Loving God, Loving People – Part 6, What Is Love – 1 Corinthians 13:1-8

Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
5/2/04

Last weekend Carolyn and I had the privilege of attending a parenting conference and it was refreshing to hear solid Biblical principles explained that help us in our role as parents. The main speaker at the conference is a former pastor and also served as the state representative for many years for churches in our fellowship in the state of Indiana. He has a great deal of Biblical counseling experience and now heads up an organization that trains pastors and lay people to counsel Biblically. He mentioned how one time when he was counseling a mother seeking guidance, she made the statement, “I love my child too much to spank him.” His reply to her was that, “someone is lying—either you aren’t telling the truth or the Bible isn’t telling the truth. He then showed her from God’s Word Proverbs 13:24.

He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.

The Bible says just the opposite of what this woman was saying. If you love your son you’ll discipline him promptly. And if you won’t discipline him promptly you do not love him but you hate him. We’re told in God’s word that those that God loves, He chastens. Love is not allowing my child to do whatever he pleases. Love is caring enough about my child’s welfare to correct his behavior when needed.

That’s not how our society defines love. Our society defines loving as being tolerant in a way that means that we never call sin, sin. Some would say that it’s not loving to claim that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth the life while excluding other religions as a way to God.

Our society often has other mistaken notions about love. It’s something you “fall in” and “out” of. It’s an emotional response that you can’t control. You can’t help it if you don’t love somebody. You have no control over your emotions and therefore no control over who you’re going to love. You can’t help it if you no longer love your spouse.

I’m here to warn you that man’s opinion is not important when it comes to defining love. What is important is how God defines love and how He expects us to love others.

This morning as we continue in the Loving God, Loving People series, we’re going to answer the question, “What is love?” Our basis for this series is found in Matthew 22:34-40. Jesus stated in verse 37 that the first and greatest commandment was to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Then in verse 39 He said that, “the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' ”

We’ve discussed in previous weeks who our neighbor is and how we are to love our neighbor and today as we answer the question “what is love?” we’ll be looking at 1 Corinthians 13:1-8.

13:1  Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2  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, but have not love, I am nothing. 3  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. 4  Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5  does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6  does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. v8  Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

As we examine this passage to determine what love really is we’re going to first see Love’s Priority in verses 1-3 and then we’ll see Love’s Practice in verses 4-7 and then Love’s Permanence in verse 8.

If we were to do a careful study of the book of 1 Corinthians we would notice that the Corinthian church was full of problems and strife. In previous chapters Paul addresses many of the failures and problems of this church. In chapter 13 there is a beautiful description of love that is very practical and helpful. Love was something that the Corinthian church was lacking and needed. And love is something that we need to practice at Higgins Lake Baptist Church if we are going to be a church that truly is characterized by Loving God, Loving People.

The word for love that’s used in this passage is the Greek word, agape. I think John MacArthur’s explanation of agape is very helpful,

Agape (love) is one of the rarest words in ancient Greek literature, but one of the most common in the New Testament. Unlike our English love, it never refers to romantic or sexual love, for which eros was used, and which does not appear in the New Testament. Nor does it refer to mere sentiment, a pleasant feeling about something or someone. It does not mean close friendship or brotherly love, for which philia is used. Nor does agape mean charity, a term the King James translators carried over from the Latin and which in English has long been associated only with giving to the needy. This chapter is itself the best definition of agape. 1

As MacArthur notes, “this chapter itself is the best definition of agape” and if we are to understand how we are to love others the way God wants us to love them, we find that this is a good place to look. Paul lays out some very practical instruction showing us how we are to love others.

First let’s look at Love’s Priority (1-3)

In the first 3 verses Paul makes the case for the importance of love. In the previous chapter Paul has been discussing spiritual gifts, which include the gift of tongues. The gift of tongues was considered a very important gift by the Corinthian church. He refers to tongues in verse one. The word though in the NKJV is translated, if in the NASB. The word “if” is probably a better translation because what Paul is doing is making a hypothetical case here and the word if communicates that more clearly than the word though. He is saying, “imagine this is the case.” If it were possible for me to speak in the tongues of men and angels but I’m lacking in love, Paul says, I am like a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And sounding brass is translated “noisy gong” in the NASB.

Think about a noisy gong or someone clanging cymbals over and over again. These instruments when played at just the right point in a well-written piece of music can be part of an enjoyable sound. Separate them from the other musical instruments and play them solo and it won’t be long until they are irritating to hear. If you could be the most gifted speaker of tongues that ever lived and you didn’t have love, you’d be like that noisy gong or clanging cymbal. This was something that hit close to home to the Corinthian church. They prized the gift of tongues but Paul is showing them how meaningless that is apart from love.

