The famous Love Chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 is a beloved portion of Scripture for the child of God and is our standard by which we should all measure our love life.
Before we go on to survey 1 Corinthians 13, we should attempt to answer a question regarding a popular philosophy found today within both the world and the church.
Before a Person Can Love God and/or Others, Must They First Love Themselves?
My prayer is that every brother’s and sister’s answer to this question is an emphatic no. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that we should first love ourselves.
For those who have been deceived by the godless pseudo-science of psychology, I implore them to rid themselves of this dangerous heresy as soon as possible. The child of God needs only to trust God, His Word, and the indwelling Holy Spirit for guidance in all things pertaining to life and godliness.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” – 2 Peter 1:3-4
When Jesus was asked, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” He replied:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40
We are commanded to love others as ourselves, which implies a universal love of self in the hearts of all mankind.
The erroneous humanistic goal of achieving a greater love of self is never mentioned or even alluded to in Scripture, as self-love has never been an issue for fallen man. Despite what one may say – and in total opposition to the revealed Word of God – no person has ever not loved themselves. To suggest that people do not love themselves is a lie. In fact, Biblically, self-love is man’s greatest underlying problem! Self-love is the root of pride!!
If any person – especially a Christian – cannot get past self, then they will never have a fruitful love life. This is such a vital, fundamental, Scriptural truth for the believer in Jesus Christ to understand as we move forward.
For more on this topic, I highly recommend Psychology and the Church by Dave Hunt and T.A. McMahan and virtually any book by Martin and Deidre Bobgan.
Charity – Love – Agape
The word translated in the King James Version as “charity” – and rendered “love” in many other translations – is the Greek word 26 ἀγάπη “agape” and means love, goodwill, charity. In the New Testament, 26 (agápē) typically refers to divine love (= what God prefers).
This word can only be properly understood in the perfect, infinite love originating in God Himself. Christ is the standard-bearer and the living embodiment of pure agape love, as Christ is God, and God is love (1 John 4:16).
As Christ Jesus is our example in all things, when it comes to love and every other righteous attribute, we will always fall short of the immense love our Savior has for others, as He thoroughly demonstrated for us on the cross.
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:6-8
This study on 1 Corinthians 13 is meant to be a barometer to help gauge our unconditional love for God and others.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1
As a musician who plays many instruments – though drums were my first and primary instrument – I can attest that there are few things more annoying than when someone who has never played gets on a drum set and begins to bang and tinker on the cymbals. Not only is the sound piercing and intensely obnoxious to the hearer, but because the person is a novice, there is no rhythm involved – just an incessant, unrhythmic bashing and crashing.
Metaphorically, this is how Paul equates someone who lacks agape love in their lives – an obnoxious bashing and crashing of brass and cymbals.
When it comes to the gift of tongues – a debate that will not be addressed in this article – I imagine that when it was done properly and orderly within the first-century church, when it was desperately needed, that it was a rather beautiful and edifying experience for the body of Christ and for those who would visit.
In both cases – the gift of tongues and instruments of music offered to God in worship – when done properly and orderly, we have what should have been beautiful and joyful encounters for the Lord’s people. But, as Paul explains, even when done in accordance with the will of God, without true agape love, it is as useless “as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2
Powerful from the get-go.
Every gift that believers cherish in their walk with the Lord including prophecy (divinely inspired words), understanding mysteries, knowledge, and faith – all gifts that come from God and His Word – are nothing if not accompanied by true agape love.
Without God’s agape love, we are nothing.
“Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
Everything we do, and say, and think, must be done with the leading of God’s agape love directing our everyday lives.
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:3
Sacrifice for both our Lord and others is also of no value to the believer apart from true agape love. For even the unsaved often seek to “feed the poor,” though theirs is apart from God’s infinite love and is done, ultimately, in an effort at secular self-glory – “Look at how good I am.”
For the believer, however, our motive for giving comfort and aid to the less fortunate should be entirely based on the outflowing of God’s perfect love in our lives. We care and love the unfortunate simply because our Lord loves and cares for the downtrodden, as His perfect agape love flows through us to others by His indwelling Holy Spirit.
“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” – 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
The Greek “to be burned” is καυχήσωμαι “kauchēsōmai” and is used only two other times in 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 2 Corinthians 11:16 where it is translated “I should boast” and “may boast myself,” respectively. The Greek word 2744 καυχάομαι “kauchaomai” is used 38 times, always rendered boast, glory, joy, or rejoice, except here in 1 Corinthians 13:3.
This rendering of “to be burned,” if correct, seems to be metaphorical to the animal sacrificial offerings of fire upon the altar of Israel. When applied to the Christian life, it would picture an individual who was devoted to and delivered over entirely to a continual sacrificial life on behalf of the Lord.
In totality, the child of God seeks to love our brethren and “all men” through sacrificial giving of ourselves and our resources along with the sharing of the gospel through the agape love bestowed upon us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Apart from God’s perfect love, our efforts would be futile – no different than what the unregenerate heart seeks to offer the world for purely selfish motives and earthly rewards.
