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Third Millennium Study Bible
Notes on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is . . . love does not . . . love is not. . . love keeps not . . . love does not ... love always ... - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Paul's description does not reduce love to simply sentiments or actions. Each term describes emotion as well as behavior. To conceive of Christian love as mere feeling or mere action is to contradict Paul's definition. See WLC 147; WSC 80.

Here, Pratt explains the fourteen characteristics of love that Paul describes:

1 Corinthians 13:4. Paul's deep concern for the unity of the church at Corinth caused him to address several aspects of Christian love. The first quality Paul listed was love is patient.

Patience is a quality of love that the New Testament frequently mentions by this or closely related terminology. It signifies forbearance, slowness to repay for offenses. God is patient because he does not immediately punish those who offend him. God's patience slows down the judgment process and opens the way for reprieve from punishment altogether. Believers should behave similarly because of their love for one another.

One must be careful to distinguish patience from indifference. Patience bears with an offense, but indifference ignores it altogether. When an offense takes place that is harmful or destructive to oneself or to others, it must not be entirely overlooked. Paul, for instance, loved the Corinthians. He patiently bore with them and worked with them slowly and carefully to edify them and honor Christ.

Love is kind. The term kindness (chrestotes) appears many times in Paul's epistles. It is connected with patience again in Galatians 5:22, apparently because these concepts are similar. Paul's distinction between patience and kindness was probably similar to that of English speakers. Patience has a more temporal focus, while kindness refers to the manner in which a person treats others.

Kindness takes many forms. In general, it is soft and gentle. Occasionally, however, kindness must take the form of a careful rebuke designed to bring about a good result. Paul demonstrated this as he dealt kindly, but firmly, with the Corinthians. Jesus' own life demonstrated such kindness (Luke 13:15-17).

Love does not envy. One may admire another for something that person is or has, and he may desire many of the same good things for himself. Jealousy and envy begin when admiration and desire turn to resentment of others for what they have. They are the attitudinal roots of many terrible actions in the world. The Bible illustrates this time and again. To envy is not to display the love of Christ, who gave up all for the sake of others (Phil. 2:3-8).

Love does not boast. Paul's word for "boast" (perpereuomai) appears only here in the New Testament, and infrequently in the rest of hellenistic literature. The meaning seems to be "bragging without foundation," and may also encompass sinful acts that Paul elsewhere called kauchaomai. The NIV also translates kauchaomai as "boast," but kauchaomai does not always carry a negative connotation.

At the same time, loving other people does not mean failing to acknowledge the good God has done in oneself and in others. Paul was not beyond complimenting the Corinthians. He even asserted his own standing on occasion. Love does not mean lying about human accomplishments. Rather, it means not exalting ourselves over others as if our accomplishments were based on our own merit and ability.

Love is not proud. To be proud is to be overly self-confident or insubordinate to God and others. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments condemn pride as the source of much destruction and pain in the world. When one cares about other people, he does not find himself full of self-importance or arrogance toward others.

Unfortunately, many Christians avoid pride so studiously that they deprecate themselves. Whether in ourselves or others, the image of God must be held in high regard. Pride reproaches other images of God. Self-hatred reproaches oneself as the image of God.

1 Corinthians 13:5. Love is not rude. Paul at least expressed the need to follow customary decorum. The definitions of "rude" vary from culture to culture. At the heart of rudeness is a disregard for the social customs that others have adopted. When one does not concern himself with the likes and dislikes of others, he shows a disrespect for them. Proper regard, on the other hand, indicates love for other people.

Nevertheless, love does not always require a person to go along with the crowd. When the customs of a culture contradict the higher ideals of the Christian faith, it is not unloving to break these social mores. In fact, it may actually show Christlike love to break with such cultural norms. For instance, every loving Christian bears the responsibility to break the customs that perpetuate racial discrimination.

Love is not self-seeking. Paul probably had in mind here the practice of always putting oneself in first place without due consideration of others. Many situations in life call upon Christians to choose between benefit to themselves and to others. The loving person puts the benefit of others over his or her own good. Paul exemplified this practice when he refused to receive money for his work as an apostle (1 Cor. 9:6-15). Jesus' humiliation was the greatest expression of putting others' benefit above one's own (Phil. 2:4-8).

