Love is a word that has many connotations that come with it. But no matter what language or culture, love is a universal need of all human beings. The Bible gives us clear understanding of what love is and what love is not.
Love Is Not Proud
First Corinthians 13 offers tremendous insight regarding the Christian perspective of love. As love is described, the stipulation that love “is not proud” is included (verse 4).
The very word translated “proud” offers valuable information. It comes from a Greek word meaning to “puff up” or “blow up.” The English idiom “having a big head” communicates the same idea. To be puffed up is to have an inflated opinion of oneself. But pride cannot coexist with godly love. Christian love is not proud or focused on self.
Jesus Christ is the perfect example of selfless love. Philippians 2:6-8 says that Jesus, though He is “in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” Jesus did not focus on Himself. Instead, He became a servant and in humility died to save us. As John 15:13 teaches, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
In contrast to the humility of love, the Corinthian believers were known for their proud behavior at times. They argued over which apostle they followed (chapters 1-3), spoke poorly of Paul (chapter 4), boasted of their tolerance of sinful behavior (chapter 5), took fellow believers to court with lawsuits (chapter 6), dishonored God in their taking of the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11), and argued about which spiritual gifts were most important (chapter 12). Paul’s exhortation that “love is not proud” provided a proper corrective for their self-centered attitudes.
Pride is a sin. John taught that the pride of life “is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). The Proverbs summarize God’s attitude regarding pride: “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate” (Proverbs 8:13), and, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
In pride we become the objects of our own love; in humility we learn to love others. A person with godly love is not concerned with benefiting himself. The only thing love sees is the need.
When the Good Samaritan stopped to help the man in need on the Jericho road, he didn’t concern himself with how “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9). The Good Samaritan did not care how it looked to others. He was there to help (Luke 10:30-37). His humble focus on someone else’s need is the illustration Jesus used of loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Love Does Not Boast
Part of the description of love is a list of negatives—what love is not. One of these negatives, found in verse 4, is love “does not boast.”
The Greek word translated here as “boast” means “to brag or point to oneself.” In contrast to the kindness and patience mentioned in the beginning of the verse, boasting is not a mark of love. Paul’s mention of boasting is significant, given his teaching against arrogance elsewhere in the epistle.
Earlier portions of this letter reveal that the Corinthian Christians were boasting about many things. They touted their allegiance to different apostles, creating division within the church (chapters 1–3). They were critical of Paul (chapter 4). They boasted of their tolerance for immorality within the church (chapter 5). They sued each other in court (chapter 6). These and other arrogant actions are ultimately countered in chapter 13, with love as the proper corrective. According to verse 4, real love does not boast. There’s no arrogance in love.
The actions of the Corinthians are sometimes evident among today’s believers. Rather than live with kindness and patience (verse 4), many promote division within the church, criticize church leaders, brag of their enlightened attitude toward sin, and bring lawsuits against fellow Christians. The remedy for these flaws is found in 1 Corinthians 13. A Christian who exhibits godly love will not boast.
The reason that love does not boast is simple: love is focused on the loved one, not on oneself. A braggart is full of himself, magnifying his own accomplishments and too occupied with self-aggrandizement to notice others. Love turns the perspective outward. A person with God’s type of love will magnify others, focus on their needs, and offer help with no thought of repayment or recognition. When someone says, “Look at how great I am!” it’s braggadocio talking, not love.
Paul had chances to boast, but he chose not to. He had served the Corinthians without a salary, completely gratis, but he did not boast of his sacrifice. Instead, he wrote, “If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Elsewhere, Paul wrote that no Christian has a right to boast about salvation: we are saved by grace through faith, “so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9; see also Romans 3:27-28).
Boasting is unloving and sinful. Those called to reflect Christ should strive for the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5), showing a love that draws people to the Lord and gives glory to the heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).
Love Does Not Envy
Verse 4 notes that love “does not envy.” So, selfish jealousy is at odds with God’s type of love.
The Greek word translated “envy” means “to burn with zeal.” Literally, the sense is “to be heated or to boil over with envy, hatred, or anger.” In the context of 1 Corinthians 13, the idea is that love does not focus on personal desires. It is not eager to increase possessions. God’s type of love is selfless, not selfish.
Envy is the opposite of God’s command not to covet (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). The one who truly loves will be in conformity to the Ten Commandments, and envy will be excluded.
