life minus love equals zero. The loveless person produces nothing, is nothing, and gains nothing. The only right motive for the exercise of your gift or your service is love.

We see from these verses that love is preeminent. The preeminence of love is a theme of the Old and New Testaments. Every writer in the New Testament stresses the need for love.

Matthew 22:37-40 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the first and great commandment. 39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
Romans 13:8 (KJV) Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
Colossians 3:14 (NKJV) But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
1 Peter 4:8 (NKJV) And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins."
Leviticus 19:18 (NKJV) 'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Those verses ought to make it clear enough that love is preeminent. Above everything else, we are called to love God and one another. What does it mean to love God? If we want to know what it is to love, we must go to the Scriptures.

John 14:15 (NNAS) "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14:21 (NNAS) "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him."
John 15:10 (NNAS) "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.
John 15:14 (NNAS) "You are My friends if you do what I command you.

Based on those verses, what would you say it means to love God? If love here is not formally defined as obedience, it is so closely connected with it that there seems to be no room for anything else.

1 John 2:3-5 (NNAS) By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:
1 John 5:2 (NNAS) By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.

It seems that the visible characteristic of love is obedience, and love itself is a desire to obey. The Scriptures also make it clear that our love for God is validated by our love for others.

1 John 4:20-21 (NNAS) If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

We cannot truly love God without loving one another. To recognize that there is someone I do not love, is to say to God, "I do not love you enough to love that person." Love is truly preeminent, I hope that you see that. TO NOT BE A LOVING PERSON IS NOT SOME SMALL CHARACTER FLAW; IT IS TO BREAK THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT, IT IS TO NOT LOVE GOD.

Nothing is more helpful, in reading a chapter like this, than to ask yourself the question. "Am I growing in love? Looking back over the last year, am I easier to live with now? Am I able to handle people more graciously, more courteously? Am I more compassionate, more patient?" These are the measurements of life. This is why we were given life, that we might learn how to act in love. Nothing else can be substituted for it. There is no use holding up any other quality we possess, if we lack this one. It is the paramount goal of every human life, and we do well to measure ourselves by it.

Now a good question to answer here is how; how do we love? Does it just come naturally for Christians? No! Is it something that we must do or something that God does in us?

John 15:1-5 (NKJV) "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

The theme in these verses is fruit bearing. We could define fruit bearing as practical righteousness, which would include love. Who is Christ speaking to here? Believers, He says, "you are already clean." Judas had gone and Christ is speaking to the eleven disciples. To abide in Christ is to walk in obedience, to be in communion with Him. As we abide in Christ, He produces fruit through us. We can't do it on our own, we must abide in Him. What does a branch do to produce fruit? Stay connected to the vine. Christ works through us as we abide in Him.

Consider the farmer and his crops. There are certain "disciplines," or tasks he must do. He must plow, plant, fertilize, and cultivate. In some areas, he must irrigate. But he cannot make the seed germinate and grow; only God can do that. The farmer, whether he recognizes it or not, depends on God, both for the physical and mental ability to do his tasks, and for the capital to buy his supplies and equipment. And he obviously depends on God for the growth of his crops.

In the same way, the Christian depends on God to enable him to perform his disciplines. But the performance of the disciplines does not itself produce spiritual growth. Only God can do that.

Paul goes on to show us that love must be practical. Love is not an intangible thing; it is not just an ideal you talk about. It is something that takes on shoe leather and moves right down into the normal, ordinary pursuits and aspects of life. That is where love is to be manifest.

So in verses 4-7, Paul describes for us the practice of love. After emphasizing how essential love is, Paul begins not by defining it, but rather describes the manifestations of it in our lives. He tells us what love will produce. He isolates the evidences, the products, and the manifestations of love in the life of a believer.

Paul personifies love in these verses. This is a methodology he uses often. In these verses we have a portrait of Jesus Christ. You could substitute Jesus Christ in these verses for the word love. Let's read it that way.