Reviewing 1 Corinthians 13:2-3
Think about the profoundness of all this. If we “have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though [we] have all faith, so that [we] could remove mountains, and have not charity, [we are] nothing.” If we “bestow all [our] goods to feed the poor, and though [we] give [our] body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth [us] nothing.”
God’s perfect agape love must live within us and emanate from us in all matters and absolutely needs to be the foundation of all we are and all we do. Without this love – even while pursuing godly objectives – God declares that “we are nothing,” and these things – in and of themselves worthy attributes – without agape love, will “profiteth us nothing!”
Just one more unique idiosyncrasy to add to the Christian faith.
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,” – 1 Corinthians 13:4
To be patient and long suffering in this life, just as our Lord was at His First Advent, requires that agape love be front and center.
When we love unconditionally, regardless of any potential cost to ourselves, we are to expect that at times we are bound to get hurt in this fallen world. We therefore need to be always patient and long suffering in our love life. Loving kindness is often not reciprocated, and we should never expect that it should be. This truth, though, should never hinder our pushing forward in loving continuance.
When it comes to love being patient and forbearing, God, as always, is our gold standard!
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” – 2 Peter 3:9
True agape love is never to be administered out of an envious and/or covetous heart – hoping to acquire something in return for our loving others. We desire nothing in return for our unreserved love for others because we expect nothing in return. Godly love is a gift to be given freely to others, without preconditions or expectations, and understood to not be a love exchange program.
Unconditional love can never be associated with a prideful heart; they are diametrically opposed to each other, incompatible, and have no relationship to each other. If one is prideful and full of delusional self-value, true agape love will be found to be absent, as the two cannot coexist.
“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
“[Charity] Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;” – 1 Corinthians 13:5
Unseeming behavior is never to be a characteristic of a child of God as pure unadulterated love can never be expressed in such a way. They are contrary one to the other.
“For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.” – 1 Peter 3:8-11
Worldly love always has at its core a concern for self – it seeks its own satisfaction before the welfare of others, and all in the name of love.
Even Christians, tragically, are susceptible to initiating, what appears to be a loving outreach or expression of love to another, with an underlying explicit intent of getting something in return. How could God’s love within His children ever be expressed in such a way? May it never be.
“Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” – Romans 12:9-10
If one is endowed with the agape love of Christ, that love cannot be easily provoked, caused to irritation, or roused to anger, for perfect love casteth out fear and rebellion in both the giver and, prayerfully, the receiver.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
“And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” – Colossians 3:12-14
“[Charity] Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;” – 1 Corinthians 13:6
The Greek word for “iniquity” is 93 ἀδικία “adikia” and is most often translated “unrighteousness,” and obviously unrighteousness has no part in true, unconditional agape love. Therefore, a Spirit-filled believer, endued with our Lord’s agape love, could never rejoice in such wickedness.
Since God is righteous, His love is righteous, and His love of righteousness should also abide in His redeemed child.
Jesus is The Truth, and therefore we rejoice in Him and His truth – the only truth – and His perfect love for us and others.
It is the truth of Jesus Christ that will be rejected on a grand scale by the lost during the Tribulation that will ultimately lead them to believe The Lie when God sends His “strong delusion.”
“And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12
Observe how both truth and unrighteousness are contrasted in our study verse of 1 Corinthians 13:6 and 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12. The exact same Greek words for truth and unrighteousness (translated iniquity in the KJV of 1 Corinthians 13:6) are used in both passages.
If one rejects The Truth – Jesus Christ – they will inevitability be found unrighteous. When one accepts The Truth – Jesus Christ – and are reborn, they will forever be considered righteous in the eyes of the Father based entirely on what Messiah Yeshua did for them on the cross!
A Spirit-filled believer endowed with the Lord’s infinite agape love will always rejoice in the absolute truth of Jesus Christ and His perfect righteousness, while the unrighteousness of others the Spirit-filled believer endowed with the Lord’s infinite agape love can never and will never rejoice in!
“[Charity] Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:7
In truly loving others with Christ’s perfect love, are you able to “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and endureth all things” in this evil world? I pray we all are able to, because we are all more than capable of victory in these things as the Holy Spirit inspires, leads, and guides our lives.
True agape love is often painful when it “beareth all things.” When a brother or a sister is hurting or struggling with a sin or a tragedy in life, our job concerning this perfect love is to bear it with them.
“With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:2-3
“Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” – Philippians 2:4-5
In our own lives, we also have those same struggles and tragedies, and we need to fully trust our Lord and Savior to give us victory through His mighty love and the fellowship, mentorship, and solid Biblical advice of other righteous believers.
Through God’s perfect agape love, we believe all things found within the Scriptures because our loving Lord and Savior is not only the Creator, but He is also the Word of God incarnate.
We hope for those things we cannot physically see and have absolute trust in the precious promises of God, who cannot lie, through faith and true agape love.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1
Our hope is in God, through Christ Jesus, and His infinite bountiful love.
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” – Romans 5:1-5
Which, of course, leads us to endure all things in God’s agape love.
