What is Love? 1 Cor. 13:4

 

Ἡ ἀγάπη μακροθυμεῖ, χρηστεύεται˸ ἡ ἀγάπη˸, οὐ ζηλοῖ, [ἡ ἀγάπη] οὐ περπερεύεται, οὐ φυσιοῦται οὐκ ἀσχημονεῖ, οὐ ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς, οὐ παροξύνεται, οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν, οὐ χαίρει ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδικίᾳ, συγχαίρει δὲ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ· πάντα στέγει, πάντα πιστεύει, πάντα ἐλπίζει, πάντα ὑπομένει. [ 1 Cor. 13:4-6, NA28]

The Church at ancient Corinth was a troubled church in a very troubled culture. The city was a Grecian city, on the isthmus which joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece. It is about 48 miles west of Athens. The ancient city was destroyed by the Romans (B.C. 146), and that mentioned in the New Testament was quite a new city, having been rebuilt about a century afterward and peopled by a colony of freedmen from Rome. The city was known as a cultural melting pot with its large population of Romans, Greeks, and Jews. It was noted for its wealth, its luxurious lifestyles, and for its extreme immorality.

Luke tells us that Paul took the Christian gospel to Corinth in Acts 18 sometime in the early 50s. The church at Corinth was a reflection of its culture. As one might imagine, due to our sinful nature, the mix of races and cultural practices and attitudes would present numerous sinful challenges for the church. These challenges serve as the occasion for Paul’s correspondence with the church. We see early on the carnal displays of divisions with immature men desiring to adopt certain leaders, leaders that no doubt suited their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. And do we see this today? Unfortunately, we see it far too often. Men line up on this side or that side and their man is always right and incapable of doing any wrong. We also see an unhealthy fascination with Greek philosophy, immorality, and an abhorrent obsession with and abuse of the gifts of the Spirit. There was immorality, carnal divisions, and even an abuse of the Lords Table. It is no wonder that Paul was inspired by God to write a thing or two about the kind of love that defines the Christian life. It is that kind of love that this post is concerned about.

The immediate context of this pericope is known as the love chapter. Paul begins the chapter affirming that my works are nothing if they are done without love. Some people think sharing the gospel is ipso facto loving someone. They believe that rebuking someone is ipso facto loving that person. However, it seems that such a position is clearly contrary to Paul. Paul says we can do all these wonderful things and still be devoid of love. Paul then closes this section (chapter) by reinforcing the idea that of three greatest three virtues of Christianity, faith, hope, and love, love is by far the greatest. Clearly, if Paul were asked to point to the most important character of Christianity, he would point, in fact, he does point to love. Now, it is a reasonable question to ask, “what is love?” What does it look like to walk in Christian love? And if that is your question, you do not have to wait long.

Ἡ ἀγάπη μακροθυμεῖ, χρηστεύεται: The literal rendering is “the love patient, kind.” Love is patient, kind. To smooth it out, love is patient, love is kind. The verbs in this case, makrothumei and chresteuetai, are stative verbs with the former in the active voice and the latter in the middle/passive. Patience is not just something love does, nor is love just behaving kindly. No! Love is patience, just as I am a man. Being a man is not something I do. It is what I am. And all the characteristics and traits that attach to being am man are displayed in my doing. Love then, is patient and kind. And all the traits that attach to patient and kind can be seen in how love conducts itself. To be patient means that one bears up under provocation without complaint. When love is provoked, it does not complain. Proverbs 10:12 says Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. Love is kindness. Kindness is also a fruit of the Spirit (Ga. 5:22). Eph. 4:32 commands Christians to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Col. 3:12 commands Christians to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. Kindness and patience then are to love what male genetics are to a man. Patience and kindness are also included in Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit.

