Though 1 Corinthians 13 is largely regarded as a cozy part of the Bible, a closer look reveals that these “feel-good” verses confront us, humble us, and begin to show us that the things we think matter most are not what matter most to God.
The church in Corinth faced circumstances from within that threatened its existence. So, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul showed the church “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31)—that is, the way of love, of agapē, rooted in the very character of God and revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. It is only by growing in Christlike love that the Corinthians could grow in Christian maturity and effectively handle such difficult situations.
Paul describes the beauty of God’s love with fifteen characteristics, like the facets of a diamond. His emphasis here is not so much upon what love is as what love does. Love behaves itself in a certain way. It is not only felt but acted on. And these actions and attitudes are to be habitual in the lives of those who love as God does.
Each facet of this Christlike love is worth taking a moment to meditate on. In a previous article, we considered the first eight. In this article, we consider the latter seven.
Love Keeps No Record of Wrong
Think of how the Lord Jesus has treated us:
Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Rom. 4:7–8)
The Lord will not count forgiven sin! When we enter His presence, He’s not going to run the video and show it to us all over again. And when we try to play it back ourselves, the Lord essentially says, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
One of the great skills in life is learning what to forget. When people come to confess sin to us, we need to remember the grace God has shown us in response to the enormity of our offenses. Surely, then, we ought to forgive and do our best to forget the offenses done against us. When love invades a life, harboring a record of wrongs received ceases. Love knows there are greater truths worth remembering.
Love Does Not Rejoice in Evil
Human nature is intrigued by evil. To a certain extent, people seem even to enjoy witnessing evil, especially in others. The covers of newspapers and magazines are filled with adultery, indecency, cheating, lies, corruption, and filth because men and women have an appetite for it. But such hunger is inconsistent with godly love.
One of the primary ways Christians fall into the trap of delighting in the murky and sordid is in gossip—often even under the cover of prayer. When we gossip in this way, we violate agapē love by gloating over the sins and shortcomings of others.
We need to remember the grace God has shown us in response to the enormity of our offenses. Surely, then, we ought to forgive and do our best to forget the offenses done against us.
Paul says that when the transforming love of Christ marks a fellowship, it’s going to make us the kind of people who do not rejoice when evil is exalted but turn their attention to better things: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). The challenge is clear: we ought to gauge our reading, viewing, speaking, and listening habits by this measure.
Love Rejoices with the Truth
J. B. Phillips gives us a wonderful paraphrase of verse 6b: love, he says, “is glad with all good men when truth prevails.” Love cannot rejoice when truth is denied. Love and righteousness cannot be separated. There is no love that is indifferent to moral considerations.
This is one of the ways cultural ideas of love fall short. People say, “I’m hopelessly falling in love with you,” as if this experience legitimizes any kind of lifestyle at all. Many marriages break down under such silliness, even in Christian churches. But God’s agapē love rejoices when people do what is right regardless of how strongly they desire something else.
Love cannot rejoice when truth is denied.
John, the Apostle of Love, writes, “This is love, that we walk according to his commandments” (2 John 6). How do we know we’re in agapē love? When we walk in obedience to the Lord’s commands. Any love relationship—between a husband and wife, between a boy and a girl, between siblings, between members of the family of God—that does not display obedience to God’s command falls short of His perfect love. But with the help of Holy Spirit, walking in the truth of Scripture, we may enjoy this kind of love. Indeed, we should settle for nothing less.
Love Bears All Things
The Greek word for “bears” is stegei, which means “to cover as a roof.” It often has the sense of patience or of protection, as in the NIV: “It always protects.”
This verse may remind us of the words of Solomon: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Prov. 10:12). That doesn’t mean sweeping things under the rug. Love doesn’t justify or conceal sin. Rather, love warns, corrects, exhorts, rebukes, and disciplines. Love risks friendships and puts itself on the line in order to bear another’s burdens, in order to protect.
Love and righteousness cannot be separated.
When Jesus died upon the cross, He threw the mantle of His forgiveness over all our evil and all our rebellion. Peter learned that on the lakeshore in the gracious response of Jesus to his denial (John 21:15–19). Every humble, repentant sinner will learn it too.
Love Believes All Things
James Moffatt helpfully paraphrases this by saying love is “always eager to believe the best.” This doesn’t mean that love is easily deceived by wrongdoing but rather that genuine love is always prepared to give the benefit of the doubt.
Job’s friends were not eager to believe the best when they came to comfort him amid his many trials. Instead, they began to point fingers at him. Though they were his friends, they didn’t love him, because love always trusts and believes that the best is the case until it is proven wrong.
We must ruthlessly say no to the cynicism and suspicion that can easily arise in our hearts and minds. As the Spirit of God transforms us with His love, we will always remain ready to confront sin, but we won’t be eager to see sinfulness in the motives of our brothers and sisters.
Love Hopes All Things
Love is always looking forward. It is not vaguely optimistic, but it makes a realistic appraisal of circumstances and refuses to take failure as final. It says, “Yeah, you’ve blown it, but not for good.” It hangs on, hopes, anticipates, and never gives up.
Love risks friendships and puts itself on the line in order to bear another’s burdens, in order to protect.
In Scripture, despite His people’s rebellious wandering, God says to them, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). The love of God is forward-looking. It does not simply look at where we’ve been, but it looks at where we’re going by His grace. That’s wonderful!
Outside of Christ, men and women are hopeless (Eph. 2:12). But when God transforms our lives, He brings a holy anticipation, fueled by love, that should then guide our relationships with others. If we’ve ever said of someone, “It’s over—there’s no chance, no possibility of restoration,” that may represent an absence of love in our lives, because love hopes.
Love Endures All Things
The Greek word for “endures” is hupomenei, which suggests the concept of fortitude. It’s the picture of a soldier who, when the battle is at its toughest, launches into it with renewed energy. It is not someone who has given up on victory and is simply trying to survive. One displays fortitude and vision, the other grim perseverance and acquiescence to the circumstances.
The love of God is forward-looking. It does not simply look at where we’ve been, but it looks at where we’re going by His grace.
Love perseveres when there has been a deliberate determination of the will to do so. It has nothing to do with the ebb and flow of feelings; it has to do with a consecrated commitment, fueled by the power of the Spirit and the love of the Lord Jesus. This is the way Jesus persevered in His love for His disciples, choosing His Father’s will over His own desire (Matt. 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42).
Love Never Ends
This final little phrase serves as the setting of the jewel of love, both securing it and displaying its greatness. Phillips says that love “is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.” That’s because God’s love will endure as long as God does—that is, forever.
Love is a challenging task. Even as we’re enabled by the Spirit of God, it requires determined commitment and habitual activity. We’ll see these characteristics grow in us gradually through constant repetition, in much the same way as one develops a muscle by exercising it.
Every local church and ministry needs to remember that it is by this great qualification—love—that God assesses all our giftedness and service. It is no exaggeration to say that without these characteristics, a church will drift away from its mission and may even disintegrate. So while we can be known for any number of things, let us be known always as people who seriously, humbly, and realistically ask the Spirit of God to make our hearts and minds so full of love that it will overflow into the church and the world.