Paul’s famous passage on the attributes of love is part of a 3-chapter argument. This podcast focuses on what Paul says about love and why he felt it necessary to correct the Corinthians understanding of love. The next podcast will examine how this section fits into the overall context of his argument.
In 1Corinthians 12-14, Paul addresses a group of believers who are judging each other by speaking in tongues. They think a person who doesn’t speak in tongues is a lesser Christian.
Paul made two main points in 1Corinthians 12:
- The true mark of people who have been influenced by the Holy spirit is that they say (and mean) Jesus is Lord.
- There is both unity and diversity in the body of Christ. The unity is the way the Spirit works the same in all of us to give us all saving faith; The diversity is how the Spirit works differently in each of us to give us each a unique role and calling.
1Corinthians 13 is an important interruption in his argument.
13:4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. -1Corinthians 13:4-7
The two great commandments — love God and love your neighbor as yourself — capture our moral obligation in a general way. But love for God and our neighbors differs.
We express our love for God by desiring Him, wanting to please Him, seeking to understand what He thinks and values, clinging to Him, and looking to Him for direction, etc.
We express our love for our neighbors by seeking their welfare. The love Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13 is the kind that loves our neighbors as ourselves.
In Paul’s other letters, he gives 2 motivations for seeking the welfare of our neighbors.
- Loving all people is based on the understanding that we are equally made in God’s image.
- In addition, loving other believers involves the understanding that we are fellow travelers on this journey of faith and we are the children of God.
Why bring up love now?
- The issue of tongues is the latest in a series of issues that has been dividing the Corinthian church. Some in Corinth think that those who don’t speak in tongues are second-class Christians because tongues is the mark of true spirituality.
- This is a profound mistake.
- Paul defines love in a way that highlights how seriously the Corinthians have gone wrong in their behavior. He wants to remind them what love is because they aren’t doing it.
4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. -1Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient
- Being patient is being slow to respond, slow to take offense and slow to strike back.
- The Bible describes God as longsuffering or patient with us. Our sinfulness greatly offends Him and yet He continues to give us a long time to repent.
- We are called to be longsuffering with each other, to put up with others’ hurts and offenses, delaying any angry response.
- For the Corinthians in their situation, Paul is saying: Even if it were true that non-tongue speakers are less spiritual (and that’s not true but even if it were), love would call you to be longsuffering with them. Be patient and wait for them to come to the same maturity you think you’ve found.
Love is kind
- Kindness is actively doing good for someone else.
- God is kind to us sinners in that He actively blesses us even though we sin against Him.
- Likewise, we are called to be kind to those who have not necessarily been kind to us.
- Speaking to the Corinthians Paul says: Even if it were true that non-tongue speakers are less spiritual than you are, you supposedly more spiritual folks are called to be working for their benefit, not judging and rejecting them.
Love is not jealous
- To be jealous or envious is to be upset when others have something I want and actively working against them or undermining them.
- Paul has already commented on the jealously and strife in their church (1Corinthians 3:3-4).
- For the Corinthians: Even if it were true that tongue speakers are more spiritual, you have no business forming cliques to the detriment of others. Rather than dividing, you should rejoice in each other’s blessings.
Love does not brag
- The supposedly more spiritual people have no business boasting about their alleged spirituality.
- If I’m as concerned for you as I am for myself, I wouldn’t be singing my own praises and boasting about how much better off I am than you are.
- To the Corinthians Paul says: Even if it were true that non-tongue speakers are less spiritual, how is it right to rub their noses in it?
Love is not arrogant
- To be arrogant is to be puffed up with my own importance.
- This word for arrogance is used 7 times in the New Testament and 6 of them are in this letter: 1Corinthains 4:6; 4:18; 4:19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4.
- Paul connects their problems to their inflated sense of their own importance. But love calls us to remember we are no more or less important than others.
- To the Corinthians: Even if were true that non-tongue speakers are less spiritual, the supposedly more spiritual have no business puffing themselves up and inflating their own importance.
Love does not act unbecomingly
- To act unbecomingly is to act disgracefully or shamefully.
- Paul could mean: a) love does not act toward others in a way that brings shame upon me. Or b) I’m treating someone else in a way that disgraces that person.
- Both of those are possibilities given the situation in Corinth.
- To the Corinthians: Even if were true that non-tongue speakers are less spiritual, the supposedly more spiritual should not disgrace themselves by treating others poorly; OR disgrace others in the way they treat them.
Love does not seek its own
- Love is not selfish. Love looks out for the welfare and good of another.
- For the Corinthians: Even if were true that non-tongue speakers are less spiritual, the supposedly more spiritual should not use that as an excuse to act selfishly.
Love is not provoked
- Love does not get irritated and respond with anger.
- For the Corinthians: Even if were true that non-tongue speakers are less spiritual, the supposedly more spiritual should not be reactionary and provoked into mistreating them.
Love does not take into account a wrong
- Love does not think about evil as in holding a grudge and seeking to get even.
- For the Corinthians: Even if were true that non-tongue speakers are less spiritual, the supposedly more spiritual need to ignore the supposed weakness of the other people and continue to work for their good.
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth
- The Corinthian church is riddled with division and strife.
- In that environment, its easy to get into competition and rejoice when my side “wins.” Instead, love rejoices when the truth of the gospel prevails.
- For the Corinthians: Even if were true that non-tongue speakers are less spiritual, the supposedly more spiritual should not be rejoicing that the tongues-party is winning but should be rejoicing when the truth of the gospel is advancing.
1Corinthians 13:7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
- I understand this statement to be a summary (not the next “love is” statement).
- The repetition of “all things” is strong emphasis.
- The reason our love can be patient or kind, the reason our love is not jealous, boastful, arrogant and so forth is because we believe the gospel, we hope in the gospel and we continue to persevere in the faith.
- Whatever comes your way, whatever you may find in the other person, however they treat you and whatever they do, the person who truly loves continues to believe the gospel, continues to hope in the promises of the gospel and continues to persevere in the faith.
- None of us should have any delusions that we will love like this successfully all the time. It is not a standard we should use to beat each other with and say you didn’t love me right. Nor is it a standard we should use to condemn ourselves.
- However, we should recognize we have no hope of loving like this apart from the grace of God, the blood of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.
- The trials and circumstances of life will test our ability to love like this repeatedly and we will fail.
- But that’s not the end of the story.
- The promise of the gospel is that one day God will make us the kind of people who love like this because of His grace, the blood of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.