"Jesus Christ suffers long and is kind; Jesus Christ does not envy; Jesus does not parade himself, He is not puffed up; 5 He does not behave rudely, He does not seek his own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. "

The first thing Paul says about love is that it is patient. This is the Greek word makrothumeo, which is a word that, almost on every occasion in the NT, conveys the idea of having an infinite capacity to be injured without paying back. It is used with regard to people, not circumstances. It is having a long fuse. The loving person is able to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of by a person and yet not be upset or angry. Chrysostom, the early church father, said, "It is a word which is used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in his power to avenge himself but will never do it." This love is very slow to anger or resentment, and it never retaliates. Love will cause us to bear patiently with the faults and shortcomings of others. This is the passive side of the person who has suffered injury. The next one, kindness, deals with the active side of the person who has been injured.

Love is kind. The Greek word for kind is chresteuomai, to show oneself useful, to act benevolently:--be kind. In the NT the verb appears only here. Clement of Rome wrote an epistle to the Corinthian church in which he quotes a saying of Jesus that has the same Greek verb: "As you are kind, so will you be shown kindness." The noun and the adjective for kindness occurs repeatedly in Paul's epistles.

So Paul says that love has an infinite capacity to be injured without paying back. And love reacts to injury by doing kind deeds to the person who has injured them. In our cruel and unkind society, we have unlimited opportunities to show the world love through kindness.

The first test of Christian kindness and of every aspect of love, is the home. Let me ask you married people: are you kind to each other? Children, are you kind to you parents? Parents, are you kind to your children?

Love is not jealous. This is the first of eight negative descriptions of love. We can not only identify love by what it is, (patient and kind) but we can identify love by what it is not. The Greek word for jealous is zeloo. It is used 17 times in 11 verses in the NT. It is translated as envy, jealous, covet, zealous, and desire. It comes from the Greek verb that means "to boil." It is used both favorably and unfavorably in Scripture. We are often not patient and kind because we are jealous.

Next on Paul's list is boastfulness: "Love is not jealous or boastful." Oftentimes we are not patient because we cannot wait to listen to others. We are so anxious to brag about ourselves so they can begin to admire us. But that must be surrendered for love to appear.

"Love vaunteth not itself," says the KJV. "Love does not parade itself," says the NKJV. " Love does not brag," says the NNAS. The Greek word here is perpereuomai; the root of this word means a windbag, a braggart, to boast. This Greek word is used only here in the NT. This verse was meant to take care of the problem of the greater members looking down on those with lesser gifts.

Bragging is the other side of jealousy. Jealousy is wanting what someone else has. Bragging is trying to make others jealous of what you have. Think about that. The whole idea of boasting is to make someone feel that you are superior to them.

Such bragging and boasting is just a symptom of a much deeper problem in our life. In the next characteristic, Paul goes from a symptom to the cause. Paul says, "love is not puffed up", KJV & NKJV. "Love is not arrogant," NNAS. The Greek word here is phusioo, blowing; to inflate, i.e. (fig.) make proud, puff up. This word differs from the previous word, in that boasting is the expression of pride, and "puffed up" is pride itself. A man may be very proud but not express it in boasting. And we need to understand that the root problem in any conflict between two people is pride.

Proverbs 13:10 (NKJV) "By pride comes nothing but strife,"
Proverbs 13:10 (NIV) "Pride only breeds quarrels,"
Proverbs 13:10 (KJV) "Only by pride cometh contention:"

Whenever there is a division between a husband and wife, between a parent and child, between one believer and another believer, there is always a root cause, which is pride. And where there is pride, there is no love. Love is not proud.

Love is not rude, so we are to put off any behavior that would be rude. The Greek word is aschemoneo; this word is used only here and in:

1 Corinthians 7:36 (NKJV) But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry.

This word has the meaning of acting inappropriately. The loveless person cares nothing for the feelings of those around him. Rude implies indifference to the feelings of others; It suggests intentional discourtesy, or disrespect. Rude is any action, look, or comment that is disrespectful or discourteous.