οὐ ζηλοῖ, [ἡ ἀγάπη] οὐ περπερεύεται, οὐ φυσιοῦται οὐκ ἀσχημονεῖ: Paul first tells us what love is. Now he tells us what love it not. If x is envious, then x is not love. There is no place for jealousy in the life of the Christian. Such jealousy reveals an intense dissatisfaction with God’s call upon his or her life. I am not pleased with God’s path for me. I want a different path, the path that this other person has. Such jealousy not only reveals an entitlement attitude, it calls into question the wisdom of God’s counsel. Love is also not boastful. Love does not heap praise upon itself. It is not braggadocios. Love does not have an exaggerated opinion of itself, is not conceited. When a man walks around dripping of an inflated opinion of himself, you know he is not walking in harmony with love. This is usually seen in men who spend all their time focusing on the faults and errors and heresies of others and so very little time staring into the looking glass of Scripture at their own deceitful heart. If you listen to them long enough you might believe they have reached a state of sinless perfection, or that they have surpassed everyone else in the history of Christianity in their understanding of the most complex theological principles. And they are always pointing out just how far behind everyone else appears to be. This is not the behavior that Jesus and His Apostles modelled for us in the ancient church. It is just the opposite. Paul continues, love does not conduct itself in defiance of social and moral standards. This means that love does not behave in a disgraceful manner.

οὐ ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς: Love does not seek its own way. Love is not self-absorbed. I think about 1 Cor. 10:24 where Paul says, “Let no one see is own good, but the good of his neighbor. And yet, we see church splits over the most ridiculous of issues. Love is itself, by nature, unconcerned about itself and immensely concerned about others.

 

οὐ παροξύνεται, οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν: Love is not easily irritated, not easily provoked to anger, not irritable. This does not mean that love is never angry. It means that love is not quickly provoked or upset with others involving severe emotional concern. This word is used by Luke to describe Paul’s irritation over the Athenians idolatry in the only other place it appears in the NT. Love does not resentful. Loves does not keep a record of wrong-doing, literally. Love does not take others wrongs against itself into account, enter it into the record. I see men fighting these days over issues that should have long sense been settled, forgiveness extended, and unity restored. And I see others lining up, taking sides. These things are ugly opposites of love and have no place in the Christian community. Such behaviors are the opposite of love.

οὐ χαίρει ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδικίᾳ, συγχαίρει δὲ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ: Love does not rejoice in other’s wrongdoing but instead, rejoices with the truth. This means that when you rejoice in someone’s wrongdoing, you are NOT rejoicing with the truth. This, by definition, is unloving. If we see a brother engage in behavior that is outside the bounds of Christian charity and we come to his support or rescue, we are essentially rejoicing in his bad behavior. This is not a trait of Christian charity. It is just the opposite.

πάντα στέγει,* πάντα πιστεύει, πάντα ἐλπίζει, πάντα ὑπομένει. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love not only bears up against difficulties, but if one looks at this word, it means that love throws a blanket of silence over what is displeasing in another person. Love ignores the things it does not like in me, bearing with my annoying self. Love believes all things. Commentators differ on the interpretation of this phrase. Some think it means to believe the best of others, while others think it means that love believes that God’s plan will always succeed. Given the context it seems best to understand it to that we should always see the potential good in others, to cast them in the best possible light reason permits. Love has hope for others. It expects the best of them. Love looks at others with optimism. How is it that some Christians always see the worse or think the worse or assume the worse from others, even from the beginning of an interaction. What does this say about such a person’s heart? What does it say about their faith? Finally, love maintains a belief or course of action in the face of opposition. Love stands its ground.

If you want to know what it means to be a Christian, study 1 Corinthians 13 first, in the middle, and last in your investigation. This is not all-inclusive of a Christian, but without fitting the descriptors of this chapter, unless this chapter defines your life, your overall character, you cannot be one. If my life does not reflect the traits of 1 Corinthians 13, I have no right to claim I am His! I should be very concerned if I am far removed from the traits of 1 Corinthians 13.

There are a lot of my reformed brothers running around today, calling themselves polemicists. All they do is argue and debate and fight with both, those outside the church, and those in the church. They are quick to damn men to hell. They are quite fast to conclude that this or that person is a heretic. They seem to think that unless you are doing and believing just as they do, that you are not measuring up. The standard for apologetics, evangelism, the confession, even Christianity seems to be themselves. I am beginning to wonder if calling oneself a polemicist isn’t just an excuse for those who have an unhealthy proclivity to fight and a morbid interest in controversy. Peace, something we are commanded to seek with all men, seems to be the last thing on their minds. Isn’t it possible to engage in apologetics and evangelism and the defense of the truth without alienating just about everyone we come into contact with? I think it is. Read 1 Corinthians 13 and chase every reference found in that chapter and examine your heart. It will be good for you! I promise

Mr. Ed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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