In contrast to God’s command, the Corinthian believers were ranking some spiritual gifts as more important than others and envying those who had the “best” gifts. In chapter 12, Paul points out that the different gifts are meant to serve one another and build up the church. No one person has all the gifts, but each child of God has at least one, and love demands that each gift be used to serve others rather than self.
“Envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). When we crave what someone else has rather than being grateful for what God has given, we hurt ourselves. Instead of envying others, we are called to love them.
True love—God’s love—rejoices when others are blessed. There is no room for envy. Love does not seek to benefit itself and it is content with what it has, because its focus is on meeting the needs of the loved one.
Love Is Kind
In verse 4, we read, “Love is kind.”
In verses 1-3 the word love is mentioned three times, in the context of great religious endeavors—which are nothing without love. Then Paul begins to paint a picture of love’s qualities, and one of the first strokes of his brush reveals that love is kind.
Kindness is noted as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Love is also in the list, revealing the close connection between love and kindness. Living a life of love marked by kindness is one aspect of living in a way that pleases God.
Kindness is characterized by benevolence and tenderness. A kind person is disposed to help others and to do so with sympathy and consideration. Godly love will make a person kinder. No one can be loving and unkind at the same time.
God is love (1 John 4:8), and that means He is kind. God’s kindness leads to repentance (Romans 2:4) and salvation (Romans 11:22). The ultimate expression of God’s kindness is found in “the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).
Love is kind. May the Lord fill us with His love so that we might be kinder, more forgiving people for His glory.
Love Is Patient
Often recited at weddings, this chapter serves as a pattern for the ideal marriage. Yet many have not reflected on the larger context and its implications for today. In verse 4 we read, “Love is patient.” Three words fraught with meaning.
After making the point that love is a necessary ingredient in all ministry (verses 1-3), the apostle Paul begins to describe love. “Patient” is at the top of the list—“long” patience or “endurance,” according to some other translations. Godly love and a patient spirit go hand in hand.
Patience is noted as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Love is also mentioned there, revealing the close connection between these two attributes. Both love and patience are products of the Spirit’s presence in one’s life.
Since God is love (1 John 4:8), He is necessarily patient. “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6; see also Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8). Even in judgment, God’s patience is evident: “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:20).
The Corinthians needed patience. Their sin of improperly taking the Lord’s Supper, for example, was partly the result of impatience and refusing to wait for others (chapter 11). Arguments regarding spiritual gifts (chapters 12 and 14) were likewise partly attributable to a lack of patience.
An insistence on one’s own schedule is selfish, and it is opposed to godly love. Patient endurance and long-suffering are hallmarks of a loving character. Love melts away the impatience and frustration that so often hamper one’s dealings with others. When the object of one’s love fails or disappoints in some way, what is the proper response? According to 1 Corinthians 13:4, the loving response is patience.
Love Keeps No Record Of Wrongs
Included in the description of love are some things that love is not. Verse 5 says that love “keeps no record of wrongs.” Or, as the Amplified Bible translates it, “It takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].”
This idea of keeping no list of wrongs directly connects with Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers earlier in the epistle. Some in the church were bringing lawsuits against other Christians. Instead of settling church matters among themselves in a spirit of humility and love, they were dragging each other to court. Paul takes a firm stand on the matter: “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:7). To combat the attitude of demanding one’s “pound of flesh,” Paul wrote that love “keeps no record of wrongs.” In fact, it is better to be cheated than to be unloving.
Jesus Christ provided the ultimate example of this type of love. On the cross He paid the price for the sins of the entire world. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Jesus kept no record of wrongs; rather, He prayed, “Father, forgive them,” from the cross as He died (Luke 23:34).
Colossians 3:13-14 also ties forgiveness to love: “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Refusing to keep a record of wrongs is a clear expression of God’s love and forgiveness.
So often, people say they love each other, but, as soon as one gets angry, out comes the list of past sins! Accusations fly, painful memories are dredged up, and bygones are no longer bygones. This is not love. True, godly love forgives and refuses to keep track of personal slights received. The focus of love is not one’s own pain, but the needs of the loved one.
Obviously, we should not allow people to continue to hurt or abuse us or others. That’s not what 1 Corinthians 13:6 is teaching. The goal is to have a spirit of reconciliation, to forgive those who seek forgiveness, letting the past stay in the past.
Some people have an ax to grind, but Christian love seeks to bury the hatchet. Love keeps no record of wrongs, for we forgive as Christ has forgiven us. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). That is love.
(To be continued next Sunday……Rev. DJ)