1 Corinthians 13:1-13
First Corinthians 13 is dynamite. It explodes every myth humanity has ever bought about spirituality.
As we saw last time, Paul holds out three models of super-spirituality: the ecstatic worshipper, the profound prophet and the stoic do-gooder. And he then detonates a bomb under each of them. None of these super-saints are anything if they don’t have love. Love is the source and substance of the Christian life.
Well then, what is this love of which Paul speaks? In the second paragraph (verses 4-8), we will see that the love we must have is completely beyond us!
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
In verse 4 we read that love “suffereth long and is kind.” That’s an amazing combination. Some of us can do grim-faced patience… but it’s not kind. Some of us can do superficial sweetness… but it’s short-lived. Can you do longsuffering and kindness? Together?
Patience is a key element to the love Paul speaks of. He begins this paragraph with it and also ends with it: “Charity never faileth.”
Love puts up with constant frustration, constant interruption, constant set-back, constant opposition. But in the midst of all that: Love never fails.
I sometimes think I’m loving – until someone asks of me just one thing too many. Or I’m serving one person, and suddenly another need comes from elsewhere. At that point, I’m tempted to snap at them: “Go away! Don’t you realise I’m being loving over here?!”
Then in verse 4 Paul begins speaking of what love is not. And of course everything that love is not, the Corinthians are. Paul knows that the Corinthians are envying, boastful, puffed up, etc, etc. And, if we’re honest, so are we.
We manage both to envy and to vaunt (verse 4). It should be impossible to be both, but somehow we manage it! We have feelings of inferiority and superiority simultaneously. We are able to think both: “I’m better than everyone” and at the same time think “It’s not fair, I wish I was like them!”
And this is the polar opposite of love. Love is so consumed with the other person it is simply not interested in inferiority or superiority. Love doesn’t think more of yourself, or less of itself, it just thinks of itself less! When love is flourishing, vaunting and envy are non-issues. But vaunting and envy are huge issues for us, so what does that say about us?
Verse 5 speaks of not being easily provoked. How do we fare at that one?
We all think we’re easy-going until we’re wronged. Then we see just how self-seeking we are. We snap, we’re rude, we get angry and we keep score. That’s what we’re like. What would it be like to never be rude, never self-seeking, not easily angered, to never keep a record of wrong or bear a grudge. That’s what love is.
How do you compare to verse 6? Do you ever wish evil on your opponents? Do you ever wish you could bend or hide or side-line the truth because it’s inconvenient? Love never does that.
And what about verse 7 – our famous saying for today? It’s a lovely sentiment isn’t it. Love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Wonderful! But do you? Do you bear, believe, hope and endure through all times and in all circumstances? Be honest!
But this puts us onto something vital in this chapter. Consider the way Paul is describing love.
Superficially, it may look like ‘charity’ is an abstract noun with a lot of adjectives attached. But look again.
“Charity” here is a concrete, living thing that performs certain actions. Love is a power with a life of its own. Love is a Person.
But He’s not you. And He’s not me. So who is He?
The night before Jesus died, He entered a garden called Gethsemane and agonized in prayer. His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He was sweating blood as He faced the prospect of the cross. It was, for Jesus, a cup of suffering too terrible to contemplate. And yet if He did not drink down the furious anger of God, we would have to. The dilemma was this – either Jesus goes to hell or we do. And in that garden Jesus said ‘Let it be me.’
You see, “Jesus suffereth long, He is kind; He envieth not; He vaunteth not Himself. He is not puffed up. Christ doth not behave Himself unseemly, He seeketh not His own, is not easily provoked, and thinketh no evil. Our Lord rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; He beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Jesus never faileth.”
We often think of the question ‘What is love?’ Perhaps a better question is: Who is love?
Love is a Person. A Person who first has loved you.
1 John 4:19 sums up an absolutely fundamental bible truth: “We love God because He first loved us.” Love is a Person, who has acted for you. He has done verses 4-7 for you. Therefore we are on the receiving end of this love.
Love is first something done to you. And then love is something done in … and through you.
That’s why verses 1-3 talk about having love or not having love. It’s one or the other. Do you have love or don’t you? That’s the big question for Paul. He does not ask: How loving are you on a scale of 1-10? Paul’s interest – the Holy Spirit’s interest – is in one thing: Do you have Love? There is a Person called Love, His name is Jesus and He has loved you incredibly.
Do you have Love?