1 CORINTHIANS 13:4-5a
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Love, the most prized virtue, can’t be defined precisely, but can be described. To analyze it, we shine it through a prism and break it down into practical parts.
Bringing the baffling concept down to understandable language, Paul gave us this list that we may know whether we love or not. We routinely discuss these traits. They are virtues that can be practiced by anyone anywhere. As we examine each the component part, continually ask yourself, “Do I truly love others?”
I Cor. 13:4a (Holman) Love is patient;. . .
Love is patient. The Greek word denotes “holding the mind long”. The word was used of God’s dealings with people. Chrysotom said this is the word used of the man who is wronged and has it easily in his power to avenge himself and who yet will not do it, as when David refused to kill Saul.
A loving person holds their mind firm and controls angry passions. Patience would rather wait and wish for another to reform than to explode in resentment of their conduct. Our goal as believers is not mainly to win arguments or scold guilty people. The chief Christian objective is to imitate Christ and woo others to Him.
We often view this type of love as weakness, not strength. Nevertheless, it is not defeatism but rather the only way to victory (Barclay). Stanton called Lincoln “a low cunning clown” and “the original gorilla.” Lincoln never replied, treated Stanton with courtesy, and made him Secretary of War. As Lincoln lay dying, Stanton said, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” When Lincoln died, the first words were Stanton’s: “Now he belongs to the ages.” The unemotional Stanton then broke down and wept like a hurt animal.
I Cor. 13:4b . . .love is kind.
Patience is love passive, waiting to begin, ready to act when needed. Kindness is love active. Many people do well on patience, but fail this test. Some say, “I have suffered 20 years and more from someone without striking back. Hence, I have love.” This is only one part of love. The second phase must also be included. Don’t just gain a cease fire. Actively seek the other’s good.
Christ endured the High Priest, and also replaced his servant’s right ear. Jesus endured the soldiers’ harshness, and also prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Christ bore Peter’s denial quietly, but made it a point to find Peter after the resurrection and let him preach the Pentecost sermon. Stephen refrained from cursing his murderers, and also prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”
We should not only seize opportunities to do good that happen to come our way. We should also seek out chances. Kindness is Christianity in action. Happiness for self may allude us, but God has put in our power the happiness of those about us (Drummond). Never treat the weak as if they are a nuisance. See them as an opportunity to serve Christ Himself.
One shortcoming we face is letting kind thoughts take the place of kind deeds. We have good intentions and content ourselves with them. Only one step separates great Christians from and mediocre Christians; the step that translates good thoughts into kind deeds.
I Cor. 13:4c Love does not envy;. . .
Envy is the sensation of uneasiness that rises in us when someone else has an advantage over us. This weakness results in a negative feeling toward the one with advantages. “It does not so much want things for itself as it wishes others had not got them” (Barclay). Envy is an admission of a feeling of inferiority.
“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep,” (RM 12:15). It is much easier to weep with weepers than to rejoice with rejoicers. Competition is such a conspicuous trait of our culture that to live without envy is a miracle of grace. We almost delight in the downfall of others. To our shame we often find it easier to dig a people out of the ashes than to stand in their shadow.
This sin is insidious. It creeps up on us. Joseph Parker said, “I thought I had charity when all things were according to my will, when I was the supreme person, when I had nothing to envy, when I could simply look down upon all other people and wonder at their littleness, but when I saw someone greater, truer, grander–O my Saviour! I felt something shoot through my heart that made hell there.”
Whatever we attempt, someone will be able to do it better. We can let this be a misery to us, or can respond in love. Envy sucks poison out of another person’s honey. Love makes another’s bliss an addition to our own. Love the person more honored than we are.
I Cor. 13:4d . . .is not boastful;. . .
Love does not flaunt itself. The Greek root word means “wind-bag,” and the phrase could be translated, “Love is not bloated with self-conceit.” Don’t be a show-off. Love never goes to the front seat as if by right. One of life’s most pathetic sights is man “dressed in a little brief authority.”
When we do deeds of love, put a seal upon our lips and forget what we did. After having been kind, after love stole forth into the world from us and did its beautiful work, go back into the shade again; say nothing about it (Drummond).
We think we do no harm bragging on ourselves, but such speech robs God, for all we have and are we owe Him. It robs others, for we unconsciously put them in a lower position. It robs us, for it turns our beautiful deeds of love into something ugly.
I Cor. 13:4e . . .is not conceited;. . .
It is possible to refrain from an outward display of our goodness, yet at the same time let an inward sense of superiority come over us. We are too often inflated with our own importance. Never forget, every person we meet is our superior in some way: “. . .in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (PH 2:3). My father-in-law, one of the best conversationalists I ever knew, could engage total strangers in a discussion. I asked him once how he did this. He answered, everyone is better than me in something. I as quick as possible find what that is and then let them talk about it. Watch out for a feeling of superiority. It’s deadly.
Napoleon advocated family life and worship–for others. Of himself, he said, “I am not a man like other men. The laws of morality do not apply to me.”
William Carey was once belittled by a snob, “I suppose, Mr. Carey, you once worked as a shoemaker.” Carey answered, “Not a shoemaker, only a cobbler.” He didn’t even claim to make shoes, just to mend them. Yet this same Carey translated parts of the Bible into 34 Indian languages.
Love hides even from itself and waives even self-satisfaction (Drummond). Love is kept humble by the consciousness that it can never offer its loved one a gift which is good enough. True love will always be far more impressed with hits own unworthiness than its own merit (Barclay).
1 Cor. 13:5a Does not act improperly;. . .
That is, love is not ill-mannered. It is courteous. It has the idea of what is done according to due form. Love disallows anything disgraceful, dishonorable, indecent, or indiscreet. Charity is careful not to pass the bounds of decency. It does nothing to embarrass others. Jesus was considerate toward others. When the Pharisees cast out the healed blind man, Jesus sought Him privately. Jesus privately exhorted the woman taken in adultery. He washed the disciples’ feet and saved them the embarrassment of performing a lowly task. He privately revealed the Samaritan woman’s sins (“. . .five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband”).
If you detect a flaw, discern an error, or have a gripe, go to that person in love, and share your thoughts. Our purpose is to encourage and edify, not to embarrass. I recently had an interesting experience at the License Bureau. The man before me ranted and raved and was rejected. I complimented the lady on her patience and expressed appreciation. She and I later discovered that I had the same problem as the man before me. However, she accepted my request. The difference was in the courtesy I gave her. If you are publicly discourteous, you have a lack of spiritual love.