When it comes to the command to “endureth all things” through God’s perfect love, our Lord and Savior gave us the following promise as we go through our lives for His Name’s sake in a hostile and evil world:
“… ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” – Matthew 10:22
And, of course, through it all, Jesus Christ our Bridegroom, is our blessed hope as we await His appearing for His bride!
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ…” – Titus 2:11-13
“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” – 1 Corinthians 13:8-10
The perfect agape love of Christ never ever fails!
The centuries-long debate concerning this passage is what is “that which is perfect is come.” Some say Christ’s Second Coming, while others have offered alternative views. For me, there is no doubt that Paul is speaking of the completed Holy Scriptures.
For once the Scriptures were completed, and contingent upon whether or not they were or are available for certain peoples and nations, there would be no need for manifestations of tongues, a word of knowledge, and/or prophecy. As Paul says, “… prophecies, they shall fail… tongues, they shall cease… knowledge, it shall vanish away” when “that [the completed Holy Scriptures] is perfect is come.”
We should, however, acknowledge that the Scriptures, once they were completed, did not find their way into every society and culture due to a variety of reasons. There are still people today – thankfully, not many – who do not have access to the Holy Scriptures in their native tongues.
In these unique situations – and this has proven out down through the centuries – then tongues, prophecies (divinely inspired spoken words), and knowledge need to be imparted to these people from the missionaries who are reaching out to them until the Scriptures are available to them in their native tongues. All these gifts, just as they were before the Scriptures were completed, are to confirm the message of the gospel they are hearing, just as was needed as the gospel went out from the church to the world until the Word of God was completed and compiled.
The completed Word of God is the final revelation of God to man and is all any person needs for a fulfilling and fruitful life in Messiah Jesus, being guided and led by the Holy Spirit after conversion!
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11
Spiritual growth begins by desiring at first the sincere milk of the Word and eventually graduating into the meat of the Word of God, being conformed to the very image of Christ as we progress and should be the worthy aim of every man and woman who calls Christ Lord and Savior.
“As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” – 1 Peter 2:2-3
“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” – Hebrews 5:14
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son…” – Romans 8:28-29a
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18
These verses harmonize so well with John’s declaration concerning the resurrection/rapture and our seeing Christ as He is in His glory, and the glory we should receive entirely because of Him at His appearing for His bride.
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” – 1 John 3:2-3
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13
God’s infinitely perfect agape love is always to be the chief characteristic of the child of God as he or she navigates this dark world. This certainly should not surprise us as God’s love is His chief characteristic; a wonderful, all-consuming love that He desires to instill in all of us!
A popular study help when it comes to the Love Chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 is to substitute the Name of Jesus for the word “charity” in the King James, or “love” in other translations, and observe how the chapter reads. When one reads the chapter in this way, there is a profound illumination to the text that cannot otherwise be seen. After all, as we noted at the beginning of this study, Jesus is God, and God is love.
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” – 1 John 4:16
Love is what Messiah Jesus is all about when it comes to salvation and a believer’s walk that is worthy of Him, His grace, and His glory.
Love is what Yeshua taught His disciples and commanded of all of us:
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13
Peter echoed our Lord’s commandment:
“And above all things have fervent charity [agape love] among yourselves: for charity [agape love] shall cover the multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8
And Paul confirmed what Christ had said regarding the Law:
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” – Romans 13:10
Perfect agape love for the LORD and others is to be the greatest, most vital, and essential characteristic to be found in the lives and hearts of the children of God. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Here are three additional resources to help encourage the believer in their love life.
The Love of God: Knowing the infinite love of God is essential to understanding and applying true agape love to one’s life. Since God’s perfect agape love is to be the first and foremost characteristic that should emanate from His redeemed children, it behooves the child of God to comprehend exactly what this love should look like — for God is love, and this love is manifested for us in Jesus Christ, the only begotten and beloved Son of God, and this same love is given to us who believe.
The Challenge of Forgiveness: When we know The Love of God, and allow His love to flow into us, through us, and out of us, we are able to meet The Challenge of Forgiveness.
How’s Your Prayer Life?: Prayer, along with daily study of God’s Word, is our only means of communication and fellowship with our Creator, Savior, Redeemer, and Lord. Yet, sadly, prayer tends to be neglected to certain degrees by each and every one of us in the body of Christ. In this study, we offer practical and tangible tools to encourage a greater prayer life for the child of God.
All three of these extremely important topics – the love of God, forgiveness, and prayer – are all intrinsically linked together for the believer when it comes to their individual love life. One cannot forgive without love, prayer is ineffective without forgiveness, and agape love can never truly manifest itself without fervent prayer and intimate fellowship with our Creator, Savior, Redeemer, and Lord.
Taken together, our prayer for the body of Christ is that all our love lives will be powerfully, fruitfully, and effectively demonstrated throughout our individual spheres of influence as we serve in God’s Salvation Kingdom as representatives and ambassadors of our mighty King, Lord, and Savior.
So, as I often ask myself, I ask you, “How’s Your Love Life?”
Love, grace, mercy, and shalom in Messiah Yeshua, and Maranatha!
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