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The Love Chapter

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 13

Many of the problems we face in the church and in our personal lives will be resolved by simply living lives that consistently manifest the love of God. What does that look like? The apostle Paul tells us as he describes the way of love for us in 1 Corinthians 13.


First Corinthians 13 is known by many as the “love chapter.” The trouble is, most people think this chapter describes what love is. Instead, Paul is going to describe how love acts.

Paul has been correcting the Corinthian church on their unbalanced view of spiritual gifts, and he is about to correct them further in chapter 14. But for now, he lays the foundation for our gifts—even our lives—to be worthwhile. And it all requires this supernatural kind of love.

The word Paul uses for love was one of the most ignored words in the world of Paul’s day—the Greek word agape. It was rarely used in Greek literature outside the New Testament—it was considered boring, even by the philosophers. People preferred other words for love like eros, “sexual love,” or epithumia, “passionate desire.” And in marriage, there is nothing wrong with those expressions of love. But the biblical writers adopted agape as the primary term for love between spouses, for God’s love, and even for Christians loving one another.

And that is because agape does not arise from emotion or attraction or circumstances. It arises from the will; it is the love of mental commitment. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is God’s willful commitment—His decision. And think about it: we have nothing to attract Him, and we often fail to please Him. But He has chosen to love us with unfailing love through Christ our Savior.

I often remind couples at weddings I perform that they walked down that aisle, not because they have fallen in love, but because they have chosen to love each other with agape love.

Paul begins this chapter by speaking of the preeminence of love. Using himself as an example, he writes in verse 1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

As we will soon discover, the Corinthians regarded the gift of tongues as superior. But Paul says that if he could speak in every language—even the language of angels—but did not have love for others, he would be like a crashing cymbal.

I have never gone to hear the symphony and expected to hear a cymbal solo. Have you? Mozart never wrote a symphony for cymbals. Well, Paul writes that speaking without love is like a cymbal solo—no one wants to hear it.

Then in verse 2, he says that if he had all the gifts the Corinthians were chasing after—prophecy, knowledge, and faith—without love he would accomplish nothing. In fact, verse 3 implies that even dying as a martyr—the greatest act of sacrifice—would be meaningless without love.

In verses 4-7, Paul begins to describe the practice of love. He uses fifteen verbs here to describe what love does and does not do. This is true love in action.

First, in verse 4 love is described as “patient and kind.” The verb for “patient” means slow to anger, being willing to endure wrongs without retaliating.[1] This verb for acting kindly means to show graciousness to others, even if they are difficult to get along with. Someone once said that this kind of love makes someone feel at home even when you wish they were!

On the negative side, Paul writes here in verses 4-5, “Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” That is a lot of things that love does not do. Loving people are not boastful or arrogant. In other words, their favorite subject to talk about is not themselves.

Agape, Paul writes, does not “insist on its own way.” It puts others first. In other words, it is unselfish. One author wrote, “Cure selfishness and you will replant the Garden of Eden wherever you live.”[2]

Next, Paul says that agape is not “irritable,” which can be translated, “roused to anger.”[3] This verb refers to losing your temper. Someone might argue with Paul, saying, “Look, when I lose my temper, it is usually over in a few seconds.” Well, so is a nuclear bomb.

Agape, Paul adds, is not “resentful.” This translates a term that means it does not keep a record of offenses; it does not keep a list. True love carries around a mental eraser—a big one. You stop keeping score. Agape will teach you to forget.

And aren’t we glad God does this for us? God says of His people, “I will remember your sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

Then Paul goes on to add in verse 6 that love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” One glance at the tabloids and online news sources, and you discover that the world actually delights in wrongdoing. It cannot wait for someone to get caught in a scandal. But love, Paul says, delights in God’s truth—the truth of the gospel, the truth about all that honors Christ.

Verse 7 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” When Paul says love “believes all things,” he does not mean that love is gullible. He means that love takes the kindest view of others.

And this idea that agape love “hopes all things” expresses the optimism of love. It never stops hoping the best for others. And love “endures all things,” whether joys or sorrows. In other words, it is not here today and gone tomorrow.

Practicing this kind of love in the body of Christ would solve the problems in the Corinthian church and most of the problems in our churches today.

Paul concludes this amazing chapter by speaking of the permanence of love. “Love never ends,” he writes in verse 8. Love will continue into eternity. In contrast, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will “cease,” or “pass away.” These are the gifts the Corinthians exalted over love. But why, Paul effectively asks, when these gifts are temporary but true love lasts forever?

The apostle Paul even gives us a time stamp on these temporary gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. By design, they supernaturally confirmed the message of the apostles, but they are going to cease, Paul writes in verse 10, “when the perfect comes.” But what is the “perfect” that will replace prophecy and tongues and revelatory knowledge?

Many believe this refers to Christ’s return—when we see Him, our perfect Savior. The problem with that view is the word Paul uses is neuter in gender. This is not a reference to a person—to someone—but to some thing.

James uses this same word for “perfect” when he describes the Bible in James 1:25, as the “perfect law . . . of liberty.” We can see our reflection perfectly in the truth of the Bible. When the Bible was completed, when the last words of the book of Revelation were written, tongues, prophecy, and other revelatory sign-gifts ceased. They were simply no longer needed.

Once again, Paul uses himself as an illustration:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (verse 11)

Children act like children, but their childhood days must come to an end. Paul is implying that the Corinthians are still acting like children. They have not grown up. They are so fascinated with the public, sensational, temporary gifts that they are not developing the depths of agape love.

No wonder Paul ends this great chapter by emphasizing, “The greatest of these is love.”

So today, beloved, let us put these verbs into action. Let us demonstrate true love—agape love. It will change your attitude, it will improve your relationships, and it just might change the world around you, for the glory of God.

[1] David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, ed. John. F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Victor Books, 1985), 535.

[2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of First and Second Corinthians (Augsburg Publishing, 1937), 557.

[3] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nelson, 1985), New Testament, 496.

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