He moves on in verse two and uses another hypothetical example to stress the priority that love needs to have in our lives.

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, but have not love, I am nothing.

Paul mentions more spiritual gifts. He mentions the gift of prophecy and faith. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge but don’t have love, I am nothing. If my faith is so strong that I can remove mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing.

I remember listening to a Christian speaker one time that I really enjoyed hearing. I had listened to him preach on the radio many times and respected his teaching of the God’s Word. He’s a respected Christian leader, and is widely known. He has a thorough understanding of God’s Word and can make it come alive for you as he teaches. I had the privilege of meeting this man in person at a conference once and I remember speaking with him briefly and being disappointed with the impression I got of him in person. He didn’t come across as being very warm or personable face to face. Now I don’t know the man personally so he certainly could have been having a bad day. We all have those.

But there have been other speakers like this man that I’ve enjoyed hearing and then having the opportunity to speak with them in person has been a good experience. They’ve been warm and friendly and down to earth.

What verse two is saying is that the most knowledgeable theologian you can think of isn’t going to be very impressive if he’s lacking in love.  Love must be the priority. It’s more important than the greatest spiritual gift.

I can be a person of great faith but if I don’t have love, I’m nothing. Faith is a wonderful gift but it’s meaningless without love.

Paul moves on in verse 3 to give his final examples of hypothetical situations that stress the priority of love.

3  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Paul is saying that even if I’m so generous that I give everything I have so that poor people can be fed, if I do it without love it’s of no benefit to me. Even if I give my body to be burned if it’s done without love I’m not gaining anything from it. Giving away all I have or even giving up my life are both sacrificial acts. But what good are these acts to me if I don’t do them in love? Imagine the rude awakening that was in store for the men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They thought they were going to reap a reward for their actions. They sacrificed their lives but it was done without love, and of course we understand that apart from Christ no one can truly love anyway, but their giving of their lives was of no profit to them.

We can do some things that might look pretty impressive to others but if we do them without love it’s meaningless. We can be in church every time the doors are open, give faithfully, know God’s Word inside and out but if we are lacking in love we are missing the point! Paul establishes in the first 3 verses of chapter 13 how important love is in the life of a believer. It has to be our top priority. We must love God and love people. After establishing the priority of love, Paul moves on to explain how we can practice love.

What are some practical ways we can show others we love them? The practice of love is addressed in verses 4-7.

Love’s Practice (4-7)

The first quality of love we see in verse 4 is that love is patient. If you are loving others as you should you are going to be patient with them.

For us men our patience may be tested when we shop with our wives. I’m one who likes to go find what I need, purchase it and be done with it. Meijers has to be one of the most frustrating stores for me. Whenever I’ve shopped at a Meijers store I think through ahead of time what I’m going in for. If it’s food I want to park near the end of the store that has the grocery store. If it’s clothing, or hardware or a sporting good I need the other end of the building. I’m in and out and I really like the way you can check yourself out when I’m in a hurry. What really irritates me about Meijers is that their stores all look the same from the outside but you never know which end of the building the food is at or the clothing is at. And when I’ve never been to a particular store before I usually guess wrong and end up walking half a mile to the other end of the store and then another half mile back the end of the store where I parked the car.

Carolyn could care less. My wife likes to go and browse and look and look and look. I’ve caught myself mindlessly following her around the same rack of clothing about three times. And I’ve learned that when my wife is looking for clothing for herself or the family I’m best off to find a spot to stand and just stay there ‘til she’s done.

What is it that tries your patience? Are we patient with others at times like that or do we get testy?

We are so quick to grow impatient with others. We do it in the church. Maybe someone else isn’t as far along in an area of spiritual growth as we are. We forget that it took time for us to get to the point where we are and expect them to just grow up quickly and we grow impatient with their lack of progress. We need to understand that God is patient with us and we need to be patient with each other.

Robert Ingersoll, the well-known atheist of the last century, often would stop in the middle of his lectures against God and say, “I’ll give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I’ve said.” He then used the fact that he was not struck dead as proof that God did not exist. Theodore Parker said of Ingersoll’s claim, “And did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the eternal God in five minutes?” 2

In verse four, we see that love is kind. We are kind when we do good to others. We are kind when we serve others and do good things for them.

It’s been written of Abraham Lincoln that,

Despite his busy schedule during the Civil War, [he] often visited the hospitals to cheer the wounded. On one occasion he saw a young fellow who was near death. “Is there anything I can do for you?” asked the compassionate President. “Please write a letter to my mother,” came the reply. Unrecognized by the soldier, the Chief Executive sat down and wrote as the youth told him what to say.

