by Paul Tautges | September 24, 2013 11:19 am
First Corinthians 13:4-7 is probably the world’s most cross-stitched passage of Scripture. The poetic beauty of its truth is celebrated and admired. It’s also the Scripture that is most used on greeting cards that are given to newlyweds. However, there is nothing in the context that hints that marital love is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote his words. Certainly they apply to marriage, but they also apply to any horizontal, human relationship. Most clearly, what the apostle had in mind is the relationship of believers to one another—brothers and sisters in the family of God.
Chapter 13, is of course, nestled between chapters 12 and 14. Chapter 12 gives instruction concerning the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit in dispensing gifts for the edification of the entire body. Some believers in Corinth viewed themselves as less-gifted because they did not possess the spectacular gifts. Others–those who did possess the miraculous gifts of that age–were tempted to think they did not need the lesser members of the church. Both groups lacked biblical love.
Chapter 14, of course, follows chapter 13, the “love chapter.” Chapter 14 is corrective in nature. It is a rebuke of the immature believers’ misuse of the miraculous gifts that were given to the church for its infantile stage. Tongues, in particular, were being used not for edification, but for self-glory. These believers had the same problem—a love problem. Therefore, they were commanded to “pursue love” (1 Cor 14:1).
Consequently, as we read what we know of as chapter 13 (chapter divisions did not originally exist), we understand the apostle’s desire to show these believers “a more excellent way,” the way of love (1 Cor 12:31). He presents love as the supreme Christian virtue, as is taught elsewhere.
To model love is to model God, for God is love (1 Jn 4:8). Love is not a feeling or an emotion, but is primarily an action. It is a choice to place someone else in a position of being higher, more important, than yourself. Gordon Fee writes, “Love is not an idea for Paul, not even a ‘motivating factor’ for behavior. It is behavior. To love is to act; anything short of action is not love at all.”
The most accurate definition of love is found in the Bible itself. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). The ultimate demonstration of love ever displayed is the cross of Christ. God so loved us while we were yet in our sin that He acted on our behalf, to rescue us from our sin. He sent His Son to be the supreme sacrifice for our sins. Therefore, we who call ourselves Christians are now called to model this love, to act on behalf of others.
The apostle begins his argument by demonstrating that love is superior to spiritual giftedness and self-sacrifice. Paul is not setting spiritual gifts and sacrifice against love, but is clearly emphasizing that love is the atmosphere in which spiritual service operates. Love is the pool in which ministry for God must swim. Love, not self-glory and self-edification, must be the motive.
The apostle describes this kind of biblical love in 13 ways. I will first state each definition and then offer personal application.
Love is long-tempered. “Patient” is from a compound word (long + temper) meaning to bear up under offense. Therefore,
Love is goodness in action (kind). The kindness of love is our holy desire for the happiness of others, which compels us to perform acts of goodness for them. This is not some kind of bizarre, extreme quest for another person’s happiness that results in the fear of doing or saying anything that may make him unhappy. This is a genuine desire for God’s best for them. Therefore,
Love is content (not envious). Love does not envy the position or possessions of others. You know you are guilty of envy when you get a sour feeling when other people are blessed. Therefore,
Love is humble. Love does draw attention to itself, but to the one who is loved. Humility and love grow together in the same garden. Therefore,
Love is well-mannered. Love has manners; it is not rude. Therefore,
Love is selfless. Biblical love esteems others as more important than self. Therefore,
Love is not easily irritated (not provoked). Love is self-controlled. It is not easily angered or irritated by people. Therefore,
Love forgives (does not keep a record of wrongs). To keep a record of wrongs is to withhold forgiveness from others, to refuse to release them from debt, and thus forfeit our own forgiveness (Matt 6:15). Therefore,
To forgive, biblically, is to choose not to remember. We ought to practice biblical memory loss by choosing to not hold another person’s sin against them.
Love bows to the boundaries of truth. Love rejoices with the truth, not with sin. Love bows to the boundaries of truth. It is not glad when sin is exalted or when evil things happen to others. Therefore,
Love covers the sins of others (bears all things). Love covers a multitude of sins. This does not mean we sweep serious sin under the rug and neglect the practice of church discipline, which the Corinthians were guilty of (see 1 Cor 5), but it means we do not confront one another about every small irritation. Therefore,
Love trusts (believes all things). Love chooses to attribute the best of motives to others. It believes the best, not the worst, of people and their actions as, especially, they pertain to us. Love discerns. Therefore,
Love expects the best (hopes all things). Love hopes for the best. It is not negative and pessimistic. Therefore,
Love is courageously steadfast (endures all things). Love does not give up. Therefore,
Love is the only acceptable attitude, motive, and atmosphere for biblical ministry. Everything we do for God and others, if done without love, amounts to nothing. Selfish motives empty spiritual bank accounts, but all service that flows from a heart filled with love for God and others reaps fruit for eternity.
This love is supernatural. It is not possible to love like this on our own–from our own nature. It comes from the work of God in genuine salvation. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:7-8).
It also comes from the Holy Spirit’s continued work of sanctification in our lives. As we walk in obedience to the Spirit and the Word of God and “put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:14), the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of love in our relationships with one another (Gal 5:22). Let us pray the Lord will do whatever it takes to change our hearts so that we will truly love fellow believers as we are called to by God. He taught the Thessalonian believers how to love (1 Thess 4:9). He will teach us too.
Blog Post: 37 Ways to Love One Another
Audio: What’s Love Got to Do with It?
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