Paul’s introduction to his great hymn of love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is very searching. Basically it is as follows:
1. ‘If I have not love’- I have nothing.
2. ‘If I have not love’- I am nothing.
3. ‘If I have not love’- I profit nothing. He follows this up with fifteen characteristics of love, seven of them positive and eight of them negative. They are all very challenging. Here are some comments on each of them.
1) ‘Love suffers long’ (v. 4). Love has an infinite capacity for endurance. It is an enduring grace. When the love of God burns in the soul, hate cannot kill it, persecution cannot destroy it, nor envy stamp it out. It is the word used of the man who is wronged, and has the power to avenge himself, but will not do it. Here is the quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation that does not hostilely retaliate, or promptly punish. Love is long suffering when, in the face of injuries and wrongs it persists and endures and waits. It is the opposite of anger. The word always describes patience with people. It is used of God Himself in His relationship with men, 2 Pet. 3. 9. In our dealings with others, however difficult and however unkind and hurtful they may be, we must exercise the same patience as God exercises with us. Such patience is not weakness, but a sign of strength.
2) ‘Love is kind’ (v. 4). Such love is ‘sweet to all’. It is the benignity of love. There is so much Christianity, which is good, but unkind. Kindness is that active quality which does good and bestows benefits. It is an active grace. It brings satisfaction to others.
3) ‘Love does not envy’ (v. 4). Envy is as cruel as the grave. It was for envy the leaders of the people delivered Jesus to Pilate, Matt. 27. 18. It has been summarized in this way, ‘Envy is the cause of persecution, cf. Acts 5. 17; 13. 45; the mother of division, cf. 1 Cor. 3. 3; the companion of jealousy, cf. Acts 7. 9; the sign of unbelief, cf. Acts 17. 5; the child of the devil, cf. Jas. 3. 14, 15; the worker of mischief, cf. Jas. 3. 16; and the work of the flesh, cf. Gal. 5. 21’. Love has no jealous look in the eye, no sour feeling in the heart. Love sees the best in others, and what is lacking in itself. Love is content, because its heart is not set on earthly gains, and because it finds its joy not in getting, but in giving.
4) ‘Love does not boast’ (v. 4). It does not parade its imagined superiority over others. Love that talks of loving is not love. It does not boast about itself; there is a self-effacing quality about love. True love will always be impressed with its own unworthiness rather than with its own merit. Some people confer their love with the idea that they are conferring a favour. Love ever takes a back seat and is willing to work unseen. Behind boastful bragging there lies conceit – it desires the applause of others and to win their admiration. Love never does this. Love is too big for boasting.
5) ‘Love is not puffed up’ (v. 4). It does not show pride and self-esteem. No one likes the ‘important’ man. Man dressed up in a little brief authority can be a sorry sight. There is a sweet reasonableness about love. That is why it does not boast itself. The boasting of oneself is the direct outcome of pride. Love is content with what God gives and allows. Love is not concerned with its own importance. The really great man never thinks of his own importance. He is not arrogant, but humble. Love knows nothing of presumptuous selfsatisfaction, of pride with contempt of others, of inflated vanity. It gives itself no airs, is never haughty, but humble and gracious.
6) ‘Love does not behave itself unseemly’ (v. 5). It does not behave gracelessly. Love is always polite, courteous. It ever seeks that which is best in the best way. Courtesy is love in little things. It is not rough, brusque and brutal. It does not go around saying ugly things. There is graciousness in Christian love which never forgets politeness and courtesy.
7) ‘Love seeks not its own’ (v. 5). It does not insist on its rights. There are always those who only think of what life owes them, and those who never forget what they owe life. Love is not selfish, but self-forgetful. The good of others is always love’s motive. Love realizes itself in selflessness. It does not pursue its own interests, cf. Phil. 2. 4. Self-seeking leads to division. Love’s unconscious action is ever for another’s good at the expense of itself.
8) ‘Love is not easily provoked’ (v. 5). It is not irritable, but good-tempered. It is generally self-centered people who are touchy and easily upset. It does not give rise to a spirit of anger or bitterness by injuries actual or imagined. It never flies into a temper. As long as love holds the reins of the soul there is no danger of being provoked into anger and to spiteful actions which lead to sin. Love can be angry, but there is a difference between righteous anger and irritability. The Lord was at times angry, e.g., Mark 3. 5, but He was never irritable.
9) ‘Love thinks no evil’ (v. 5). This is an accountant’s word for entering an item in a ledger so that it will not be forgotten. Love does not keep a record of all the wrong done to it. It does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received. Love keeps a list of its creditors, but none of its debtors. It is not vindictive, but generous. It harbours no resentment and bears no malice.
10) ‘Love does not rejoice in iniquity’ (v. 6). It does not find joy in the wrongdoing of others. It has none of that malice which finds pleasure in ill reports.
11) ‘Love rejoices in the truth’ (v. 6). It finds in truth a happy companion for its rejoicing. This may not be so easy. There may be times when a person does not want the truth to prevail, or when the last thing that person wants to hear is the truth. Christian love does not veil the truth. It has nothing to conceal and is glad enough when the truth prevails.
12) ‘Love bears all things’ (v. 7). Love does not drag out the mistakes and faults of others. It would rather quietly set about mending things. It can also bear any insult, any injury, and any disappointment.
13) ‘Love believes all things’ (v. 7). Love is completely trusting. It takes God at His word. It always believes the best about other people. It is not suspicious. It always imputes the best motives.
14) ‘Love hopes all things’ (v. 7). It never ceases to hope. It delights to entertain the least expectations. Even if conditions are adverse, it still hopes for the best. It is glad to make allowances for human weaknesses when it can be done without harming the truth of God.
15) ‘Love endures all things’ (v. 7). It is that spirit which can bear adverse circumstances and can conquer and transform them. It can do so because it knows that God is love, and that ‘a Father’s hand will never cause His child a needless tear’.
To be continued.