The letter read, “My Dearest Mother, I was badly hurt while doing my duty, and I won’t recover. Don’t sorrow too much for me. May God bless you and Father. Kiss Mary and John for me.” The young man was too weak to go on, so Lincoln signed the letter for him and then added this postscript: “Written for your son by Abraham Lincoln.”

Asking to see the note, the soldier was astonished to discover who had shown him such kindness. “Are you really our President?” he asked. “Yes,” was the quiet answer. “Now, is there anything else I can do?” The lad feebly replied, “Will you please hold my hand? I think it would help to see me through to the end.” The tall, gaunt man granted his request, offering warm words of encouragement until death stole in with the dawn. 3

Lincoln showed real kindness to this dying young man. If we are going to love others in a way that pleases God we must be kind to others. For most of us loving others and being kind needs to begin in the home. It’s at home that it’s easiest to be unkind, with people we’ve lived with for years and who know all our faults. Are we kind to our wives? Wives are you kind to your husbands? Are we kind to our children? Do we insist that our children and grandchildren are kind to each other? Are we doing things that are helpful to others? Are we doing things that will benefit and please the other people in our lives? Maybe you have a cart full of groceries and the guy behind you only has one item. Do you treat him kindly and let him go ahead of you in the line? Are we generally known for our kindness to others?

There’s another example in verse four—love does not envy. It doesn’t envy and it’s not jealous of others. How do you feel when someone else gets a new car and you’re driving an old one? How do you feel when someone else gets a raise and you’re struggling to get along? How do you feel when someone else gets a promotion and you’ve been stuck in the same job for years? How do you feel when someone gets a new house and you’re struggling to keep up with the repairs on your old house?  How do you feel when you’re around a couple deeply in love and enjoying a strong marriage when yours is faltering? How do you feel when the kid next-door graduates top in the class and your child is struggling to make C’s?

Love doesn’t envy others. If you love others you’ll be happy for them when they experience blessing. You won’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself because you don’t have what they have. You won’t complain about their good fortune but you’ll rejoice with them. When we don’t love others as we should we’ll be filled with envy and jealousy.

The next phrase—does not parade itself—means love doesn’t boast or brag. Have you ever been around someone who is always bragging or boasting about how great they are? If we love others we’re not going to sit around bragging about our perfect kids or our healthy bank account or our impressive education or our wonderful talents. Instead of talking about ourselves we’ll be more interested in learning about other people.

And verse 4 tells us that love is not puffed up—it’s not arrogant or proud.

William Carey, often referred to as the father of modern missions, was a brilliant linguist, responsible for translating parts of the Bible into no fewer than 34 different languages and dialects. He had been raised in a simple home in England and in his early manhood worked as a cobbler. In India he often was ridiculed for his “low” birth and former occupation. At a dinner party one evening a snob said, “I understand, Mister Carey, that you once worked as a shoemaker.” “Oh no, your lordship,” Carey replied, “I was not a shoemaker, only a shoe repairman.” 4

How easy it is for us to be the opposite of Carey who displayed humility. We get proud of our own spirituality and we look down on others who haven’t arrived like we have. If we love others we are not going to have a puffed up view of ourselves. We’re going to have a healthy perspective that recognizes that apart from God’s grace we could be in the same desperate state of sin as our neighbor. We won’t be puffed up with our own accomplishments while looking down on others that we think aren’t as polished and special as we are. We won’t be haughty and thinking we’re better than others. Love is not puffed up.

In verse 5 we see that love does not behave rudely. I think we’d all agree that it’s important that our children learn some manners and learn how to treat others properly. We live in a very rude society. Love isn’t rude. We should never be rude to others. MacArthur makes an important observation about not behaving rudely.

Many Christians have forfeited the opportunity for witnessing by rudeness to an unbeliever who offends them by a habit the Christian considers improper. As with Simon, sometimes our attitude and behavior in the name of righteousness are more improper, and less righteous, than some of the things we criticize.

Love is much more than being gracious and considerate, but it is never less. To the extent that our living is ungracious and inconsiderate it is also unloving and unChristian. Self-righteous rudeness by Christians can turn people away from Christ before they have a chance to hear the gospel. The messenger can become a barrier to the message. If people do not see the “gentleness of Christ” ( 2 Cor. 10:1 ) clearly in us, they are less likely to see Him clearly in the gospel we preach. 5

Next we see that love does not seek its own. What that means is that real love is not selfish or self-serving. It doesn’t demand to have its own way. This is a message we in the church must practice if we truly desire to accomplish great things for the Lord with the Lord’s strength and blessing. How important it is that we not be selfish in the church. We should never have the attitude ”it’s my way or the highway.” Even if everything isn’t done just the way you’d like, be willing to serve and participate. Not everyone can have their own way in the body of Christ.