Paul also says that love is not self-seeking, so we must put off selfishness. This is probably the key to everything. The well known Bible commentator, Lenski said, "Cure selfishness and you have just replanted the garden of Eden."

We need to hear this: we are so consumed with ourselves that we often have no concern for others. Being unselfish in attitude strikes at the very core of our being. It means we are willing to forgo our own comfort, our own preferences, our own schedule, our own desires for another's benefit. Jesus, who is the perfect example of love, became man, not so people would serve him, but so he could serve others.

Matthew 20:28 (NKJV) "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

We are to have the same attitude that Christ had, that of esteeming others better than ourselves. If the God-Man, Jesus Christ, can consider us better than himself, should we really have a problem with this?

Surely the number one reason both for mental and physical illness in our society today, is the overwhelming preoccupation with self. When everyone is fighting for his own rights, no one can really succeed or be happy. In an age in which demanding one's rights is considered a virtue, we must read again and again that love is not self-seeking.

Romans 12:10 (NKJV) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;

When we are selfish and seeking only our own interests, what happens when we don't get what we want? We get angry, irritated.

So Paul continues and tell us that: Love is not provoked. The KJV says, "is not easily provoked." That sounds a little more palatable, but the word easily is not in the Greek text. It must have been a person with a very short temper who translated this in the KJV. J.B. Philips translates this, "Love is not touchy." How many problems would be solved if people weren't touchy! The Greek word used here is paroxuno, it means to arouse to anger and is the origin of the English word paroxysm, a convulsion or sudden outburst of emotion or action.

The "being provoked" that Paul is talking about here has to do with things done against us, or that are personally offensive. Love does not get angry at others when they say or do something that displeases us, or when they prevent us from having our own way. We could say that love is not provoked by the rudeness of others.

Paul goes on to say that love thinks no evil; this translation gives an incorrect idea. The Greek verb logizomai implies keeping a record; it is a bookkeeping term that means to calculate or reckon, as when figuring an entry in a ledger. Love doesn't keep records of the wrongs done to it. Do you know people who are keeping a record of everything that someone has done to hurt them? Why do they keep a record of wrongs done to them? So they won't forget the wrongs, so they will be sure that person gets the justice that is due them.

Love does not rejoice in iniquity. The word rejoice is the Greek word chairo, to be cheerful, happy or glad, to have joy. Iniquity is the Greek word adikia, which means iniquity, unjust, unrighteousness, wrong. The general drift of this passage represents love in its relations to others. And injustice has to do with our treatment of our fellow men. So I think we could translate this, "Love takes no joy in the sin of others."

Love never takes satisfaction from sin, whether our own sin or that of others. We tend to rejoice in the downfall of others who we do not particularly like. They might commit a heinous sin and we take delight in it. Their injustice actually brings us joy. Do you know what I'm talking about? It is quite popular today to take joy in the injustice of our president. President Clinton's alleged immoral sexual escapades are something that comedians use for material for their jokes. And we laugh, we take joy in iniquity.

The positive side of this is that (aletheia, truth:--true, verity).

Why does Paul compare those two? Because justice is predicated upon truth. You can't be just until you have behaved yourself in accord with God's truth. Justice and truth are connected in the Scripture.

What brings joy to your heart; bad or good? If you hear something bad about someone who is your enemy or whom you do not like, do you rejoice? Or does it make you sad to see your enemy involved in sin? Love takes no joy in the sin of others, but rejoices when others walk in the truth.