It is also important to realize that this practice does not mean ignoring one's own legitimate needs. Jesus himself withdrew from the crowds for his own benefit, sometimes just to get away and other times to pray (Luke 5:16; 22:41).

Love is not easily angered. The NIV probably catches the sense of Paul's expression even though the text says nothing explicit about the ease with which one becomes angry. Those who love others do not normally become irritated and angry whenever others do wrong, but rather are slow to anger. They are patient.

Still, there are times when anger is appropriate. Paul himself became angry when he saw the idols of Athens (Acts 17:16). Luke described him with the same word Paul used here (paroxunomai). Even Jesus became angry when he saw people's hardness of heart (Mark 3:5) and the money changers in the temple (John 2:14-17). We must never allow an avoidance of anger to become indifference to the suffering of others or to the honor of God.

Love keeps no record of wrongs. People who love others do not keep meticulous records of offenses. They offer forgiveness time and again. Both Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen (Acts 7:60) demonstrated this type of love by forgiving the people who put them to death.

But Paul did not speak absolutely here. With no record of offenses, one cannot help others with many of their problems. Paul received reports on the wrongdoings in the Corinthian church. Someone had to keep a record in order to give him these reports. Yet, the purpose of the records was restorative, not vengeful or begrudging.

1 Corinthians 13:6. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Paul juxtaposed evil and truth in this description of love. This contrast suggests that the term truth means something like "living according to the truth." In other words, those who truly love do not enjoy seeing their loved ones stumble into evil. They rejoice when their loved ones try to live according to the truth of the gospel. Sin destroys people's lives, so to rejoice in their sin is to rejoice in their destruction.

1 Corinthians 13:7. Love always protects. Major English Bible versions translate the term "protects" (stego) very differently from one another. The word can mean "to endure" or "to cover, protect." If Paul had in mind the concept of endurance, he meant that love bears with many offenses and does not stop loving even under the strain of difficulties imposed by others, even going so far as to love enemies (Luke 6:27). If he had in mind the concept of covering, then he may have meant that love will not seek to expose the sins of others. Love handles the sins of others in ways that will not bring exposure or shame.

It is evident that Paul limited such endurance or protection. For example, he instructed Timothy that "those who sin are to be rebuked publicly" (1 Tim. 5:20). Likewise, he called public attention to the strife between Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2). He commanded the Corinthians to stop tolerating the man who had his father's wife (1 Cor. 5:1-13). Wisdom is required to know when and how to protect or to expose, and love always tends to protect.

Love always trusts. Perhaps this characteristic of love is best expressed in contemporary English idiom as: "Love gives the benefit of the doubt." Suspicion and doubt toward others do not indicate affection or love. On the contrary, when someone loves with Christlike love, he entrusts himself to the person he loves time and again. Still, love does not demand that a person trust even when the basis for trust has been destroyed. Love does not give the "benefit" when there is no "doubt." In these circumstances trust is folly. Yet, the general practice of those who love is to trust the good intentions of others as much as possible.

Love always hopes. Loving someone requires maintaining a measure of optimism on that person's behalf. Hope is an attitude that good will eventually come to those who may now be failing. Failure invades every Christian's life, and it often causes others to give up on the one who fails. Yet, Christians who love continue to hope for the best. This optimism encourages others to keep moving forward. This hope is based not on the Christian, but on Christ. The hope of each Christian is that Christ will preserve him to glory. When a brother falls, it is Christ who picks him up and makes him stand (Rom. 14:4). Christ is the one who promised to finish the work he began. Optimism can also become foolishness and wishful thinking. For example, Paul did not believe that the incestuous man at Corinth would repent without undergoing church discipline.

Love always perseveres. Loving someone is easy when the other person does not challenge one's affections by offending or failing. Love's quality becomes evident when it must endure trials. The New Testament encourages Christians to persevere in their Christian walks (1 John 5:2-5). Here Paul had in mind particularly the need to persevere in love for others. Christians should look to the length and perseverance of Christ's love as the standard for their own.

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