1 Corinthians chapter thirteen is one of the most recognized in the Bible. It is used in many different settings. But, to understand this chapter in its fullest measure, you must keep in mind that it is part of a whole. The apostle Paul writes this chapter in concert with what he has been teaching throughout the letter. Although we can learn a lot from chapter thirteen by studying it on its own, it is best understood if it is not separated from the chapter before it and after it. If we study it in context, we understand that Paul is teaching us that love is the greatest evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit and that without love, gifts of the Spirit don’t accomplish the purpose for which they are given.
Understanding this chapter requires a basic understanding of the Greek words for “love”. You see, unlike English which has one word for “love”, the Greek language has several words to define “love”. Let’s remind ourselves of what type of love is being spoken of in this chapter.
The Greek word for “love” being used here was a seldom used word in Greek writings of this time. It is the word “agape”. It was seldom used because it was not a prominent part of man’s day by day life until the coming of Jesus. Basically, the word “agape” can be translated to mean this:
An undefeatable benevolence that seeks the highest good of the other person, no matter what he does. It gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider the worth of its object. It is love by choice rather than by chance or emotion.
This does not mean that “agape” love does not feel emotion, it simply means that it transcends emotion. If emotions fade, it remains active. This is the type of love God gives to us through Jesus Christ. This is the type of love we have received and, therefore give to others. Paul is teaching that everything that we do, including the release of personal spiritual gifts in ministry operate in love. Any other motivation for the release of gifts is based in selfishness and is not to be tolerated.
The Bible then goes on to give us some characteristics of the love that operates among us.
Let’s look at them:
- Endures long and is patient – this is a patience with people rather than circumstances.
- Kind – doesn’t just suffer long but does so while maintaining acts of benevolence to the other person.
- Never seeks harm for those who are succeeding in areas that the giver is working toward.
- Never puts on an air of superiority or carries an inflated view of self.
- Its actions are graceful and mannerly.
- It never compares to others due to its security.
- Keeps no record of wrongs done – this is a bookkeeping term.
- Delights in justice and truth for its object.
- Rather than reflect weakness, it projects a strength founded in God’s ability to transform adverse circumstances.
Agape love is one of the three most powerful motivations in the world along with faith and hope, but is actually the greatest because it will be the one which lasts forever. Faith will become sight one day and hope will be fulfilled but love will endure throughout eternity.
What does love look like in your church? Without love, the church is a body without a skeleton.
What does love look like in your life? Do you want people to see Jesus? Love them and they will!!