Love bears all things. Bears is the Greek word stego. This verb is difficult to be dogmatic on because it has two possible uses. It could mean, "to roof over," i.e. (fig.) to "cover with silence" or it could mean to "endure patiently." Because the last of these four deals with endurance, I think it's best to see this as "covers with silence." Love covers. When it learns something unpleasant about another, it does not run and scatter it all over the church or neighborhood. It does not take delight in some of the misdeeds of others. Love covers it over, keeps it silent. Not that it will not do something about it, but it does not spread it about for others to hear.

1 Peter 4:8 (NKJV) And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins."
Proverbs 10:12 (NKJV) Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins.

Have you ever noticed how easily you dismiss the faults of those you love? But how do you respond when someone you don't particularly like does something wrong? Do you cover it or expose it?

Love "believes all things;" pisteuo, to have faith (in or with respect to, a person or thing). The context here requires us to understand this of the conduct of others. It doesn't mean that we should join the ecumenical movement and have no discrimination in regard to what we believe. Love is ready to believe anything that has a ground of reality to it. It is always ready to start over. What this phrase means is that it is ready to trust somebody anew. It does not assume the attitude, "Well you've done that three times before, and you did not do it right again, so I'm not going to trust you anymore." If somebody wants another chance, love grants it. Love is not suspicious, it does not read between the lines and come out with the worst. Because we are naturally malicious, we are also suspicious, and take the wrong meaning out of everything. Love believes the best of people. Often when we interpret the actions of others, we tend to view them negatively. But if we love them, we will interpret their actions in the best possible light.

If you are going to make a mistake about somebody's character, do yourself a favor and err on the side of love. Make a mistake in the fact that you trusted and believed in them too much. It's better to err on the side of love.

Then third, love "hopes all things;" elpizo, from "to expect or confide": This also refers to the conduct of others. Rather than having a negative and critical spirit, it is always positive and hopeful. Love is hopelessly optimistic, it never stops hoping. No cause, no situation, no person is ever regarded as totally hopeless. Love says, "God is still God and He can do it; so that's what I have hope in." Love refuses to take failure as final. There is always a place to begin again. Love will find it; it never gives up hope.

Thus Paul adds the final word in this section, love"endures all things." Hupomeno, is a military term that has to do with being positioned in the middle of a violent battle. ; to stay under, remain, have fortitude, persevere. Love stands against incredible opposition and still loves. Love never quits; it never gives up on anyone. It cares too much to give up.

Love covers the faults of others; it believes what otherwise is unbelievable; it hopes in what otherwise is hopeless; and it endures when anything less than love would give up.

Love is the character of Christ. This is the measure of our spiritual growth. I know Christians who do not seem to have changed in twenty years. They are just as querulous and cantankerous and difficult, twenty years after they became Christians, as they were at the beginning. Something is wrong in a life like that. These are all the qualities that can be produced in a Christian life. That is what makes life worth living. This is the measure of true Christian spirituality.

The solution to your deepest and most complex problem is love. Take your problem, just consider it for a moment. Maybe it's your marriage, or it could be a conflict with your children or parents, maybe it is a sin or temptation that you have not been able to gain the victory over, maybe it's someone you haven't forgiven. What is your problem this morning? Wouldn't this kind of love solve your problem? All problems are not spiritual problems, but all problems have a spiritual solution. And the solution to many of your problems is this kind of love in your life. You might say, "Yes, that kind of love would solve my problem but I don't have that kind of love". Only God can produce this love in your life. Only as you walk in fellowship with God can you live like this.

So the real solution to your problems is to cultivate your spiritual life. As you grow in your spiritual life, the indwelling Christ will produce this fruit of love which will solve each one of your problems. The solution to your problems is a good spiritual life. How is your relationship with God? I think our relationship with God is evident by the love that we demonstrate.

Love is a choice. Christian love is not a feeling, but a choice. We can choose to be concerned with people's well-being and treat them with respect, whether we feel affection toward them or not. If we choose to love others, God will work through us to manifest love. Though the power for godly character comes from Christ, the responsibility for developing and displaying that character is ours. Will you make the decision today to love others as you love yourself?

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