Don’t go around demanding that things always be done your way in your marriage. The universe doesn’t revolve around you and your feelings and your desires so don’t act like it does.

Also in verse 5—love is not provoked. This ties in with love not seeking its own—being selfish and self-seeking. When we are self-seeking and always looking out for ourselves and expecting things to be done our way, we’re going to be provoked when others trample on our self-perceived rights. Love doesn’t get angry with others because they aren’t doing things the way we want them done. If you are an angry person and always finding yourself upset with others, you are not loving them the way God wants you to love them. If I’m always angry with my wife and children and chewing them out they’re going to have a hard time believing I really love them. If I’m always getting angry with other people in the church they’re going to have a hard time believing that I love them. And if I’m angry with that acquaintance who needs Christ they’re going to find it hard to believe that I love them and they’ll find it hard to believe that God loves them. Love is not provoked.

Verse 5 closes with, love thinks no evil. In the NASB it’s translated, “does not take into account a wrong suffered,” and in the NIV, “it keeps no record of wrongs”.

Are you a list keeper? Do you keep track of the ways others have offended you or wronged you? Do you hold grudges? How about in your marriage? In the heat of a disagreement do you have a mental checklist and refer to it and say, “remember when you did…?” If you love others you’re going to be forgiving of others. You’re not going to hold past offenses against them but you will truly forgive and promise to forget.

Verse 6 says that love does not rejoice in iniquity. We should not rejoice in the sin of others. Yet we often do. Take gossip for example. MacArthur says,

One of the most common forms of rejoicing in sin is gossip. Gossips would do little harm if they did not have so many eager listeners. This sin, which many Christians treat lightly, is wicked not only because it uncaringly reveals the weaknesses and sins of others, and therefore hurts rather than helps them, but because the heart of gossip is rejoicing in evil. Gossip that is true is still gossip. It is the way unfavorable truth is passed on, and often simply the fact that it is passed on, that makes gossip gossip. It has been defined as vice enjoyed vicariously. The essence of gossip is gloating over the shortcomings and sins of others, which makes gossip a great sin itself. A person is never helped by spreading the news of his sin. 6

Don’t kid yourself either. Listening to it is just as bad as spreading it. A person can’t gossip if you refuse to listen.

In contrast verse 6 says that love rejoices in the truth. Love is not going to compromise the truth. It’s going to rejoice in it. If I preach a sermon just to please my listeners and water down God’s Word I am failing to rejoice in the truth and I’m not acting in a loving way. If I’m too afraid to share with others their need for Christ I’m not loving them as I should. If we love others we will not be afraid to rejoice in the truth. We’re not going to water down God’s Word just to please others because that really isn’t love. Love rejoices in the truth and is unashamed of the truth. If we rejoice in the truth as a church we may not be the fastest growing church around but we should be a healthy church, pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight.

Now look at verse 7. Love bears all things. Literally this means, love covers all things. You’re not going around exposing other’s faults all the time.

Love believes all things. You believe the best about others when you love them.

Love hopes all things. You don’t give up on the people you love.

Love endures all things. It perseveres. It hangs tough through the trying times.

Love is a priority and we see here some practical ways of demonstrating love to others.

Paul also shows us the permanence of love in verse 8.

Love’s Permanence (8)

8  Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

Love never fails. Love will last for eternity. It will never end. Why is it so important that we make love a priority? Because God has commanded us to love each other and love is permanent.

If you were to insert your name in place of the word love in these verses, how truthful would the statements be? Our lives should be characterized by this kind of love for one another. It’s not possible for us to love each other like this if we’ve never trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We have to love God properly before we can love others and that’s possible only after we admit that we are a sinner and believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and accept His free gift of salvation.

If you are a believer today and you’ve realized that your love for others is lacking I urge you to confess that sin to the Lord. Ask Him to help you grow in your love for others. None of us have arrived. We can all be more loving in the way we treat others. Let’s be obedient to God’s Word and love others in the way love is described in 1 Corinthians 13. None of our excuses are valid in God’s eyes for failing to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Are you loving God and loving people today? Are we as a church loving God and loving People? Let’s commit ourselves to be characterized by the kind of love God expects from us.


1 (MacArthur, J. F. ,The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians (electronic ed.))
2 Ibid
3 Source Unkown
4 (MacArthur, J. F. ,The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians (electronic ed.))
5 Ibid
6 Ibid