For many Christians, love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13. This well-known passage of Scripture reveals the true meaning of love. It is beautifully and poetically written, and so often quoted and held up as our standard. But what kind of love is 1 Corinthians 13 talking about? Does it have a relevant message for us today?
Love is 1 Corinthians 13
1 Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings to inspire true love at the beginning of a lifelong relationship. But these verses are not actually speaking to romantic love between a couple but to the bonds of love within the body of Christ – between the members of the church.
This passage of Scripture is part of a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. He was writing to them because he had heard disturbing reports about their behavior and conduct. The letter attempts to address many of these issues.
The context of 1 Corinthians 13 is found in the previous chapter where the Corinthian church was focusing on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They were valuing the expressible visible gifts that built up the individual person. But all the gifts, and in particular those less visible, have a value in God’s sight. They are given to build up and strengthen the whole church.
The apostle Paul then goes on to declare that whatever the gifts are, and however much we value them, they are meaningless unless they function in love. There is no lasting value and nothing to gain if we are motivated by self-promotion or ambition. It is from this viewpoint that we move into the 1 Corinthians 13 meaning of love.
“Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”1 Corinthians 12:31
What Greek Word for Love is Used in 1 Corinthians 13?
There are four words for love in Greek, only two of which appear in the New Testament Scriptures. Philia is the Greek word for the esteem, affection, and loving concern that friends have for one another. The second word for love is Agape, based on the description of God’s love in another famous passage of Scripture:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16
For Christians, agape love reflects the conscious decision to serve God and to love one another. This is a sacrificial love, a love that does not expect anything in return. Agape love depends on the character of the one giving love and not the worthiness of the one receiving love!
What Kind of Love is 1 Corinthians 13 Talking About?
The Greek word for love in 1 Corinthians 13 is agape. In the KJV this word is translated as charity, although all more recent translations use love. Charity implies benevolence, the love that shows itself through kind actions.
The first three verses of I Corinthians 13 clarify the point that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are only effective through love. Without love, they are empty and meaningless. Even if we give all that we have but withhold God’s love, it has no value in God’s sight.
God examines the motivation of our hearts. He demands our hearts, our undivided love, and our commitment to Him. Out of the overflow of our love for God comes the love for one another. This is love that does, that is willing to act for, or on behalf of, another person!
1 Corinthians 13 Love is Patient
Love is 1 Corinthians 13, and the definition of love begins with patience which is telling. The amplified translation says endures with patience and serenity, maybe looking back to the KJV which uses the phrase ‘charity suffereth long.’ This is the aspect of love that endures provocation without resentment. Love that is consistent, unchanging, and an echo of God’s grace.
Bible Gateway: 1 Corinthians 13 KJV
Love is Patient Love is Kind 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”1 Corinthians 13:4-8
The second positive attribute of love listed here is kindness. Love is patient, love is kind…
Sometimes we think that patience is tested, and learned, in the long wait – and often it is. But it is also daily in the ‘bearing with one another’ moments, in showing small acts of kindness. It is there that loving patience is demonstrated for all to see.
It is in our everyday interactions that time spent with Jesus is revealed. We may appreciate and celebrate the extravagant gesture, but they are empty without the small kindnesses!
Time spent in the word and prayer, absorbing God’s love, enables us to love one another. More time spent in God’s presence results in more patience with one another.
Jesus took the time for those that others would dismiss or overlook. He stopped by to engage with a man who knew he was despised by most people – He even went to his house for tea. Jesus reached out to those that society had rejected, those on the edge who had nothing to offer. And He only moved on after He had blessed them all.
1 Corinthians 13 Explanation
The agape love of 1 Corinthians 13 is defined by eight positive characteristics beginning with patience and kindness. These are very practical attributes of godly love. As we reflect on this, the description expands to include love rejoices with the truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, and never fails.
Then to further deepen our understanding of the heights of godly love there is a list of eight characteristics of human nature which are not at all loving. These are our natural inclinations in all their ugliness, and the polar opposite of God’s love. Envy, boasting, pride, dishonoring others, self-seeking, being easily angered, recording mistakes, and delighting in evil are not what love is…
The ultimate demonstration of agape love is God’s love in sending Jesus Christ to redeem us from our sins. 1 Corinthians 13 was written to the church at Corinth defining the qualities of God’s love for us. But also as a reminder that the church is called to represent and demonstrate God’s love to the world.
“My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”John 15:12
Related Post: Why Is Church Important?
1 Corinthians 13 Bible Study Questions
This is a great passage of Scripture to reflect on again and again. It is always relevant – because we are imperfect people. But God’s word is powerful to wash away our worldly views and selfish attitudes. The Holy Spirit transforms us from within bringing us back to God’s mercy and grace and His transforming love.
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Love Is 1 Corinthians 13 Bible Study Printables
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