In the last two parts of our study on love, we talked about how, as Christians, we are obligated to love others and how love is a crucial part of the church’s effectiveness. In today’s conclusion, we will discuss the characteristics of love and break down what true biblical love looks like in practice. Let’s dig in.
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. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Here, we are presented with the character attributes of love, specifically agape love, and how it differs from phileo love. This passage is often used in weddings to ensure that couples understand what true love is. Let’s examine these attributes to see what they teach us.
Charity suffereth long and is kind
Love endures in difficult times. The phrase "suffereth long" means to have patience in trials or struggles. Love doesn’t just endure, but it also remains kind even in the hardest of times. The word translated as "kind" is the same word that Jesus uses in Matthew 11:30, where he says, "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." It conveys the idea of being easy or gentle. Love requires us to be patient, understanding, gracious, and mild with others, especially during their struggles.
It’s important to remember that we are not perfect, and others around us are going through their own difficulties. Sometimes, agape love in the church means taking a step back and being understanding and gentle with others. If someone comes to church in a bad mood and says harsh words, it’s not right, but we need to be long-suffering and kind, understanding that the person is hurting. We shouldn’t fight with them or hold a grudge. Instead, we should be gentle and mild, recognizing that we all have our bad days.
What else does charity do?
Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Love doesn’t boast or show off. The word "vaunteth," used here, means to boast or make oneself look good, while "puffed up" refers to inflating oneself as if one is walking around with their chest puffed out, showing off to others. Love doesn’t make everything about itself, but rather, it cares about the other person. Love doesn’t seek to draw attention to itself or to make itself look good but instead focuses on the well-being of others. This is a key characteristic of agape love, as it prioritizes the needs of others above one’s own self-interest.
Doth not behave itself unseemly
The word "unseemly" means that love doesn’t behave in a way that is wrong or inappropriate. Love always acts in a manner that is right and fitting. This characteristic of love helps to build trust and respect in relationships, as it demonstrates a commitment to acting in a responsible and appropriate manner.
Seeketh not her own.
It’s easy to slip up and put our own interests first, but true love always considers others before oneself. We often have to apologize for acting selfishly by saying something like, "I was thinking about myself and not thinking about you." This is such an easy trap to fall into. We live inside our own heads 24/7, and from our perspective, the world revolves around us. Everywhere we go, we see through our own eyes, and we hear our own thoughts. However, if we want to love others, we must recognize that each person is just as valuable and important as we are. Everyone is made in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
Is not easily provoked.
Love doesn’t respond with immediate anger when someone irritates or annoys us. The Greek word for "provoked" here has the idea of being poked with a sharp object, like a nail. This means that love doesn’t react in a hostile manner when faced with difficult or challenging circumstances. Instead, love remains calm and patient, even in the face of adversity. This characteristic of love helps to foster peace and understanding in relationships, as it allows individuals to remain level-headed and reasonable, even in the midst of conflict or disagreement. By not being easily provoked, we can demonstrate true agape love and build stronger, more harmonious relationships with others.
Thinketh no evil.
The word "thinketh" here means to take thought or to maintain a mental account. This means that love doesn’t hold onto negative thoughts or feelings about others, even when they have done something wrong many times. Instead, love forgives and lets go of past mistakes, choosing to focus on the present and future instead of dwelling on the past. This is a crucial aspect of healthy relationships, as holding onto grudges and past wrongdoings can lead to resentment and bitterness. By choosing to think no evil, we can demonstrate true agape love and build stronger relationships with others.
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.
True love celebrates righteousness and rejects wrongdoing. It actively seeks to correct mistakes and encourage others to do what is right. Love recognizes the importance of upholding moral and ethical standards, and it encourages others to do the same. By rejoicing in the truth, love helps to build a positive, supportive environment that promotes personal growth and encourages people to do right, even in the face of adversity.
Now, here’s one of my favorite parts,
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
I think this one is the most marital of all the attributes. These phrases describe the deep commitment and resilience of love. It says that love is willing to carry the weight of difficulties and challenges together with the other person. It says love has a confident belief in the other person. It says love hopes and does not assume the worst. And finally, love endures all, meaning it remains steadfast and persistent, no matter what challenges may come. It recognizes that relationships are not always easy, but we should be willing to work through difficulties and challenges together. The difference between true love and false love is that, in the end, regardless of the situation, love will still be there.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
This verse highlights the enduring nature of love. He’s going back to what he said in the first three verses, where he talks about if we speak with the tongues of angels, we don’t have love. We’re just noise. Now he’s saying that those tongues (languages) and those skills we have, they’re going to vanish away, but if you have true love, that true love’s going to be there. The languages these people spoke in the New Testament are long dead and gone. No one speaks Latin anymore. No one speaks ancient Greek. They all passed away. But the love of God still remains, and hopefully, it still lives in us today.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1 Corinthians 13:9-13
Paul concludes this passage by acknowledging that we are not perfect and that our knowledge is limited. He states that we don’t understand everything about our lives and that we never will. Despite this, he says that we can still grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s love. He acknowledges that right now, our love is imperfect and limited, but that there will come a day when our love will be transformed to be like the love of Christ. In heaven, we will be able to love each other in the way that we were meant to, with the perfect love of Christ.
Paul compares this to being a little child. He says that when he was a child, he spoke and understood things like a child, but as he grew older, he put those things aside. When he was a kid, he worried about all these silly things, but when he became a man, it didn’t matter anymore.
He compares this to our future in heaven, where we will have a greater understanding of love and other things that we currently struggle with. When we get to heaven, it’s gonna be like we were little children here trying to figure things out. We’ll realize there are a lot of things more important things than what we considered important. Paul says that right now, we see things "through a glass darkly," like looking into a distorted mirror.
Back in Paul’s day, they would hammer mirrors out of bronze and polish them to make them reflective. But because they’re hammered metal, they would be full of indents and distortions. When you would look in the brass mirror, you would see a distorted image of yourself. You could look and see your reflection, but it wouldn’t look exactly like you.
Paul’s metaphor reminds us that our current understanding of love may not be perfect, but we can still strive to grow and develop a deeper and clearer understanding of it. It also serves as a reminder that there is still more to learn and discover about love and that one day, we will have a clearer understanding of it. We know what love is, but it’s just not quite clear enough to fully get the full picture. While that sounds bad, Paul says that one day we’ll see things clearly, face to face. It’ll be like looking in that perfect reflection and seeing love as it truly is.
But Paul does say one word of encouragement; He says, “now abideth faith, hope, charity.” These are three things we can hold onto today. First, we can hold onto our faith in Jesus Christ. Even though we can’t be perfect, we still have Christ, and we can believe in Him and trust in Him. Second, we can hold on to hope. We can always look forward to that day when we are going to be perfect and transformed.
And lastly, our Word of the Day for Valentine’s Day, there it is, charity. Paul says these are the three things we can hold onto in this life. Even though things won’t be perfect, we can have faith in Christ; we can have hope for the future, and right now, we can work on getting this heavenly love right. Paul concludes by emphasizing one is greater than all the others. Paul tells us that love is the greatest thing we can figure out on this earth.
1 Corinthians 13 is a powerful reminder of the importance of love in the Christian life. Paul describes love as being patient, kind, selfless, and always putting the needs of others before one’s own self-interest. He acknowledges that our understanding of love is limited and imperfect but that we can still grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s love. He encourages us to work on getting this heavenly love right. Love is indeed the greatest thing we can figure out on this earth and should always be at the center of our lives, in our relationships with others and with God. Let us strive to demonstrate agape love in all that we do and bring glory to God through our actions today.