Most people are familiar with “The Love Chapter”. This morning I read a portion of it. I heard something yesterday that reminded me how haphazardly people throw out the word love, and how cheap the term has become in our society. But here’s what God’s Word says, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:4-7)
The first description of love in this passage is “love suffers long”. This isn’t just describing what love is, but what love does. The idea is that when love is acted against, when love is acted upon, what does love do? Love isn’t looking to strike back as quickly as possible. Love is willing to put up with it, to suffer long in the course of injury and insults thrown at love’s way. This is the first place where we see the character of God Himself.
When God describes His own character He starts with the nature of His being a long-suffering God. “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6-7)
Secondly, love is useful, it’s helpful, it’s friendly and kind, which we see in God’s character in the same passage in Exodus: “abounding in goodness and truth”. The ESV uses the terms “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. Look at the life of Jesus, both God and man who has all the gifts and graces of God Himself in the flesh, He came to do the most important mission in all the history of humanity. Yet when people came to Him, lepers, Samaritans, Gentiles and women with bleeding conditions, prostitutes, and thieving tax collectors, He didn’t push them away. He drew them in to do goodness and kindness toward them in love.
Next we see that “love does not envy”. Earlier in this letter Paul asked, “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3) The negative sense of this envy is to say that I want more for me from what you have, I want to take from you so that it’s now mine to possess it so that you don’t have it.
In another epistle Paul gave the way to truly love others without envy: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (Phil 2:3)
The next definition of what love is NOT, is “love does not parade itself” or in other translations “boast” is used. The Bible says that those who boast are evil: “They utter speech, and speak insolent things; All the workers of iniquity boast in themselves.” (Ps 94:4)
Boasting is a fruit, an external action, that has its roots down in an internal sin. The internal sin is the next thing that Paul addresses where he says, love “is not puffed up” and “arrogant” in other translations. One commentator writes, “Behind boastful bragging there lies conceit, an overestimation of one’s own importance, abilities, or achievements”.
Truthfully, if we boastful and arrogant about our accomplishments and what we have, then we aren’t humble and thankful to our Lord for His provision. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)
The next things that love is NOT is given in the next verse, love “does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;”. So if we are patient and kind, not envious, nor boastful nor arrogant, we won’t treat others rudely, seek our own way, and we won’t be easily provoked to anger, where we may think evil thoughts about the one who pushed us too far.
As Christ followers, we’re called to think about others and their dignity as an image-bearer of God Almighty and look to see how we can honor them and show them respect and consideration, even when they show us nothing but contempt. We aren’t to be easily provoked, think evil of others, or keep a record of wrongs, which will continuously provoke us to anger.
Love doesn’t think about me, but love is obsessed with thinking about you. Is this easy? Not at all! We’ll always come across people who claim to be our friends and love us when we discover they are mocking us, gossiping and slandering us and yet we are not to be easily provoked. Sometimes the only way to do that in a moment is to walk away and pray for them. I don’t always respond as God’s Word tells me to, and when I don’t I suffer consequences from my poor behavior.
In our culture, we think of love as this powerful force that actually pushes us to cross boundaries and when love forces us across boundaries. However sacrosanct those boundaries may be, that’s okay because you were following your heart, you were following love. Well Paul says no, that’s not what real love is. Love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth” or “wrongdoing” in other translations.
Love does not carry us into error because real love despises error and rejoices in the truth. When we consider love and truth as aspects of the character of God, we come to recognize that God’s love is His truth and His truth is His love. You can’t pit God’s attributes against one another.
I’ve really struggled with this one for several months because of “friends” who mocked me as a Christ follower pointing out how imperfect I am, and mocked my Lord. God’s Word says, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10) In the end, I can only love from afar and pray for those who chose to hate me.
Then we come to the summation of what love does: it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. As Paul has piled on descriptors to show what Christian love does and does not do, it has become clear that love sets itself aside for the good of others. More precisely, those who love as Christ does set themselves aside to meet the needs of other Christians.
Loving as Jesus loves is hard because others are deceitful. But even if we must love some from afar, the one who is loved carries the burden to be truthful or to be held accountable to God, rather than to us. So we keep them in our prayers, even if we don’t keep them in our lives.